Software Tools for Small Farms
This article was originally written by Chris Bodnar, and was published in COABC’s BC Organic Grower, Volume 16, Number 3, Summer, 2013. It has since been expanded and updated by YA staff.
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Many organic farms have a special binder. The binder holds field records, crop plans, a multitude of to-do lists and miscellaneous notes. The binder is sacred; should it ever go missing, the following year’s organic inspection would be a nightmare. The farm’s operations depend on a bundle of papers that, with one drop in a mud puddle, could cause a lot of unnecessary stress.
Whether your record keeping involves such a binder, spreadsheets or any other systems you’ve developed over the years, you are likely aware of the value of the information you have accumulated over the years. Moving your record keeping to a specialized digital program can help to make this information more useful and more organized.
- Digital Record Keeping
- Point of Sale Payment Processing
- CSA Management Software & Online Pre-Designed Storefronts
- A Note About Food Hubs
If you’re looking for info on customizable online storefronts, check out our Ecommerce for Farmers blog post!
DIGITAL RECORD KEEPING
LiteFarm was born out of the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at the University of British Columbia and is now being developed by a global team of staff, students, and contributors. It is a free and open source farm management tool made for current and aspiring sustainable farmers and has been co-designed by farmers, with ease of use as it’s top priority.
It’s features are designed especially for the needs of sustainable and diversified farmers. It allows you to:
- Get everyone on the same page with real-time tasks and notifications
- Find information you need quickly with a simple, searchable, map-based interface
- Enter data once to seamlessly tie your operations, inventory, and payroll together
- Understand profitability on a crop-by-crop basis
- Compare product prices by time and location throughout the season
- Discover payment for environmental services (PES) schemes you may qualify for
- Make organic certification a breeze with one-click document submission
- See automatically generated “seed to sale” timelines for all crops on your farm
- Make audits and verifications easy by inviting verification officers to your farm instance
If you using LiteFarm let us know about your experience in the comments.
It would stand to reason that a record keeping program designed by organic farmers to meet the expectations of organic certification programs would best meet the needs of organic farmers. This is certainly the case with software tools like COG-Pro.
COG-Pro is designed to keep track of records from the point of developing your seed order right through to recording harvest yields and sales. If used to its fullest extent, growers can track seeds through the entire growing process using lot numbers from seed packages, generate seed records (e.g. demonstrate your search and use of organic seed), produce fields plans, seeding records, fertility records and harvest records.
In addition to crops, COG-Pro also offers modules for Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) record keeping as well as for livestock records. A feature of the software allows growers to provide a read-only password to Verification Officers and Certification Bodies to review records prior to site visits.
COG-Pro is cloud-based. This means data is stored on remote servers so you can access your account from any computer with an internet connection and you don’t have to worry about backing up files. More than one person can access your account at the same time and anyone with the account password can enter information to records.
COG-Pro features an intuitive and simple interface design. When using the program on a desktop computer, the layout looks like a notebook with tabs. This makes the software easy to understand and use. COG-Pro can be used on all mobile devices as well as desktop computers. The company’s support service is exceptional.
Our farm business began using COG-Pro this past season. We highly recommend the software.
COG-Pro costs $79/year for its crop module, $129 for the crop and GAP modules or the crop and livestock modules or $159 for the crop, GAP and livestock modules. There are prices for a 2 year subscription that provides a discount. https://cog-pro.com
This product attempts to bring together a range of functions from farm mapping and crop planning to record keeping and harvest records.
In AgSquared, growers are able to set up a work plan for the season. Tasks can be assigned to specific dates or time periods. Work plans can then be generated and printed for specific days, weeks or months. Once completed, planned tasks can be checked off and then become records of tasks completed.
The program is cloud-based and they have developed a mobile version so it is accessible through desktop, laptop, tablets and phones. AgSquared offers various webinars to help learn about the program’s features. It also provides unlimited e-mail support.
The major drawback of AgSquared is its complexity. The program’s creators have big plans, but some of what the software is designed to manage seems overly complex, if not unrealistic. The flash-based interface ran too slowly over our internet connection. Very little about the program felt intuitive.
