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

EquipmentDTN Launches Ag Retailer Focused Data Management Program
April 5, 2016
As farm data multiplies exponentially, ag retailers need help leveraging the power of big data to better serve their customers Read More
Junge Control Panels
SoftwarePlant Automation Takes Traceability To The Next Level
March 8, 2016
What began as a way to simply vary differing fertility products at different rates to create custom fertilizer blends — Read More
Tiger Sul Crop Nutrient Calculator
FertilizerH.J. Baker Launches New Nutrient Calculator App
November 12, 2015
H.J. Baker, a global agriculture firm, has launched a new agronomic nutrient calculator app. This innovative and powerful tool will Read More
Precision AgXS Inc. Expanding Ag Retail Reach With AgVeritas
November 5, 2015
AgVeritas, the patented cloud-based yield analysis application launched by XS Inc for the 2015 season, is making a significant impact Read More
Trending Articles
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To Explore IT Solutions
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Eric SfiligojWhat’s Next For Monsanto?
May 31, 2016
For the folks at Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis, MO, it has been an eventful few weeks. Back on May Read More
Soybean Plant closeup
Industry NewsMonsanto Rejects Bayer Bid; Open To More Talks
May 25, 2016
Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, turned down Bayer AG’s $62 billion acquisition bid as “incomplete and financially inadequate” Read More
Eric SfiligojPity The Monsanto Haters
May 23, 2016
An old saying goes thus: “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” Given current events, there Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Crop InputsReport: Bayer Eyeing Monsanto For Possible Mega-Merger
May 16, 2016
Bayer AG is exploring a potential bid for U.S. competitor Monsanto Co. in a deal that would create the world’s Read More
Aerial Drone
Precision AgA Deeper Dive Into The Future Of Precision Ag
May 9, 2016
For about two decades now, through the good and the bad times, the ups and the downs inherent in agriculture, Read More
Latest News
Allen Summers Asmark Institute PSM Training
EmployeesAsmark Institute Sponsors 25 ResponsibleAg Auditor Trai…
June 21, 2016
The Asmark Institute has announced plans to provide 25 scholarships through their affiliated State fertilizer and agrichemical associations to help encourage Read More
Kennebec Elevator
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Celebrates Kennebec Elevator Grand Openin…
June 21, 2016
Over 250 patrons and guests were on hand to celebrate Wheat Growers’ Kennebec Elevator grand opening. South Dakota Secretary of Read More
Land O Lakes
Industry NewsLand O’Lakes To Acquire Ceres
June 20, 2016
Land O’ Lakes, Inc. and Ceres, Inc. have announced that they have signed a definitive merger agreement under which Land O’Lakes Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To …
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
LegislationVilsack Christens WinField Crop Adventure, Talks Monsan…
June 17, 2016
The WinField Crop Adventure grand opening ceremonies at Fair Oaks Farms (near Winemac, IN) welcomed USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Read More
Crop InputsFields of the Future: WinField Doubles Down with Agri-E…
June 16, 2016
Land O’Lakes, Inc., joined by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, today will host Fields of the Future, a live broadcast about Read More
Bayer sign
Crop InputsMonsanto Turns Back Bayer Again
June 14, 2016
Bayer AG’s bid to buy Monsanto Co. for more than $60 billion has hit an impasse that could pose a Read More
Young Corn Field
Crop NutritionNext Generation Of Nitrogen Efficiency Technology Conve…
June 13, 2016
Commodity price projections indicate farmers will continue to face tight margins again this year. Delivering higher yields and more bushels Read More
Industry NewsLa Crosse Seed Acquires Cover Crop Solutions Brand
June 10, 2016
La Crosse Seed announces that it is the new and exclusive owner of the entire family of brands of Cover Read More
ManagementTravel Plans and EU Rejection of Glyphosate, Biotech Cr…
June 9, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about upcoming trips and the latest in the European Union’s moves against glyphosate Read More
Aspire with Boron
Crop InputsStudy: Aspire with Boron Ups Alfalfa Yields
June 8, 2016
Alfalfa growers are successfully improving yields through the cutting season by applying an important micronutrient. In a recent study, The Read More
Industry NewsAGCO Announces Tragic Death of Longtime Employee
June 8, 2016
It is with deepest regret that we announce the passing of our dear friend, colleague and customer advocate-in-chief Kevin W. Read More
Wheat Field North Dakota
Industry NewsBASF Inks Northern Seed for Clearfield Wheat R&D Li…
June 6, 2016
BASF has licensed Northern Seed LLC to perform research and development of BASF’s proprietary and patented Clearfield technology in wheat. Read More
ManagementBayer/Monsanto, EU/Glyphosate, Corn/Soybeans
June 2, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss the latest regarding industry mergers, the glyphosate debate in Europe, and an update Read More
Growers looking at soybeans
Industry NewsKoch Licenses 2 Marrone Products For North American Dis…
June 2, 2016
Koch Agronomic Services (Koch), with support from its affiliate, Koch Biological Solutions, has secured exclusive rights to sell REGALIA Rx Read More
Gypsum
Industry NewsBeneficial Reuse Management Launches GYPSOIL BLENDABLE
June 2, 2016
Beneficial Reuse Management (BRM) has introduced GYPSOIL BLENDABLE, a new high-quality pelleted gypsum fertilizer that supplies 17% sulfate sulfur and Read More
StewardshipAgrible Joins Field To Market To Pursue Sustainable Sou…
June 1, 2016
Agrible, Inc. has joined Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture as an associate member. As a leading multi-stakeholder Read More