Software: Getting The Big Picture

Summit Software Driver

Cooperatives are complex organizations. They typically span dozens of locations while managing a potpourri of functions and services while dealing with volatile markets. To maintain the trust of the growers they serve, they must keep accurate track of commodity and fuel price fluctuations — all against a tangle of city, county, state and federal taxation regulations.

Behind the scenes, a multitude of software systems are used to ease the burden by automating these disparate elements and simplifying the recordkeeping task. Unfortunately, serious issues arise when these systems can’t interface or must be band-aided together. Even with software in place, the most critical management function of all — risk management — is often relegated to a series of spreadsheets where futures positions are maintained separately from the physical positions they are supposed to be hedging.

Helping To Expand

As a result, a growing trend among ag co-ops is the adoption of a unifying single-vendor software system. Take the case of North Central Co-op, a $300 million a year organization that serves a farming community in Northern Indiana and Lower Michigan. Its 40 locations include liquid/motor fuels and propane gas, full-service retail agronomy operations and grain and feed manufacturing. However, the company’s aging software systems weren’t meeting organizational needs.

“We were looking for a better accounts receivable system and greater control over inventory,” says Doug Bible, chief financial officer at North Central Co-op. “We lacked integration of accounting and agronomy functions.”

North Central Co-op management assembled a team of executives, line of business heads and internal users to compile a list of features required of a new system. They compared that checklist against products on the market. Bible says the specs consisted of modules for billing, inventory, accounts payable, general ledger and various farm functions. The most important spec, though, was that it had to be one single unifying system rather than a series of best-of-breed tools.

“We didn’t want to have to deal with a bunch of individual applications and figure out how to get them to work together,” says Bible. “Even when you set up interfaces, things never seem to work as well as you hoped.”

The co-op set out to find the right match. That led them to Summit Software, the maker of an integrated accounting and inventory management system for agribusinesses including cooperatives and dealers of grain, feed, seed, fertilizer, crop protection products, petroleum distribution and retail farm stores.

“We wanted everything integrated within the same package,” says Bible. “The benefits of a unifying system show up in efficiency. For example, we no longer have to enter the same data in several places.” 

North Central Co-op has also had to cope with a series of mergers and acquisitions. Despite this, all co-op locations are run by one server. “Our record keeping personnel are the same as before our mergers yet we are dealing with double the sales volume,” says Bible.

The Pitfalls Of Multiple Applications

Another user of unified systems is Ag Plus, a cooperative based in Northeast Indiana. It markets grain and farm inputs such as fertilizer, crop protection products, seed and fuel.

The company previously operated a green-screen system for accounting and grain management as well as additional software for agronomy, LP and liquid fuels. Due to running so many different programs, end of month reporting was a chore. Staff stayed up late manually tallying data and adding it into spreadsheets to generate reports.

Jeff Scher, controller at Ag Plus, was finding it increasingly difficult to locate needed information when it resided in multiple locations. “This made it difficult to respond to market changes,” explains Scher. “But real time risk reporting solved all that — the physical position of each commodity is updated in real-time and shown on one page with the corresponding hedges.”

The company was very thorough and looked at all viable solutions before choosing Summit Software. “We didn’t want to have the integration hassles associated with buying best-of-breed tools,” says Scher. “We wanted one integrated package that was aligned to the special needs of farming.”

According to Scher, Ag Plus saved approximately 24 man hours a month compared the previous system as a result of the system’s automated reporting, information availability and the elimination of data transfer.

North Central Co-op’s Bible says the biggest impact was in billing records. Statements are much easier to read and far less prone to errors.

“Accounting personnel spend a tiny fraction of the time dealing with queries compared to before,” he says. “The customers benefit by having their account information so much more readily available.”

North Central has 10,000 propane customers that depend upon those records to ensure they don’t run out of fuel during the winter. The old systems didn’t do a good job of correlating winter temperatures with expected consumption rates and this caused inefficiency. Emergency deliveries prevented drivers from delivering to one neighborhood at a time. Drivers kept their own records in the truck as they couldn’t rely on headquarters to accurately map their daily routes.

“With the unified Summit system, drivers are given precise routes and customers no longer have to worry about running out of fuel,” says Bible. He points out that far fewer miles driven helps keep prices lower for customers.

On the grain side, growers expressed their approval of the touchscreen for the grain scale.

Leave a Reply

Software Stories

SoftwareBlending Software To Address Every Need Of Ag Retail
March 3, 2014
This year’s packages cover more facets of dealer businesses than ever. Read More
SoftwareNew Crop Scouting App Now Available For Ag Retailers
September 3, 2013
AgraScout is a data management and communications tool used by retailers, consultants, and others to track and report conditions in a particular farm location. Read More
SoftwareWinfield Launches New Mapping Capabilities For R7 Tool
August 29, 2013
Winfield has announced the addition of a Field Response Map and a Profitability Map for its R7 Tool at 2013 Farm Progress Show. Read More
SoftwareTrimble Launches Connected Farm Dashboard
August 29, 2013
The company claims its new dashboard enables better decision making by putting key data at growers’ fingertips. Read More

