Good Enough Data Isn’t Good Enough Anymore
Abstract from original article by Laurie Bedord Agriculture.com
Published 20th November 2017
For years, JCS Family Farms did the majority of its record keeping on legal pads and spreadsheets.
The problem was, that process created too many stand-alone reports on the thousands of acres the farm managed.
“ We had six people who had six separate lists. It was impossible to get accurate information when we worked off so many different silos of information. It was so frustrating knowing we generated all of this data, yet we questioned its validity.” says Rob Sladek, a fifth-generation farmer at JCS Family Farms.
In 2013, the Iowa family’s lack of confidence in the numbers reached a tipping point.
“If you don’t know where your inventory is at or if you aren’t confident about how much finished goods are in your bins, you get to a point where that’s uncomfortable,” he says. “There is too much at risk to have data you’re not confident in. We had to start doing a better job of managing by the numbers.”
However, when they considered investing in farm management information software (FMIS) for the first time, they questioned whether or not they really wanted to spend the dollars.
“We’ve known for years that data is one of the most important things generated on our farm,” says Sladek. “However, paying for software we had no use for just a few years ago took some adjustment in our mentality and in how we do things.”
A CHANGE IN MIND-SET
If it was going to stay relevant, as well as position itself for the next generation to farm, the family knew it had to start treating the operation as if it were more of a manufacturing facility – with raw goods in and finished goods out – that based decisions on concrete figures.
For the Sladeks, this meant investing in one complete system – with financials at the center – to streamline processes, procedures, and information across their entire business. Finding an ag-specific platform that met their criteria, however, would be a challenge.
In working with the FamilyFarms Group, the Sladeks turned to 15 of the largest farms in South America to learn about what they were using to manage their operations. The member-based organization, which is located in Brighton, Illinois, has been helping family farms for more than 10 years.
“When we sat down with each of those operations and asked them what they had to have to be successful to run a large business, every one of them said an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system,” says Harold Birch, executive vice president, FamilyFarms Group.
Thus began the process of creating a high-horsepower, high process and procedure system that would give the Sladeks a competitive advantage as they scaled their business to compete with the farmer not only down the road but also across the globe.
“As margins have gotten tighter, it is all the more important to have a firm understanding of where the nickels and dimes are being poorly utilized,” Sladek says. “This system helps us manage to that level and begins to close the gap on our true competition in the world of million-acre farms.”
THE AG TWIST
ERP is not a new concept. Its roots date back to the 1960s, when the approach was applied to inventory management and control in manufacturing. By 1990, these systems expanded beyond inventory control and other operational processes to functions like accounting and human resources. This set the stage for the ERP systems we see today.
“There’s a lot of best practices from an ERP system that have happened for years in areas like manufacturing that are now being adopted by the farming industry.” says Richard Jones, chief technology officer for LINKFRESH.
For over 20 years, LINKFRESH has worked with the fresh food industry and Microsoft to develop an ERP platform. When FamilyFarms went shopping for a partner to transform an off-the-shelf product for its members, the Microsoft and LINKFRESH combination was a natural fit.
“We went with Microsoft NAV, which is the most widely used middle-tier system in the nation, and we built in modules specific to row crops,” says Birch.
“Developing story boards to help Rob visualize what would be seen screen by screen on an iPad, ensuring whatever we built would also work offline, and actually seeing these guys in action were all invaluable steps,” says Jones. “It gave us geeks a real handle on what Rob wanted.”
PAIN OF CHANGE
There is not one facet of the Sladeks’ operation this program does not touch. That’s the power behind the system, but it’s also part of the pain.
“Did this transition come without headaches? Absolutely not,” says Sladek. “However, we would rather go through the pain now when we have 150 fields rather than when we have 750 fields.”
“I think this system is going to revolutionize how we farm. Once we get over the pain and embrace it, we’ll get data that means something,” he says. “In the next five to 10 years, we will look back at the ERP system as the thing that really helped us turn the corner in managing our business.”
“I think this system is going to revolutionize how we farm. In the next five to 10 years, we will look back at the ERP system as the thing that really helped us turn the corner in managing our business.”
Rob Sladek, a fifth-generation farmer at JCS Family Farms