Startup Profile: Field Management Software Empowers Sustainable Farmers
August 8, 2011 | Kevin Coss
Kareem Shaya’s interest in local and sustainable agriculture took flight after he joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) run by Full Belly Farm in Northern California. “I started reading about how local agriculture works and the logistics of getting it from seeds to people’s houses,” he says.
To further indulge his newfound interest in local agriculture, Shaya decided to visit numerous local farms and interview farmers to learn more about their operations. What he found was that many farms were run in an ad-hoc manner that lacked a streamlined, organized approach.
A web developer by trade, Shaya set out to devise a solution to help farmer’s better manage their field operations. What he came up with was a web-based field management software product designed for sustainable farms that he called Farmonic. And it’s free to use for now.
He developed Farmonic principally for small sustainable farmers that grow a greater variety of crops than conventional farmers, and employ crop rotation and succession planting. “The thing I had in mind while building it was people who are going to be planting 25, 30, or more different things in a year,” Shaya says. “If you’re only growing one thing on your farm, you probably don’t need [Farmonic].”
From his research, Shaya saw that sustainable farmers tended to face greater logistical problems than conventional farmers who grow only one or two commodity crops. So he designed his software to help them manage the innumerable sets of parameters necessary to grow each different crop from spatial necessity and the time of year to plant to the number of days it takes for the crops to mature. Shaya says Farmonic’s interface simplifies the management of these variables and saves farmers, who usually input and manipulate this data in Microsoft excel, valuable time that can be rededicated to actual farming.
Here’s how it works:
Growers can access Farmonic directly through any web browser. After a free sign-up, the grower can log in and add his fields. Farmonic allows the grower to enter multiple fields and associate the following information with each field: the number and size of the growing beds; the crops specific to the field; the quantity of the crop they would like to grow; how many plantings they intend to do; and specifics such as how much seed the crop requires and how long it takes to mature. After submitting this information, Farmonic performs the necessary field calculations and displays the results on a calendar, where planting and harvesting times are set on a clickable timeline. Growers can then reschedule plantings by dragging them to a different part of the year, or by modifying their expected yield.
Farmonic keeps a to-do list that shows when in the near future crops need to be planted or harvested. From the field management information organized and calculated by Farmonic, growers can generate a spreadsheet that lists the crop names, how much of the field is used, how much seed is required and the expected yield. Farmonic’s other features include the ability to generate seed orders and a readout that details what percentage of the field is in use.
The software also supports multiple user logins for the same farm. A grower can create logins for other managers at his or her farm, allowing them to see the same information and, if granted access, make changes to the field management information. And while it’s not one-size-fits-all, Shaya says Farmonic is fairly flexible. The software works down to a single-acre farm, but is not meant for anything quite so large as a few thousand acres.
Filling a niche
Before Farmonic, sustainable and local farms didn’t have much available in terms of field management software, Shaya says. It tended to be clunky and required downloading and installing before it could be used. He says that over the past two years as consumers have become more interesting in where their food comes from members of the tech community have also become more interested in farming.
Currently, Farmonic’s users are based all over the U.S. To find new customers Shaya reaches out to farms directly. He also actively collects product feedback from his existing customers.
“The key is to get something out there and start talking to your users right away,” he says. “See how they like it, see what doesn’t work for them and what does work, and change stuff appropriately.”
Farmonic is extremely inexpensive to run at the moment, Shaya says. Its current set of features will remain free, even as Farmonic advances. “As the costs scale up, so will what the product can do,” he says. “There may be related, spin-off products that do cost money to use.” Currently, the site does not make any money.
As for the future, Shaya says he’s looking to take user feedback into account and improve Farmonic’s functions. One of the main features recommended to him is a task manager. The proposed utility would help a group of farm workers anticipate what needs to be done in the field in the coming days and allow each of them to coordinate their activities more smoothly.