Since AgSquared’s soft launch in December 2011, about 2,800 farms in the United States and Canada have signed up. The software is in beta testing and available free of charge as the company continues to tweak the program to meet farmers’ needs. Subscription pricing will start later in 2012, with a basic package listed at $60 annually, discounted to $36 for the first year.
The software already has proved invaluable to small farmers such as Jamie Baker. A former IT director, Baker and her husband, David, bought Primrose Valley Farm, an 83-acre property outside Madison, Wis., in 2008 and began growing fruits and vegetables. That first year, Baker set up elaborate spreadsheets to keep track of which crops they planted, what was harvested and who did what. “But I kept thinking: This needs a database,” she says. “With my background, I knew what could be accomplished with the right technology.”
(Courtesy of Ag Squared/COURTESY OF AG SQUARED) - Ag Squared founders Jeff Gordon and Giulia Stellari.
One of the key ways the Bakers use AgSquared is to keep up with their organic certification. Its mapping feature helps them make sure their 75 kinds of crops are appropriately rotated. They can print out detailed records for their certifier that trace crops from seed to harvest. The Bakers also use AgSquared’s checklists to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. “On any given day, five things come up to distract you,” she says. “If you don’t have the ability to check something off, you end up in a situation where you say, ‘Did anyone ever do that?’ ”
Jerry Cornett is using AgSquared to launch his next career. After more than two decades in the U.S. Navy, the 46-year-old retired commander returned to his home state of Nebraska, where he and his wife plan to open a farm-to-table restaurant with a menu ambitious enough to draw customers from nearby Lincoln. “My wife gave me a list of 50 kinds of fruits and vegetables she wants me to grow through the seasons: fennel, beets, kohlrabi, ground cherries, tomatillos,” he says. “I’m looking at this from 21 years in the military. How do I measure progress? How do I measure profitability? I love doing this. But if it nets me $10,000 a year, it’s not worth it.”
Cornett uses AgSquared’s calendar and mapping features. But labor is his biggest cost. So he also uses the software to track how long it takes to finish specific tasks, such as transplanting seedlings from the greenhouse to the fields. By analyzing the data, he has discovered how to shave five or 10 minutes off mundane chores, seemingly negligible bits of time that add up over the course of the year. Eventually, he will be able to judge which of those 50 crops are worth growing himself and which don’t make financial sense.
“People like to complain about what’s going on with Big Ag and corporations,” Cornett says. “But if you want small farms to succeed, you have to figure out what makes a five- or 10-acre farm profitable. Because then others will come and do it.”
Black, a former Food section staffer based in Brooklyn, writes Smarter Food monthly. Follow her on Twitter: @jane_black.