AgSquared subscriptions come in three levels. Simple Farm is $10 user/mo for up to 5 users and provides farm mapping, record keeping and task management. Total Farm provides everything in the previous version plus streamline your record keeping and workflows, create crop plans, harvest forecasts and budgets and produce a range of useful reports on yields, finances and food safety. Total Farm costs $50 / user/ mo on up to 500 acres. There is also a third-tier option called Enterprise that is a fully customizable solution for your farm record keeping, pricing based on the scope of your needs. http://www.agsquared.com
VeggieCropper is a free scheduling and sales tracking software primarily for market farms, cut flower farms, and CSAs. It uses integrated schedules for greenhouse seeding, direct seeding, planting, harvesting, and selling and compiles information from all of these schedules into a weekly task list. You can then assign each task to an individual who will note how long it took to do each task and when it was completed. This time tracking aspect of the software enables you to use this labour information in crop enterprise budgets later in the year to determine profitability.
VeggieCropper has many tutorial videos, so it’s a great tool for anyone who is technology shy and would like to be shown how to use the software. There is also a comprehensive help section, and the developer, Harris, offers one-on-one instructional phone or video calls to support those who need a little extra guidance.
The bed planning section of the software is a little clunky, especially for those who are visual planners, however it could be quite useful if used with outside-the-app organizational techniques. There also isn’t a way to track field amendments or other field tasks in the app, and the online ordering form they provide doesn’t link to the crops you enter in your crop plan, making it possible for customers to potentially order things you don’t have or quantities that are greater than what you could reasonably provide.
For a free software, VeggieCropper could be very helpful for farmers in the first few years of business who need some help organizing. In the long term, however, you’ll want to use software that has capacity for holistic farm management.
Farmbrite has a more holistic take on farm software. You can track livestock, crops, equipment, accounting and more. They give a free 14-day trial of the software for growers and livestock owners. There are a whole range of features from crop planning to harvest, farm mapping and weather, livestock management, genealogy records and grazing, equipment and maintenance records and a whole accounting section to track your profits and expenses.
In Farmbrite, you can plan your crops from seed order all the way to your harvest profits. Make notes quickly with the use of QR codes in the field. Track your livestock records and health on the go. Track vaccination and growth records, bill of sale, genealogy charting, grazing and more. You can also track your profits and expenses in the accounting section, track your equipment records, services, images and files and keep a To-Do list by the map of your farm. There are lots of quick view reports to give you an idea of where you are on the daily.
The program is cloud-based and mobile enabled so you can use it on a tablet, computer or mobile phone (native mobile version is in testing now and should be released soon).
Farmbrite has a help forum where you can search help items, find help through unlimited email support or you can call and talk to someone if you need more help.
Their pricing is set up so you can either pay as you go or all at once. It starts at $29 a month/$290 a year for Essentials, or $39 a month/ $390 a year for Crops, $49/month or $490 a year for Livestock, or $79 a month/$790 a year for their Professional version that has everything. https://www.
Tend is an all-in-one platform that allows farmers to plan their crops, keep records, manage daily operations and track sales, all in a user-friendly platform available on any device connected to the web. When you create a plan in Tend, you’re presented with a road map to achieve your production goals: automatically generated tasks, projections of your yield & income, seed ordering amounts, and a map of where each crop will be planted.
$39 / mo or $399 / yr USD https://www.tend.com/
Point of Sale Payment Processing
Do you ever have to decline sales at the farmers market because people don’t have enough cash? Want to take deposits for larger advance orders? Square allows you to accept credit, debit, and mobile payments using your smart phone. Low transaction fees, one free magstripe card reader (readers for contactless and chip cost $59), and no need for a merchant account make this an economic way to accept sales you might otherwise lose. Plus, you can track all sales for the day, include inventory and you can even sync your Square account to Quickbooks, providing easier integration with your bookkeeping tasks. End result: capture non-cash sales while building data about the number of daily sales, average size of sales and products sold, all to help you better understand your customers’ choices. Software tools like Square typically charge you a percentage of the value of the transaction – Square charges 2.6% plus 10 cents for each sale. There are no additional account or processing fees and no minimum amounts. Cash is deposited into your bank account the next business day. https://squareup.com
A new product from Canadian payment processing company Moneris allows small businesses to accept debit cards as well as credit cards via their mobile phone. Payd Pro provides a pin pad that syncs to your phone or tablet via bluetooth, allowing customers to enter their PIN without compromising security. Credit Card transactions are charged a 2.65% fee while debit transactions are included as part of the overall $19.95/month plan fee. https://go.moneris.com
The major advantage to accepting more plastic payment at farmers markets is that it reduces the risk of losing money through theft or carelessness. Of course, you do need to make sure your phone or tablet isn’t stolen!
