Strong business practices are integral to daily life on the largest U.S. farms. These operations—roughly 40,000 in all according to USDA—manage more than a third of the country’s cropland by closely analyzing field work and inputs along with commodity prices and the cost of production.
There’s just one problem: Much of that information is stored separately in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, accounting software and in paper form. That makes it difficult to get a full picture of a complex operation, share information across a team or to compare historical data to improve efficiencies year-to-year.
To that end, a new company called Granular Inc. has developed a cloud-based software platform that producers can use to manage work assignments while storing and analyzing an array of farm data for planning, operations, marketing and accounting.
"Farmers have the same need to build a really detailed plan and schedule, and then execute that plan efficiently in the growing cycle," says Sid Gorham, CEO, Granular. "Coming out the back, they need to use all of that information to make the right decisions around grain marketing, business expansion and future crop cycles."
The system will enable Tom Farms LLC of Leesburg, Ind., to dispatch, send work orders and allocate resources to operators in the field, while tracking associated cost, says managing member Kip Tom. His operation is one of seven in the Midwest that will beta test the software during spring planting.
"This is going to give us the ability to understand our cost of operations real time, as well as benchmarking, and forecasting to make better financial decisions," Tom explains. The equipment operator with a few clicks on his smart phone or tablet will share with his team his or her progress and as well the back office the cost associated with a field process.
The subscription service will be made available for purchase starting this summer at an annual per-acre cost. Additional business tools and functionality for smaller operations are planned in the future.
From soil to software. Work on the software began at Solum Inc., a soil testing and fertility analysis company founded in 2009. This month, Solum was acquired by The Climate Corporation and will maintain operations in Ames, Iowa, where its soil lab operates.
Meanwhile, the software portion of the business operating under a new name—Granular—is headquartered in San Francisco with a growing employee base in the central Corn Belt. Gorham, whose previous projects include the restaurant reservation platform OpenTable, says Granular appealed to him because of agriculture’s global importance and the challenge of learning a new industry
"I am really excited to serve this customer base and develop technology that farming businesses, which are vitally important to the world, can use to be as successful as possible," he says.
Development of the farm business software is being funded in part with proceeds from the sale of Solum along with $4.2 million from the venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures and Khosla Ventures.
An Industry Advisory Board will guide the company’s strategy and is chaired by Tom. Other members include David Hughes, president, TraulenCo S.A.; Danny Klinefelter, professor and Extension economist with Texas AgriLife Extension and Texas A&M University; and Lance Woodbury, an adviser to family-owned and closely-held businesses.
- March 2014