Farm management software is a valuable tool that helps agricultural businesses keep a record of all operations on the farm, remaining compliant and in control.
Types of farm software include farm accounts, crop records, livestock records and activity planning.
The main benefits of farm management software include reduced time spent on admin, improved ability to be in control and compliant as well as enabling agri-businesses to become more strategic and efficient.
The key things to consider when purchasing farm management software are the features included, ease of use, level of support available and of course purchase price and any on-going costs.
What is Farm Management Software?
Farm management software is a set of computer programs designed for the agricultural industry to help record, track and analyse all data related to the farm. It is used as a tool to plan, manage and streamline operations on the farm such as farm accounts, livestock activity and field records.
Farm management software can be used to capture data from all aspects of different farms such as dairy herd management, beef cattle management, sheep flock management, farm accounts and field management.
Some farm management software focus on just one type of farming activity such as suckler beef farms, with the focus on helping farmers get their cows back in calf quicker for example. Other types of agricultural software cover the many disparate areas of farm record keeping including financial data, payroll as well as livestock and arable management.
As farming is a niche, specialised industry it is important the right software is used to meet the specific demands of this sector.
As the use of technology is growing, lots of farm software can now link with other agri-technology such as EID readers, tractor GPS systems and weighing machines. This can create more efficiency on the farm and save time and labour costs.
Why Record Keeping On Farms Is Important?
It is imperative farmers keep accurate records of the activity on their farm for legislative and management purposes. Farm management software can make it easier and quicker to record the data and gives them access to it in one centralised place.
Some farm record keeping is mandatory in UK law such as submission of farm VAT via HMRC’s MTD portal as well as any movements of livestock including cattle, sheep and pigs. Having the right software to process and submit this information helps ensure farmers fulfil their legal duties.
Not only does it help keep you the right side of the law, having accurate farm records is invaluable in helping farmers make the best management decisions. For example, up-to-date real time data is important in knowing the yield and profitability of your farm. Having this information to hand is necessary for making any decisions around the future of the farm business.
Having evidence of what is happening across the farm is also imperative for farmers looking to benefit from any assurance schemes such as Red Tractor and RSPCA. Having in-depth accurate records allows them to prove they are meeting certain guidelines and standards. Similar benefits apply to accessing government grants and subsidies as showing evidence of things such as energy use or specific sprays via on-going records makes it easier to apply to and be awarded these extra income sources.
5 Types of Farm Management Software
As farming is such a diverse sector, there are many different variations in farm management software.
However, the main 5 types of farm management software are:
- Farm accounting: this software is used to carry out the farm’s bookkeeping and often covers areas such as cash flow, expenditure, invoicing, gross margins and VAT submission. Where farm accounts software differs from mainstream accounting programs is in its ease in recording self-billing invoices (not found in other industries generally) and in the enterprise reporting. You can get simple farm accounts software which records the essentials needed to record and report your farm’s financial data, or you can purchase more advanced accounts programs covering areas such as auto bank reconciliation and advanced reporting.
- Dairy herd management: this record keeping program is used to keep track of and monitor data relating to dairy herds. These often contain individual cow records, recording aspects such as births, weight, medicines, health and fertility. Dairy management software is also used to help with cross-compliance and assurance schemes.
- Cattle herd management: this software allows beef farmers to manage and analyse exactly what is going on with their herd. The program is likely to cover areas such as births, movements, medicine administration and weight gains. It can be used to maintain the herd’s health and efficiency as well as complying with legal and assurance requirements.
- Field and Crop management: arable farmers can use this software to keep track of what is going on in each of their fields, record crops and plan rotations. Farm field management software can be used to track crop yields and generate reports for audits.
- Sheep management: flock management software allows sheep farmers to record and view individual sheep data such as births, movements and medicines. Having this data in one place not only allows you to remain complaint but it can give the sheep farmer more insight into the history of each ewe such as lambings, health and genealogy data.
Benefits of Farm Management Software
Be in control
As farm management programs can store and view all the relevant data in one place, it allows users to stay in control of their farm. The software gives them the ability to view any upcoming actions such as paying a supplier or when a cow is due to come in heat. The software helps farmers feel in control of the financial and resource-management side of their business to ensure the most appropriate actions are taken at the best time.
Farm management software is built to create efficiencies for the farmer. Instead of having multiple spreadsheets or messy paper records, the software allows the data to be kept organised in one place for easy analysis and retrieval. This can save time inputting, analysing and sending the data.
With the advances in software technology, these programs are becoming more user-friendly with even more functionality. Some farm management software allows you to automate manual processes such as bulk data input and calculations. This may help farmers save on the costs of a farm secretary or bookkeeper for example.
In terms of financial management, agri-software can help farmers track their expenses, income, and profits. This can help them make better financial decisions, and ultimately make more profit for their business.
Peace of mind
With farm management software, users can be reassured that they are meeting all the relevant legal and assurance obligations.
