Ag Retail Software: Choosing The Right Solution
Mobile device users are typically faced with a fairly clear-cut “A vs. B” decision when it comes to picking an operating system (Android or iOS).
Ag retailers, on the other hand, face a much more daunting task.
With a mix of both new-to-ag, as well as well-known farm software development companies getting into the retail farm management software game, there’s a lot to process — pardon the pun — when deciding what your dealership needs from its software.
Here we roundup some of the newest developments among the many actors in advanced farm management software.
Following Different Roads
According to presentations at its annual user conference, attended by CropLife magazine back in August, Davenport, IA-based AgWorks’ newest retail agronomy operating system, AgOS, aims at alleviating a long-standing and frustrating problem for retailers: The stratification of ag retail software solutions.
Energetic AgWorks director of marketing Don Hilligoss puts it a bit more succinctly when discussing the program. To Hilligoss, AgOS is “all about getting from field to financials with one software application,” and “getting the software out of the way.”
Hilligoss says that, in his experience, most input dealerships are using sometimes four, five, even six different software solutions for agronomy services — mostly because, for example, they may prefer one program for everything involving soil sampling, then a different one for managing irrigation data. AgWorks intends to develop AgOS into a complete one-stop for retail precision agronomy, in effect “bridging the gap between the retailer and the grower.”
Inventory management is one of many areas the newest AgOS update, slated for its annual February release date via AgWork’s Cloud, helps in closing that gap, according to Hilligoss.
“We can give a summary of all work orders that are in the system and link that with actual product-
on-hand, as well as product needed to fill work orders, so you’re managing inventory in real-time,” he says. “And it also shows the grower how much money the work order is going to cost his bottom line, so he can plan his budgeting and adjust inputs throughout the season accordingly.”
AgOS also makes some strides toward tidying up data management, specifically in removing duplicate data, as well as the head-scratching instances of double entry that some programs require when working across different sections of their software.
Additionally, AgWorks is excited to see what users think of several new capabilities (high level yield analytics, productivity charts, etc.) brought about by its recently announced partnership with Ag Venture on HighQ, a Willard Agri-Service-developed decision support program which Hilligoss says helps “evolve our product from just ‘record keeping’ software to ‘decision support’ software.”
Meanwhile, MapShots’ newest ag retail solution, AgStudio PRO, which has been in development for the past 20 years, has grown from “simply a soil test data program into something that now you can basically do everything with,” says Doug Mills, business manager.
“Bottom line, PRO is just a way to make a growers’ decisions easier,” he says. “It helps the agronomist put all of that data together for a complete picture.”
Mills says Southern States Co-op (No. 8 on the 2014 CropLife 100) was one of the first retail outfits to contact Ted Macy, a longtime MapShots employee Mills and others describe as a “precision agriculture guru,” to get the program in its 201 retail outlets spread across 11 states.
“They run all of their precision agriculture through AgStudio PRO, from the seed recommendations and scouting to their aerial application business,” says Mills of Southern States. “And it’s not just them; AgStudio PRO runs a lot of businesses.”
New for 2015 with PRO is integration into Valley Irrigation products, as well as an ever-evolving offering of third party add-ons, making PRO compatible with nearly any equipment on the market.
“We’re not tied to any color of anything — we’re tied to hardware, tied to iron — so we can work with anything that’s out there,” says Mills. “And one of the nicest things about the program is, for the agronomist, you are basically putting together a record of all of the value you are providing that grower for the season. The grower can get a complete snapshot of what the agronomist sees.”
SST Software is also working on product integration in 2015, releasing its AgX platform for “building out APIs to allow other products to interact with Summit Pro,” says Brandon Buie, product manager.
“We’re creating an info ecosystem where, say a consultant comes out to visit a grower, and the consultant is using our mobile app, SIRRUS. Well, now he can hook into the AgX platform and tap into the grower’s equipment and integrate all of that data into SST products,” he says.
Buie sees an increase in usage for Summit Pro’s variable-rate seeding capabilities this season, corresponding with adoption of the new multi-hybrid planters and the introduction of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) data and imagery.
“We started adding imagery functions last year and I see that continuing with the UAVs this season,” he says. “Either the retailer can dial up and order a regional multi-spectral imaging service from a network of imaging providers we’ve set up, or some of our larger clients I’m sure will be doing their own imagery with a UAV. We see our customers using more and more aerial imagery, not only for scouting but also for yield correlations and yield production mapping.”
According to Buie, one of retailers’ favorite benefits of using Summit Pro is the brand flexibility and control the program offers.
“We like to tell our clients ‘Hey, it’s your agronomy,’ and when they use Summit Pro it’s their brand and logo that’s on the report that they give the grower, not an SST logo,” says Buie. “Our purpose is to support the retailer. We don’t tell our retailers what to charge, they set the price points and the profit margins.”
Westminster, CO-based Trimble’s brand-agnostic, grower and agronomist collaboration and data management software, Connected Farm, also has a few new features for the upcoming season.
Announced back in August during the 2014 Farm Progress Show in Boone, IA, were new precipitation monitoring capabilities which include the intriguing RainWave Contour Map, according to product manager Mike Martinez.
Martinez says the RainWave Contour Map quantifies rainfall in real-time as it actually falls across the field — some areas of a large field tend to receive higher volumes of rain than others — and drills down the rainfall data into easily manageable 10 minute increments. The option costs a mere fifty cents per acre for a year subscription, and it basically eliminates physical rain gauges and the constant monitoring that goes along with having gauges out in the field.
The ability to purchase and integrate PurePixel satellite imagery, as well as new grower (Connected Farm Field) and agronomist (Connected Farm Advisor) platforms, is also new for the coming season. By implementing the recently released Advisor platform, retailers can create variable-rate maps which can then be pushed, or sent electronically, to a grower who can then implement them within the Field platform for management decisions, says Martinez.
XS Inc. is focused for 2015 on uncovering field anomalies once-thought unquantifiable with its AgVeritas software, according to Ben Gist, sales lead.
“With AgVeritas we’re looking for areas of the field with spatial effects where yields are unusually high or unusually low,” explains Gist. “Without being able to account for areas with positive or negative spatial effects — things like deer damage or poor drainage from a broken tile — all of the data may be skewed. We felt the industry needed a way to identify yield factors other programs cannot.”
Another AgVeritas feature that shows promise is the proprietary Profit Map, which product manager Angela Walker describes as giving a “quick, accurate answer to the question ‘Is this going to be profitable,’ and if so, where in the field will we profit the most?”
“If I’m an ag retailer consulting with one of my growers I can take this Profit map shape file and decide to spray the entire field, or manage every field down to one acre or smaller intervals,” she says. “It’s a great feature for managing your management zones and validating different practices.”
According to Walker, AgVeritas is in production currently and available for the 2015 growing season.