Farmland

This link was tossed around today on some social media sites for a new movie titled Farmland. It takes a look at the next generation of farmers.

Since I’m a part of that generation, I wanted to share the trailer. Head on over to the site and take a look. It really looks good.

Business for the Future

Why is the sole purpose of a business the short-term gain instead of on the long-term future on not just the business, but the customers as well? At least that is sometimes how it feels. With Go the Extra Mile – Not Quite What You Thought, my friend Nate Beran touches on this when he links to a piece on the Mittelstand at Inc.com. The Mittelstand are small-to-medium sized businesses in Germany that are unique in the fact that they are usually family-owned and centuries-old. If you are planning on opening your own business, you will want to hire Top Rated Security Services. As a relatively recent convert to the family farm (as compared to my younger brother), it is an almost inspiring read and look at how a person might frame decisions when thinking not of just profitability for the next quarter, but for the long-term viability of the entire business.

Since I’ve had children of my own, my perspective has changed drastically. A decision to be made isn’t just about how it will affect the bottom line of today, tomorrow, or even five years down the road … no, it is made with an eye to the distant future, to a time when my sons might be the ones walking on the same land and looking at the same sunset as it goes down over the same fields. I want to be able to supply that to my own children, and their children. The idea of a business, in this case a farm, staying within our family for centuries excites me, but for this a business need to be well managed, including production and finances, so things like budget and payment can be handled with services as payroll systems uk so everything is more easy and effective.

Many times that can mean temporary difficulties to get over the proverbial “hump” to some different time. It might mean forgoing the run-up to try to keep up with the people around you. It might mean staying smaller so that the family can be the ones to take care of the entire operation instead of needing to bring on help.

I know I don’t have the answers, but this is just a small taste of the lens I look through when a decision is needing to be made. We are blessed to currently be looking at the third and fourth generation of Martens farmers working the place … I hope to one day maybe see the fifth and sixth do the same. I want to provide that opportunity for my family.

Technology in the Barn

Now that we have almost 4000 little pigs in our hog barns, our focus turns to how to better manage the double-sized operation without needing to add manpower. My dad and brother are excellent herdsmen, and I have no doubt that the added pigs are in good hands … but my end revolves around making sure that our numbers stay good and that we are building a sustainable business not just for the short-and-medium term but for the future a well.

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Of course I jump to thinking about using technology in some capacity, so I’ve been working in my mind about how that will work.

The most obvious change we have made is to move our bookkeeping online to Quickbooks Online and using the iOS apps to make us more honest and to easily add receipts for those things we purchase. The update to the website has made the service much easier to use and we have been pleased with it so far.

However, when it comes to working out at the barns themselves that is still going to be a WIP. Since the office is not complete (it is currently a covered mud hole until the ground thaws enough to pour the concrete floor), that will need to happen in the future. However, here are some thoughts on what I am going to be attempting.

  • I am going to keep as little technology permanently out in the office. I’ll have a place to keep papers that need to be scanned, but the technology for the office will be completely mobile so that it can be kept in better conditions.
  • Every piece of paper we need to keep around will be scanned, organized, and stored where it can be backed up continuously. The documents we have are too important to have in only one physical location.
  • I am looking at moving some of our paper stuff to an iOS application. Some benefits would be digital historical records for the pigs along with additional features like a camera that can be used to document needs within the barns and easy access to information like dosage recommendations for medications and other information. That is a very long-term project but after going through PQA Plus certification there is so much to keep track of that you really need to have a companion with you and I think an app could do just that.
  • Our generator maintenance schedule and information will also need to be digital in some way. Possibly a separate application or maybe just a spreadsheet to start until I get a better handle on what the information needs to look like.

Those are just a few ideas I am tossing around at the moment. More will come, many will die off and be replaced with others but the idea is to try and use technology to make things easier and not more difficult. The benefits should always benefit the farmer and the animals and I think there are huge areas completely ignored by the technology industry right now to do just that.

Future Farming

I have been reminded that I should probably write some updates on how the farm projects are currently coming. We have a few “irons in the fire” so to speak, so I’ll just run through a few of them here.

Martens Family Farm

For the first time we have taken the steps to create a business entity around some of the farming operation. Mainly we’ve taken our existing hog operation and turned it into a partnership and then had that partnership expand from there. It has allowed us to bring in more people officially and also start looking to the future and more expansion from our start.

By setting up the entity we are also able to free up one member of the family, my brother, to hopefully being working on the farm as his primary means of income. The hope is that this dedicated time will allow us to not just improve the existing operation, but free up some flex time for expanding into new areas as well.

Expanding the Hog Operation

The main area of expansion for 2014 is the doubling of our hog operation. This was the impetus for the creation of Martens Family Farm, the entity, and also will allow my brother the freedom to spend more time on the farm operation. It also means I will have a lot more to do with compliance paperwork and finances.