CSA Management Software & Online Pre-Designed Storefronts
Years ago I was at a breaking point with our farm’s CSA program. In order to provide adequate service to members, I was spending far too many hours on e-mail and phone while navigating overly-complex spreadsheets. Despite best efforts, mistakes were made and parts of the program that relied on volunteers were hit-and-miss.
Moving to an online program allowed us to streamline our sign-up procedure, better communicate with members, manage harvest lists, sales records and packing lists, produce weekly delivery route sheets and even print our box labels from the software. By using an online store option available, members have been able to purchase additional items in their boxes. In a recent delivery, extra store orders increased the value of that week’s CSA deliveries by 50 percent! Our members report an increased satisfaction with their experience and our lives are much easier.
The programs noted below can be used by farmers for CSA management as well as by buying clubs to manage orders and deliveries. Most also have a pre-designed online storefront feature. If you’re looking for more customization in an online sales platform, check out our Ecommerce for Farmers blog post.
CSA subscription sales and online storefront, which can be embedded into your website. Multiple third party integrations. https://www.barn2door.com/
Create shares and add-on products, share customization, member management, and distribution tools. Owned by Local Harvest, a national directory of family farms and farmers markets.
Fees are 2% of sales with a minimum of $100 of sales per month. Credit card transaction fee not specified. Note: This platform does not offer an online storefront function, only CSA subscription and management. https://www.csaware.com/
Farmigo offers both CSA management and an online storefront. In the Farmigo system, the grower sets up pick-up locations, delivery routes and share options. Subscribers can then sign-up and manage their accounts online. Farms can choose to accept payments through Paypal, a merchant account, electronic cheque and or personal cheque.
During the delivery season, farmers can design their box contents, generate harvest and packing lists, print box labels and delivery routes and generate personalized e-mails to subscribers. A mobile app allows the farmer to manage subscriptions on the go, including sending e-mail confirmations to customers when deliveries are made.
Farmigo provides an exceptional user interface and support. The program is intuitive both for the farmers as well as for the customer. The software is easy to use and the interface is attractive. After signing up with Farmigo, farms are paired with a support person who provides weekly training sessions and holds the farm to a work plan to ensure the CSA is ready to accept sign-ups by the target date identified by the farm.
Farmigo charges 2% of the value of deliveries with a $150 monthly minimum. You only pay for months when you have a delivery. With this fee structure, Farmigo is best suited to CSA programs valued at least $7,500/month. http://www.farmigo.com/
Harvest Hand offers both CSA management and an online storefront. Arriving in early 2015, Harvest Hand is a Canadian option for CSA management. Developed for a farm in Nova Scotia, the software has been tested by a number of different CSA farms in recent years and is now being offered to all CSA farms.
Harvest Hand integrates CSA management software with a template for the farm’s web page. E-mails to members are done through the software and logged on the farm’s blog (also on the website). This is an attractive option for farms who need a simple web site and e-mail management option in addition to their CSA software. Web site templates offered thus far are basic. Farms with developed web pages can seamlessly integrate the Harvest Hand platform into their existing site. I expect to see more as the folks behind the product develop their software further and respond to farms’ needs.
Harvest Hand charges a flat fee of $10 for each member in your CSA (the first 10 members are free). You are charged this fee up front when members sign up. While it appears attractive, farms should do the math to compare their costs with each software program before making a decision.
Harvest Hand offers a complete package to farms who would like to keep their money in Canada and need an integrated web site, CSA management and blog capacity. Plus, the people behind the product are down-to-earth and energized to roll out their product to more farmers. http://www.harvesthand.com/
Harvie is another option for CSA management and online storefronts that helps farms selling through a CSA / farm share model increase retention (+15-30% year-over-year retention) and meet sales growth targets while increasing overall profitability. To accomplish these goals, Harvie focuses on providing a better member experience that includes customized shares, flexible share sizes and flexible weeks. At the same time, Harvie streamlines administration so the customer-friendly features do not drive farmers crazy with logistics.
