30 November 2001

Softwares way to more flexibility and time saving

Keeping crop records can be

very time-consuming if you

are still committed to a

paper-based system. We

provide an update on some

of the latest developments

in crop recording and

management software

COMPUTERISED crop records offer far greater flexibility than running a paper-based system or even a simple spreadsheet, being less time consuming and avoiding duplicated data entry.

Most programs offer field recording, stock control, work planning, reporting and graphing in their core program, with extra modules covering IACS, grain storage, budgets, mapping and agronomists versions at extra cost.

"In general, the more expensive programs are more inclusive," says farm-computing specialist Nigel Parsons, of Landmark Systems. "So a program which has the highest price tag may be better value than some of the others, because it already contains all the things you are likely to need."

Expect to pay as much as £800 for a good farm program and over £1000 for an agronomists version. "The additional modules are much cheaper, so once youve bought the basic program there wont be any nasty surprises if you suddenly find you need an extra facility."

Recent developments

There is now much more linkage between programs and electronic transfer of information.

"We are finding that growers and their agronomists are making very good use of the technology to generate spray recommendations and produce work plans," says Mr Parsons. "The agronomist will e-mail his recommendation to the farm and the grower will then be able to confirm when the job has been done. Agronomists are making a contribution to farm record-keeping."

Linking accounts programs to crop records is also proving popular. "It really helps with accurate pricing and stock control. And it cuts duplication." There is also scope to transfer data to and from hand-held Palm Pilots. "Growers can prepare plans while they are field walking or keep records up-to-date from the tractor cab."

On-line pesticide databases are also available. "Some versions will even check a work plan for you to make sure that product choice and dose rates are appropriate. Thats particularly useful with field vegetables and salad crops."

Getting started

Most programs are now easy to get up and running, with "wizards" to take you through the initial set up procedures, says Mr Parsons.

"Training is available from most suppliers, so use it where needed," he advises. "And be prepared to put the time in at first, so you get the system set up properly."

Paying an annual support fee ensures you receive program updates and get access to telephone support.

Whats on the market

A wide range of programs is now available, typified by those offered by some of the key players in the sector, as listed below:

lFarmade Multicrop. Sold by Farmade, Landmark and Farmplan, plus agents in Scotland and Ireland. Core program covers full field and crop recording, including gross margins and traceability. Costs £800. Additional modules cover budgets, IACS, store management, precision farming and mapping, costing £80-500. Over 4000 users of Farmade software.

lCrop Manager (Farmplan). See details on Farmade Multicrop.

lFieldman Farmer and Fieldman Adviser (Pear Technology). Complete crop recording, including costings, storage, stock control and transport. Farmer version costs £495. Fieldman Light for farms up to 100ha is £350. Fieldman Adviser, the agronomists recording system, starts at £1000. Mapping programs available. Over 1000 users.

lMuddy Boots Cropwalker. Cropwalker 98 is the agronomists version, Cropwalker FM is for farmers. Comprehensive crop recording, with on-line pesticide database and linking facility. Cropwalker 98 costs £1500 and Cropwalker FM costs £395. About 1500 users. &#42

Keeping track of which inputs are used, where, at what rate, and when, is becoming increasingly important. Computerised crop recording can help.

DIGITALCROPRECORDS

1 Costings Good crop records allow gross margin comparisons by crop, field and variety.

2 Current and historical records Keeping track of all applications, including liming, helps tailor follow-up treatments.

3 Statutory records Produce assurance and more detailed health and safety records increase the burden.

4 Spreadsheet Fine for keeping basic information, but beware of getting too ambitious.

5 Specialist software Minimises data entry and offers flexible reporting.

6 Costs Good software is expensive, so be prepared to pay up to £800.

7 Electronic transfer Make best use of electronic transfer of data, to save time.

8 Linking programs Crop records can be linked to accounts and other programs.

9 Portable organisers Can be used in the field and then synchronised with office computer.

10 Training and support Programs are easy to use now, but get training if unsure.