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Becoming an AgExpert

It can take a lot of time to make the most of FCC’s Field Manager Pro, 
software, but Jay Peterson thinks it will be worth the time you spend


Going into another crop year is always a new and exciting venture. With the advent of all the new technology out there, farmers are not only looking for ways to record what they are doing in season but able to also project what they want to do — both agronomical and financially. One of the most in depth and developed programs you can use in this area is Ag Expert Field Manager Pro software released by FCC management software.

Field Manager Pro is a stand-alone planning and operational recording program that is coupled with AgExpert Analyst — probably the most used agricultural accounting software in Western Canada.

Field Manager Pro can even go as far to work with satellite imagery of your fields. (This option comes with the Field Manager 360 program) This gives the added bonus of having an interface that most people are used to seeing, and also provides the ability to transfer information that’s common to both programs back and forth, lowering the numbers of entries that need to be made.

1. The price

When dealing with this type of software purchase there are a few things to look at to make sure that you are happy with it in the long run.

The first thing I personally always look at when buying software is the price. This way I can get a feel for if the product will fill the value I am looking for. Field Manager is priced at $499.

This may seem like a lot of money, but it is very competitive for business software. Any sort of professional business suite is going to be around this price and most likely also be license restricted to only one computer as well. An example of this is Microsoft Office Professional is around $470 for a single license. If you feel you’re going to extensively use this program even on a desktop alone it could be of great value to you.

2. The interface

Field Manager has a nice clean interface that is very similar to the AgExpert Analyst software. If you’ve been using AgExpert, the learning curve for the Field Manager software should be less than starting fresh.

One thing that is good for farmers that may not be the most computer savvy is the simplicity of the menus. Field Manager fits all the different things it can do into four menus. This works well if you’re like me and like to constantly open consoles and menus, change something and then move on.

The report console is a huge part of Field Manager. Anything that is input or tracked by Field Manager can then be compiled and shown in a report form. Even CanadaGAP and insurance reports can be run using this program. It is always nice to be able to make paper copies of your records in a clean format to use yourself or (if you’re renting) to show land owners so they can see your progress through the crop year.

Features

Field Manager has some really nice features — from the financial planner to the fertilizer usage and the registered pesticide list.

A feature I use all the time is the financial farm plan section. With this you can easily manipulate variables to plan for the upcoming crop year — not only your inputs, but your marketing plan as well. It is always beneficial to be able to see where you are spending the majority of your inputs. From there you can use these numbers to create a market plan based on these assumptions. This makes it easier for you to forward market against your assumed cost for the next year. Knowing your breakeven cost before the crop is even grown allows you to take advantage of contracts all year round.

A newer feature in the Field Manager 12 version is the fertilizer rates and total nutrients applied per acre. This updated format makes it easier to track different types of fertilizer used and how much was applied in pounds per acre. This as a great feature, as fertilizer is one of the most essential yet most expensive inputs. It’s great to be able to track fertilizer use accurately.

Another feature I find really useful is the inventory tracking aspects of this software. You can track the inventory from bin all the way through to the sale. It’s great to get a call for product and know exactly what’s in each bin — that saves you the need to physically look outside. You just have to look at the Field Manager inventory to know how much you have left to move or market.

The downside

With any software there are always some downfalls. Nothing can ever be designed perfectly. The biggest downfall, I think, is the lack of mobile options for the software.

The suggested handheld is the Motorola EDA. I also think though that one of the new HTC phones also runs the Windows mobile operating system needed for the mobile version of Field Manager but I’m not sure how compatible it is. In today’s world I don’t think this is enough options. Farmers are not thrilled to have to choose a specific phone or PDA to make their software mobile. If it was compatible with Apple or RIM products it would greatly open up the options. More people could use it in the field without having to transfer the information twice.

Another smaller issue is that when new updates come out, your old data needs to be upgraded to the new format. The problem with this is that, at any time you take your data with you or even transfer it to a new computer, the data may not be usable, or it can be corrupted easily. If you don’t keep multiple backups on different sources you can lose your farm record data. I suggest keeping multiple copies of any important information on different pieces of physical storage in different locations. I will even keep a couple of copies of really important data offsite.

At times, Field Manager’s complexity can make it too labour intensive. Using the program to its full capacity can seem like a daunting task. The biggest challenge can be making sure to record everything accurately in the field and then transferring it to the desktop program. It’s is very easy to forget to mark something down or put down all the exact details at the time. This can happen when the same product changes in price during the year. When looking at how much time it takes to set up this program and input data, I just try to think of all the useful information and recording that will come from the work.

As you can see Field Manager can be a great operational tool for your operation. Though there are some things to watch out for, if used properly in can not only be used for an operations recording tool it can also be used as a financial planner for the upcoming year and a financial benchmarking tool as well.

Even though at times it can seem to be lots of work to track and record in the end this is a program that can pay for itself and make you more aware of what’s happening in your operation, financially and operationally. †

About the author

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Jay Peterson farms near Frontier, Sask.

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