Harvie is also a marketing and customer service platform, as they provide a customized marketing plan to meet your membership goals and also handle customer service inquiries in tandem with the farmer. There is a one time set up fee of $500, a 7% transaction fee and 2.9% plus 30 cents per transaction for credit cards. Learn more at Harvie.farm
Local Line offers it all in one place. Their sales and delivery platform helps farmers, wholesalers, food hubs, and farmers’ markets sell their products (including CSAs) online and keep organized. Increase your order size, keep organized and save time with their e-commerce, CRM, inventory and logistics modules. There’s also an option to embed onto your own website.
Local Line’s features are built for farmers:
- An online store with categorized products, online payments and order lead times
- A product management feature to easily track and update all your products, prices, and inventory
- Organize your delivery and pickup schedule with customized delivery plans and pickup locations
- Customer management tool allows you to track orders and payments and automate follow-ups
- Centralize your orders, send invoices, and collect payments with ease
- And more
Pricing for farmers and CSAs is $49.99 per catalog per month, for wholesalers and food hub is $79.99 per catalog per month, and for markets and co-ops is $14.99 per vendor per month.
They also have a product called Local Line Sites for creating customizable online storefronts check out our Ecommerce for Farmers post for more details.
Start your free trial today at localline.ca
Local Food Marketplace also offers it all in one place. LFM will help you streamline your business from start to finish – including planning production, harvest lists, packing lists, invoices, and payments. They support producers and food hubs selling to consumers, restaurants, grocery stores, institutions, and CSAs.
Pricing: $499-$999 setup fee, then a monthly fee based on features.
Learn more at: https://home.localfoodmarketplace.com/
Local Line has acquired Local Orbit and is moving everyone over to that platform and no longer accepting new signups for Local Orbit.
The Open Food Network software platform allows farmers to sell produce online, at a price that works for them. It can be embedded in your own website, or hosted on theirs. It has been built specifically for selling food so it can handle tricky measures or stock levels that only food has – a dozen eggs, a bunch of parsley, and a whole chicken that varies in weight, anyone?
It’s a great shopfront to sell food through as an individual enterprise, but where it really gets exciting is when there’s a community of farmers working together.
This platform does not offer CSA management. Learn more: https://openfoodnetwork.ca/
There are a lot more platforms than listed here. Check out this chart from youngfarmers.org
A Note About Food Hubs
Farmigo, Local Food Marketplace, Local Line, and Open Food Network offer multi-farm/food hub features if you’re looking to collaborate with other farmers.
The BC Association of Farmers’ Markets is working with Local Line. Some successful Co-ops like the Kettle Valley Food Co-op in Grand Forks, BC, and the (currently inactive) Kootenay Farms Marketplace out of Creston both use Local Food Marketplace.
The platforms can be used in different ways. You can choose for consumers to directly purchase products, then arrange independently with all the farmers to get their products. In contrast, Kootenay Farms Marketplace asked all the producers they were working with to drop off their orders once a week at a central aggregation point and cooler where a staff member would then organize orders. Customers pick up orders that were paid online.
For someone thinking about starting an online marketplace or regional food hub, here’s a great point to consider from the start! Coordinator of Fields Forward Society – the organization that piloted the online Kootenay Farms Marketplace, Elizabeth Quinn found that an aggregation and distribution service requires a minimum of around 300 orders per week to be viable due to staffing, insurance, building rental, software fees, and more since the 75% of sales went back to the producers and food processors. Whereas they were only receiving between 10-15 a week in their pilot year of this initiative.
Regardless of what program you choose for your record keeping and/or business management, your data will only be as good as the database that stores your information. To set up your account to function the way you want it to work will require a number of hours of work doing data entry and organizing your farm’s information. Start planning early for a transition next season to ensure you have enough time in the off-season to prepare.
Finally, make sure to investigate and ensure the product you choose meets your needs. Take time to talk with representatives from the companies before subscribing. Take advantage of free trials to play around with the product before committing. Once you choose a product you will be building a database of historical information about your operations. It will be difficult to change products in the future – not to mention the time it takes to set up another new system in the first place!
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