Choosing new farm management software? Here is one family’s experience:

Farm management software package users, the D'Arcy family standing in a paddock.
The D’Arcy family of Lyndon Station in the Pilbara of WA recently used the WA DPIRD Business Improvement Grant to trial a farm management software package.

The Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Rural Development’s Business Improvement Grant (BIG) program commenced in 2015 with the aim of helping to improve the performance and resilience of northern beef businesses.

The D’Arcy family are third generation pastoralists who own and manage Lyndon Station in the Southern Pilbara. Sean owns and manages the 1.1 million acre station with his wife Cath, and a small number of seasonal staff. They also own and manage 5000 acres of farm land on three blocks in the Mid West region.

Sean used his Business Improvement Grant to trial a software package designed to streamline and coordinate management of all their properties. This is his story:

“Through the Business Improvement Grants program, we were able to purchase a farm management and herd recording software program called Agriwebb. The software has allowed us to combine data and records from our four properties and one we agist on, using the one system.

I first heard of the program from a local pastoralist who we agist cattle with. It was from here that we sought advice and investigated the program further. The capabilities of the management program cover a wide scope of requirements: record keeping, custom mapping, mob movement recording, grazing records, operations and task planning, inventory management, reporting, and even biosecurity plans.

The first thing that we liked about the program was that it allowed us to do our stock recording on a herd base level instead of an individual animal level, which was best suited to our management system.

A component of the program that I really like is the satellite mapping. We have overlayed all our farm maps (fence lines, bores etc.) over a satellite map which gives us access to a master map on our iPad. We can also access the program through our smart phone and computer. If you buy a satellite enabled iPad you can always know exactly where you are which we have found really handy for planning fence and pipe lines. We can be out on the road with the iPad and have the satellite map there to flag a new fence or pipeline as we go.

 Before using the program, sending staff who weren’t familiar with the station on fencing and water runs ran the risk of them getting lost. Now we can send staff out with a copy of the map, making it almost impossible for them to lose their way.

This program is also my windmill book now. The mapping tool displays all the water points with special icons, and when I select a point I can access notes on the windmill type and records on its service and repair history.

 In the future I’m going to start using the task tool. I have an overseer, and the idea is that all the tasks will be written in the program so we can all see what tasks need doing. Because the program is multi-user and cloud based, I can also be adding new tasks to the list as things come up.

 I also use the ‘cattle movements’ component of the program. I put in all internal cattle movements on station, as well as external movements between Lyndon and our other properties. With one click I can see how many head I have on what location, and even how many in each paddock.

 This particular program also has a budgeting component. We run our properties as different enterprises, so it’s important to keep a track of the sales. I record all of these transactions using the software. It’s my aim to be able to compare and evaluate the gross margins for each property, and see how they are standing on their own.

 My advice to other stations looking at purchasing a farm management program would be to make sure you buy a cellular tablet (a tablet that takes a sim card). My original tablet was not a cellular tablet and therefore wouldn’t pick up my location because it did not have a GPS module built in to it. This was an issue because when you are outside Wi-Fi range (which is most of the time) you need to be able to find out where you are from the GPS satellite. Once I switched to a cellular tablet I was able to use the mapping tool in conjunction with my GPS location.

Looking to the future, I would like to see more technology that integrates all the different functions that several different programs are delivering now, such as herd recording and water monitoring.”

Commercial options for your farm management program

There are several farm management programs available on the marketplace. Some are targeted toward a specific purpose such a herd recording while others cover a broad range of management aspects including, but not limited to:

  • Herd, paddock, vegetation, and infrastructure mapping tools
  • Herd movement and grazing planning
  • Financial reporting (calculating you gross margin and other financial indicators)
  • Operational planner to work towards best practise
  • Inventory management (e.g. feed, fertiliser, chemicals, equipment)
  • Task management
  • Individual and herd based record management
  • Biosecurity planning.

Common questions 

What is the general cost of farm management software?

A monthly or annual subscription is the most common payment structure and subscriptions can range from $20 to $400 per month. The subscription is largely dependent on the level of detail and function you require from your program. Ensure you ask your provider if there is an upfront cost in addition to the monthly subscription.

Do farm management programs work across multiple farming enterprises?

Yes. If you have a multi-enterprise pastoral business, a farm management program can still administer all your management needs. Particular farm management programs adhere to cropping and pastoral enterprises. Undertake sound research to ensure the program you have chosen is tailored to your needs.

What is the difference between a farm management program and a herd recording program?

Farm management programs aim to incorporate herd recording with a range of other key functions, to become a ‘one stop shop’ for all station management recording. The programs allow you to manage tasks, bore runs, inventory, biosecurity and much more. In order to obtain the herd data on your farm management program, you will still require common EID weigh-heads and indicators (e.g. Gallagher and Tru-test hardware) to import the data.

Herd recording systems, on the other hand, focus solely on your animal data. There are two components to herd recording programs. Firstly, like farm management programs, you require herd recording hardware. This commonly includes weigh scales, an EID reader and computer or tablet. The second component is the herd recording software that allows you to interpret the data you have recorded.

Things to consider 

  • Offline and online capabilities – There are plenty of software options that enable you to operate out of service or when services are down. Ensure you check what the limitations of your software are.
  • Who owns the data? The producer should own their data. Ensure you read and clarify the terms and conditions of the software you are looking to purchase.
  • Program data sharing capability – Some farm software can feed into other software platforms such as farm accounting software. Discuss with your provider what capabilities are offered and how you can make the most out of your software.
  • Pricing– While the pricing of software is often not calculated on an enterprise size basis, requirements of the software often increase as the size and complexity of the business increases. This often means larger businesses will require a version of the software that is more complex and costly. Keep this in mind when doing your research.

Your farm software provider should have a support team dedicated to answering your questions. To ensure you are not disappointed with your investment, make sure you go through all your questions with them.