74% of farmers have seen the amount of farm admin they are having to do increase in the last 3 year.
With an increase in pressure on farmers to adhere to various guidelines and reporting, having software that generates all the relevant reports and outputs gives them complete peace of mind.
An example of this is VAT, which is now compulsory to submit via HMRCs online portal via an approved software supplier. This makes it imperative that farmers use an appropriate and up-to-date farm accounts program to ensure their VAT is recorded and received in line with current legal requirements.
Data security is also enhanced when using a professional software program compared to using a spreadsheet or paper record keeping system.
Is it a Legal Requirement To Use Farm Management Software?
It is not a legal requirement to use farm management software. It is up to the individuals to decide how they would like to keep a record of their farm’s data.
However, when it comes to VAT, HMRC have made it mandatory for all businesses to keep VAT records and submit VAT Returns using compatible software.
There are also several other aspects of farm record keeping that are mandatory and often having a specific management software program makes keeping & maintaining these records significantly easier and more efficient . Some common types of records that farmers may be required to keep include:
Financial records: Farmers may be required to keep records of their income and expenses, including receipts for purchases, sales records, bank statements, and tax documents.
Crop records: Farmers may be required to keep records of the types of crops grown, the amount harvested, and any treatments or fertilisers used.
Livestock records: Farmers may be required to keep records of the number and types of animals on their farm, their birth and death dates, movements and any treatments or vaccinations administered.
Pesticide and chemical records: Farmers may be required to keep records of any pesticides or other chemicals used on their crops, including the type, amount, and application date.
Employment records: If the farm employs workers, the farmer may be required to keep records of their hours worked, wages paid, and any benefits provided. The same applies even for casual workers or beaters who may only be working for a few days at a time. However, there are some specific agricultural payroll software programs available that take this into account and makes it straightforward to keep a legal record of these workers.
It’s important for farmers to research and understand the specific record-keeping requirements for their particular farming operation to ensure they are in compliance with all applicable regulations.
More, up to date information on the legislative responsibility of UK farmers can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-environment-food-rural-affairs
How Do I Choose The Best Farm Management Software?
Choosing the best farm management software can be a daunting task, especially as there are so many factors to consider and it is often hard to directly compare products.
However, there are several factors that you can consider to help you make an informed decision.
Here are some key factors to consider when selecting farm management software. We have also created a visual checklist below to help you in your decision making.
Features: Consider the features that the software offers and whether they align with your specific needs. For example, some software may offer inventory management, livestock control, crop planning, financial management, and field mapping. You may want to consider a single software provider that offers programs to record data from all areas of your farm or you may decide on a few different software products, specialist in different aspects.
Look for software that provides the features that are important to you and the future needs of your farm.
Whichever software provider you choose, make sure they offer regular updates so you can be sure you’ll be benefitting from on-going new features.
Ease of use: If you’re not too tech-savvy it is really important you choose software that is easy to use and has a user-friendly interface. You ideally want to be give a personalised demonstration of the software so you can get a real feel for yourself and how easy (or not) it may be to operate.
Every piece of new software will take some time to get comfortable with but you don’t want to be stuck with a program you do not feel confident using, or one in which you only use a few features of. Consider what skills may be required to make best use of the software and whether there is any training or guidance offered as part of the package.
Some farm software companies such as SUM-IT software offer a free interactive demo where you can view their farm management system in action at your own pace.
Compatibility: Make sure that the software is compatible with your existing hardware and software. Is there other tech on your farm that would be useful to integrate with this such as parlour machinery or electric weighing scales?
Consider whether you require the software to be accessed on mobile devices or just a desktop computer.
Customer support: Look for software that offers reliable customer support, including a readily available phone line so there is someone you can call if and when you experience any issues. Consider the availability of customer support and whether it meets your needs. If all you can access is an online chat bot or a call centre in another country, this may cause more headaches and problems in the future.
Price: Consider the cost of the software and whether it fits within your budget. Look for software that offers flexible pricing plans that meet your specific needs. Also consider the 5 – 10 year investment costs if comparing subscription-based software to one-off purchase options.
User reviews: Look for user reviews and ratings of the software to get an idea of its reliability and user satisfaction. Consider the feedback from other farmers who have used the software.
Security: Choose software that offers robust security features to protect your farm data from cyber threats. Look for software that offers data encryption, secure login, and regular software updates.
By considering these factors, you can choose a farm management software that meets your specific needs and helps you manage your farm operations efficiently. It’s worth taking the time to research and evaluate multiple options before making a final decision.
Do I Need the Internet to use Farm Management Software?
The answer to whether you need the internet to use farm management software depends on the specific software you are using.
Some farm management software is designed to be used offline, which means that you do not need an internet connection to use the software. This type of software typically runs on a desktop computer or laptop and stores all of the data on the local hard drive. You can access and update the information stored in the software without an internet connection. With these programs, all data is stored offline, either on your computer or a back-up copy you have made.