Right now the barn is nearing completion with much of the interior work to be done, but once the barn is complete we look forward to spending a single day bringing in all 4000 head of hogs into the entire operation and getting things up and running as quickly as possible. It is quite exciting.

Paperless Farming

This is my main goal. I want to try to eliminate as much of the physical paper being moved around the farm as possible. My parents own iPhones, and iPad, and an iMac so getting the files stored and moved around should not be a huge issue, I just need to start experimenting so that we can get things working.

We are using QuickBooks Online to handle the money portion or the business and their iOS apps make it quite easy to add receipts into the system. I have not really needed to touch the desktop web interface all that much since we started. It has been pretty good.

The next thing on my list is to purchase a small, portable scanner so that I can take it to the hog office, scan in the paperwork, and then go home and handle the task of organizing things from the comfort of my own home. I have narrowed it down to a few scanners and will report back what I will be using.

Some other ideas focus around the creation and completion of some simple iOS applications which would allow us to track the progress of the hog operation without needing to send faxes back to our partners every single day. That is a long-term goal, but I think I’ll have more to say on that in the future.

Future Ideas

I’ve already stated one of them, the creation of some iOS apps to help with record-keeping and progress-tracking, so I won’t rehash that here.

I am actively looking at FarmLogs to help us track our crop operation as well, which is separate from the hogs but would allow us another testing ground for things. It would allow us to track more information about what we are doing and have done with our individual fields so that we would have some sort of electronic record of what is going on. I am just starting to see if it is something we could use in the coming year. When all of your partners in the operation own iOS devices, it opens up new possibilities.

We have a very small group of egg-laying hens right now and we plan on maybe starting to expand that as well. So far we have enough eggs for our family to use, but adding more hens would mean we would get to open it up to some of our friends in the area. I guess my grandmother used to keep 300 hens on the farm … but we are not looking at anything like that.

One larger project we are just beginning to talk about would be adding a small herd of beef cattle onto the place as well. We need to look at what permitting we would need to look into and also prep an area for the herd to graze, but we’ve always like the idea of keeping a small number of beef cattle around for our own benefit along with allowing us to sell custom beef to local people and restaurants. A lot more planning needs to go into this, but it is something we are actively thinking about.

Conclusion

There are many changes going on right now and many more to come. 2014 should be another banner year as we continue to push ahead with what we’ve done and diversify into new areas as well.

The agriculture sector is a mish-mash of expensive technology available only to the largest growers and nothing, which is how many smaller growers are still doing things. I think it is a fertile area for some small companies to make a big difference.

A Paperless Farm: Scanners

One interesting thing about starting to get more involved with a growing farm is that you start to get a grim picture of just how much paperwork there is to do any small thing. I know that we are putting up a new hog barn (which I would say is a “big thing”), but even just hauling manure onto land that is owned is cause for paperwork.

So what is a person to do?

I’m not sure what the “end game” will look like for this, but I do know that I want to try go as paperless as I am able to. This will require a few things to happen:

  1. I need to get my hands on every piece of paper that flows to and from the farm.
  2. I need to try to digitize as many of the forms as I am able to, including invoices.
  3. I will need to find myself a capable scanner I can tuck into a backpack. I can’t keep a computer and scanner in the hog barn office, so I will need to be able to take one with me.
  4. Figure out the best way to catalog, share, and backup all of the various pieces of paper I will be digitizing.
  5. Invest in a good paper shredder.

The idea is to digitize as much as possible and then to transition more and more of the paper stuff that we need to do to digital as well. It will be a long process, but I think it will be worth it in the end.

However, the wildcard at the moment is the portable scanner. It would be nice to have something be small enough to fit into a backpack (along with a laptop), comes with a document feeder attached, scan both sides of a document, and be USB-powered as well. Actually, that is also the order I wold rank those features (1 being most important):

  1. Small enough to fit into a backpack
  2. Has a document feeder
  3. Scans both side of a document
  4. USB-powered

After throwing the question out to Twitter and doing a little research myself I’ve come up with the following possibilities (all links to Amazon):

Each has problems so I’m not sure what I am going to ultimately purchase.

  • The Doxie One is the smallest one along with being the cheapest. I can also scan directly to removable media, which could be a benefit where I just bring it a long, scan the documents, and then bring them back to my computer to work with them. Sadly, no dual-side scanning and only a single page at a time.
  • The Canon imageFORMULA P-215 is perhaps the front-running at this point. It is the middle-of-the-road option as far as size and weight but it has a document feeder, does dual-side scanning, and looks to be pretty speedy at the same time. While it is still small, it IS more than twice the weight of the Doxie One.
  • The Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i is the largest of the bunch and is comparable to the Canon P-215. The ScanSnap series is very well-regarded overall.

At the moment it is a toss-up between the Doxie and the Canon. I’ll report back when I have made a decision and used it a little bit, but it will need to be soon. That paperwork does not go away.