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

CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More
EquipmentNew Holland Acquires Miller-St. Nazianz
September 3, 2014
The assets of Miller acquired as part of the transaction will become part of New Holland Agriculture, a CNH Industrial brand, building on a successful four-year partnership between the two companies. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires East Kansas Chemical
September 2, 2014
Ranked 82nd on the CropLife 100, East Kansas Chemical will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More
ManagementExpert To Discuss Farmland Value, Rent At Farm Science Review
August 18, 2014
While cropland values in Ohio increased in the past two years, they have remained flat in 2014, declining in some cases, according to an Ohio State University agricultural economist. Read More
EquipmentAdvance Your Technology IQ At MAGIE
August 13, 2014
The Midwest AG Industries Exposition (August 20-21) is the place you need to be to see, study and evaluate how new advances in the equipment, operations, crop protection and fertility sectors can help your business prosper. Read More

Latest News

Seed/BiotechUSDA Approves Enlist Following Rigorous Review
September 18, 2014
Dow AgroSciences now awaits EPA registration of Enlist Duo herbicide, the companion herbicide to the Enlist traits, which is expected in the near future. Read More
BlendersYargus Appoints New Plant Manager
September 18, 2014
Steve Shaffer will direct and coordinate daily operations at the company’s Marshall, IL, manufacturing plant, where the Layco line of material handling equipment is produced. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires Kansas-Based Cedar Ridge Supply
September 16, 2014
Cedar Ridge Supply will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
StewardshipSecretary Vilsack Highlights Innovative Conservation Ef…
September 15, 2014
Nearly $16 million in Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) will be awarded to 47 organizations to help develop cutting-edge ideas to accelerate innovation in private lands conservation. Read More
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Responds To Cargill Lawsuit
September 15, 2014
Syngenta believes that the lawsuit is without merit and strongly upholds the right of growers to have access to approved new technologies. Read More
Equipment2014 Farm Science Review Launches Mobile App
September 15, 2014
Smartphone and tablet users planning on attending the 2014 Farm Science Review can now download this year’s customized mobile application. Read More
CropLife 100Southern States Coop Grower Sets Georgia Soybean Yield …
September 15, 2014
Georgia farmer Randy Dowdy's soybeans yielded an astonishing 110.66 bushels per acre, crushing the previous record of 82 bushels-per-acre. Read More
NIMITZ Treated vs Untreated pepper plant
InsecticidesNIMITZ Nematicide Approved By EPA
September 12, 2014
NIMITZ is a novel, non-fumigant nematicide with simplified application features, user safety and an active ingredient with a unique mode of action. Read More
InsecticidesMarrone Bio Innovations Receives Patent For Chromobacte…
September 11, 2014
The patent is the first step for MBI in developing a commercially viable product to inhibit infestations of corn rootworm larvae across America and other regions. Read More
HerbicidesDow AgroSciences: Keeping The Pipeline Stocked
September 11, 2014
Dow AgroSciences is embracing product diversity to drive the company’s future. Read More
CropLife 100CHS Is Official Partner Of New St. Paul Ballpark
September 10, 2014
The new ballpark in St. Paul, MN, officially became CHS Field with Twin Cities-based CHS Inc. revealed as the naming rights partner. Read More
EquipmentHagie Honors Farming Stewardship Leaders
September 10, 2014
The Iowa Farm Environmental Leader award recognizes Iowa farmers as environmental leaders that are committed to healthy soils and improved water quality. Read More
Precision AgPlantBeat: Your Plants’ Pulse In The Palm Of Your Han…
September 10, 2014
A new agronomic monitoring and recommendation service from Phytech could rewrite the book on real-time plant health status monitoring. Read More
StewardshipCCAs Making Headway With 4R Program In Lake Erie Wester…
September 9, 2014
Certified Crop Advisers are implementing the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification program in Lake Erie's Western Basin to improve water quality. Read More
MicronutrientsMicronutrients Going Macro
September 9, 2014
Between 2014’s fantastic growing conditions and a heightened awareness on plant nutrition, the major players in micronutrients are gearing up for another big year. Read More
Crop InputsFMC Announces Cheminova Takeover
September 8, 2014
FMC Corporation today announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Cheminova, a wholly owned subsidiary of Auriga Industries. Read More
HerbicidesValent’s Fierce XLT Herbicide Receives EPA Approv…
September 8, 2014
Valent U.S.A. Corp. announced today that Fierce XLT Soybean Herbicide is now federally registered for preemergence weed control in soybeans Read More
Eric SfiligojIndustry Consolidation Set To Increase Going Forward
September 8, 2014
As the agricultural marketplace moves into fall, one observer predicts the pace of consolidation will grow at all levels. Read More