On the other hand, some farm management software is designed to be used online, which means that you need an internet connection to use the software. This type of software is typically accessed through a web browser and stores all of the data in the cloud. You need an internet connection to access the software and to update the information stored in the software.
Some agri-software suppliers give you a choice of running in the cloud or accessing your data offline on your computer. Due to the often rural location of farms, internet connectivity can sometimes be an issue so this is something you may want to consider when purchasing new software.
It is worth noting however that if you want to carry out certain actions such as submitting VAT to HMRC or notifying BCMS of a change in your herd, access to the internet is required. This does not mean however that continued internet access is required, just at times when submitting this data to external agencies.
Can I Access the Software On My Smartphone?
Many agricultural software suppliers are developing farm management apps which allow the user to access their business’ data on their smartphone. This gives the farmer the option to view herd or field data when they are out and about on their farm. It can also save time back in the office as new actions can be updated as they happen, instead of transferring them onto the farm PC at the end of the day.
Some farm management software has been designed to be used purely as an app on your smartphone. These apps tend to be focused on a specific area of farm record keeping such as tracking livestock for example.
If access on your mobile is a priority, you should check the specific requirements and capabilities of the farm management software you are interested in to determine whether it is compatible with your smartphone and its’ specific platform e.g. Android or iOS.
Is Farm Software Easy to Use?
Farm management software can vary in terms of ease of use, depending on the specific software and the user’s experience with technology. However, many farm software options are designed to be user-friendly and intuitive, with features and interfaces that are specifically tailored to the needs of farmers and agricultural businesses.
Some farm software solutions may have more of a learning curve than others, particularly if the user is not familiar with technology. However, many software companies offer training and support services to help users get up to speed on the software and make the most of its’ features. It is always worth looking into what support options are available before you purchase any new software to make sure there is help out there if you were to need it.
Often you can get feel for a company by speaking to them of the phone initially and seeing how they handle your initial enquiry. It is always a good idea to request a personalised demonstration of the software, perhaps even in-person on your farm, to get a really good insight into how easy (or not!) it may be to operate.
Some farm software companies offer ‘Starter’ packages which are more suited for smaller businesses looking for more straightforward and simple means to record and access their data. This can be a good option if you are perhaps moving up from a spreadsheet-type record keeping solution and want something that is easy to use.
How much does farm management software cost?
The cost of farm management software can vary depending on the specific software and the features and functionality it offers. It can range from say £200 – 2,000. Here are some general factors that can impact the cost of farm management software:
- Features and functionality: The more features and functionality farm management software offers, the more expensive it is likely to be. For example, software that includes features for full crop management, livestock management as well as financial management will typically be more expensive than software that only includes basic features.
- Number of users or enterprises: Some farm management software options charge based on the number of users or businesses that will be using the software. However, other software providers have a fixed price for purchasing the software which can then be used across multiple businesses. This can be especially beneficial for farm secretaries and bookkeepers who may be looking for farm software to use across a range of their clients.
- Cloud-based vs. on-premise: Cloud-based farm management software may be priced differently than on-premise software, especially if you are inadvertently purchasing the latest/modern version by opting for the cloud-based option.
- Annual subscription vs. one-time purchase: Lots of farm management software options now require an on-going monthly or annual subscription fee, while there are still some others, such as SUM-IT, available for a one-time purchase fee.
When considering the price of a new software program, it is worth calculating the cost over say 5 or 10 years. It can be tempting to be swayed by attractive introductory low-price monthly subscriptions but these can add up once you’ve used the program for a few years. As most farmers stick with their chosen software for a number of years, it can be better value to consider a one-time purchase option where you don’t need to worry about the on-going costs which may inevitably rise outside of your control.
With these factors in mind, the cost of farm management software can range from a couple of hundred pounds per year to several thousand pounds, depending on the software and its features. Not many farm software companies publish a set price but there are some companies that are more transparent with their prices.
Can You Get Free Farm Management Software?
Due to the complex and onerous programming task to produce farm management software you generally cannot access any completely free of charge in the UK.
However, some software options may offer a free trial or free version with limited features, allowing users to try the software before committing to a subscription or purchase. It is important to carefully evaluate the features and pricing of different farm management software options to determine the best fit for your needs and budget.
If you are looking for a more comprehensive package of farm management software that requires little knowledge of computers or technology, it may be worth taking at look at the options SUM-IT Computers offer. They offer the choice of Cloud or PC-based and their pricing is always transparent with a one-off purchase cost. Moreover, they have an expert, reliable and dedicated UK support team who are on hand 6 days a week (8am-8pm) to help answer any queries you may have. They also offer a free no-obligation demo, either online or on-site so you can see how it works before you part with any money.
Good luck with your search for the best farm software to suit your business. Remember the right program can actually decrease your admin time, giving you more time to spend what you love doing out on the farm!