Trending Articles

Green Valley Ag facility
Retail FacilitiesGreen Valley Ag Adopts A.J. Sackett’s Precision Fertilizer Blending® Technology At New Facility
July 8, 2014
Sackett's Precision Fertilizer Blending® Technology is making huge strides around the world. Green Valley Ag adopts the technology at its new facility to support its advancing agronomic needs. Read More
Retail FacilitiesWaconia Manufacturing Builds Facility Designed For Speed, Efficiency
July 7, 2014
To make its new hub facility more efficient, Cooperative Elevator enlisted the aid of Waconia Manufacturing. Read More
EquipmentSummer Show Preview 2014: Superior Sprayers Take The Field
July 3, 2014
In this final installment of our coverage of the major categories of Big IRON that retailers can expect to test-drive at this summer’s events, here is a look at 19 sprayers. Read More
Scouting a soybean patch at Green Valley Ag.
EmployeesCropLife Compensation Survey: Battling Talent Drain
July 2, 2014
Retailers too often lose employees to companies outside of agriculture, while recruiting efforts are most often limited to competitors and other ag-focused organizations. Read More
HerbicidesDow AgroSciences Introduces SureStart II Herbicide
June 16, 2014
The enhanced formulation has improved viscosity and increased stability under heat and controls more than 60 high-anxiety grasses and broadleaf weeds found in corn fields. Read More
HerbicidesBASF Investing $270 Million To Expand U.S. Herbicide Production
June 11, 2014
BASF has invested more than $270 million to expand herbicide production capacities in the U.S., including more than 20 new products to be launched over next two years. Read More

Latest News

HerbicidesWillowood To Market Glufosinate
July 28, 2014
Willowood USA recently announced that Federal EPA has approved its technical registration for glufosinate. Read More
InsecticidesHow To Scout For Corn Earworms In Corn
July 28, 2014
In her weekly report, University of Missouri Agronomy Specialist Jill Scheidt discusses what to look for when scouting for corn earworm. Read More
Crop InputsDuPont Pioneer, Weyerhaeuser Enter Technology License A…
July 28, 2014
The agreement brings together agricultural and forestry know-how to sustainably improve crop productivity for corn growers around the world. Read More
EquipmentAGCO Launches Global iPad App
July 28, 2014
The free AGCO Global iPad App can be downloaded from the Apple iTunes Store and features the full family of RoGator self-propelled sprayers and TerraGator high-floatation spreaders. Read More
Eric SfiligojYuma Centennial Ag Supply Earns 2014 National Environme…
July 28, 2014
Colorado-based ag retailer receives top trophy in 24th annual DuPont Crop Protection/CropLife ceremony. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Forms Alliance With Wildlife Managment, Seed O…
July 25, 2014
The strategic alliance will provide Tecomate with key wildlife products, processing facilities, distribution centers and sales through Pinnacle’s ever-growing retail network. Read More
ManagementFranken Presses White House On RFS Support
July 25, 2014
Al Franken and a group of Senate democrats recently met with senior White House official John Podesta to urge the administration to change its position on an EPA proposal. Read More
ManagementASA, FarmLink To Launch ‘Operation Benchmark̵…
July 25, 2014
The American Soybean Association (ASA) and FarmLink are teaming up to help farmers close the $11 billion gap between what they harvested in 2013 and what they could harvest annually. Read More
StewardshipNorthey: Farmers Commit $1.4 Million to Try New Water Q…
July 25, 2014
The practices that are eligible for funding include cover crops, no-till or strip till and using a nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer. Read More
Precision AgFarmers Learn How Changing World Will Impact Iowa
July 24, 2014
Technology and understanding global consumer demand for Iowa farm products brought hundreds of farmers and agribusiness leaders to Ames recently for the annual Iowa Farm Bureau Federation Economic Summit. Read More
HerbicidesPurdue: Late Season Weeds May Require Manual Removal
July 24, 2014
Hand-rouging and pulling late season weeds by hand may be the best way to remove them, more so than using a herbicide, a Purdue Extension weed scientist says. Read More
Soybean Field
InsecticidesTransform WG, Closer SC Insecticides Receive R&D 10…
July 23, 2014
Dow AgroSciences has received the award from R&D Magazine for Transform WG insecticide and Closer SC insecticide with Isoclast active. Read More
EquipmentKinze, Raven Team Up On 4900 Planter Monitor
July 23, 2014
Kinze Manufacturing announces a partnership with Raven Industries to develop a standalone monitor solution for the Kinze 4900 series planter. With this new Read More
LegislationNew Farm Bill Continues To Confuse As Growers Await USD…
July 23, 2014
The new five-year Farm Bill eliminates many of the direct payments previously payed to growers and could benefit from USDA clarification, reports a Toledo Blade columnist. Read More
EquipmentPrecisionAg.com Relaunches With Responsive Design For M…
July 22, 2014
PrecisionAg, the worldwide leader in precision agriculture information and analysis, announces the launch of its completely redesigned website, PrecisionAg.com. Read More
FungicidesEPA OKs Two Willowood Fungicides
July 21, 2014
The EPA has approved Willowood Azoxy 2SC and Willowood AzoxyProp Xtra. two widely used broad spectrum, preventative fungicides with systemic and curative properties. Read More
Precision AgFarmers Learning Fast As UAVs Take Off
July 17, 2014
Farmers and others interested in how UAVs can be used in agricultural applications were able to learn more about the technology during the recent Precision Aerial Ag Show. Read More
CropLife 100Bobby Knight, Richard Petty To Highlight Ag PhD Field D…
July 17, 2014
Attendees at the July 24 Ag PhD Field Day at Hefty Farms will learn about the latest agricultural technologies, and get a chance to meet legendary sports figures Bobby Knight and Richard Petty. Read More