Helping sugarcane farmers integrate electronic recording systems into their farming business : SRDC Grower Group Innovation Project final report
The use of timely and accurate records can improve farm profitability through the evaluation of past, current and future performance of the business. Electronic farm management records are relatively new for the sugar industry and in many cases the value of this information is yet to be successfully demonstrated to growers. This project provided growers with an opportunity to integrate electronic record keeping into existing farming businesses and evaluate the values of farm management records. The grower group consists of 15 businesses, representing a combined total area of over three thousand hectares of sugarcane farming land. Group participants had a spread of computer and record keeping skills ranging from nill to very tech savvy. A thorough process was utilised to select an appropriate program for the duration of the project (January 2010 – December 2011). This involved a review of the most widely used ‘of-the-shelf’ record keeping products in agriculture, with emphasis on the sugarcane industry, and then narrowing down to three products of preference for the group. In order to make an informed decision, the group utilised several sources of information. This included contemporary literature on each program, meetings and demonstrations with each of the product agents, a group field study to source first hand information from growers using the programs and development of a decision table to assist group members with the final selection. Final selection of the program was decided through a group vote, with Farm Works receiving the majority of votes. The group proceeded with purchasing the software and hardware and successfully implemented the electronic record keeping system into their existing cane farming business. The grower group project delivered a strong focus on people development through improved knowledge and experience in using electronic records for farm management purposes. In many cases, the growers involved were not accustomed to keeping electronic farm management records, therefore this project provided a significant step forward from existing manual / paper based record keeping. Over the course of the project, the level of electronic record keeping increased significantly and a greater array of records are now documented by grower group participants. This project demonstrated that electronic record keeping represents the future in optimising the management of contemporary sugar farming enterprises. Many of the group members have embraced the technology and are now looking at alternate applications within their respective business. That said producers with a lesser affinity for technology and/or complexity of the system have struggled with its application. Not all grower group members will continue to use the Farm Works program beyond the life of the project. This is largely a function of some of the co-operating producers struggling with the technology and its applicability to their specific farming system / operations. This reinforces the need for each grower to consider which type of record keeping system will best suit their needs before implementing a change. Only with appropriate training and support will a new district & industry norm be established. With the variety of packages available to producers, the broader Industry also faces the challenge of establishing a common set of variables / parameters that can be recorded in each district and the ability to share information between systems. Achieving consistency in this regard, would greatly enhance the ability for cross regional / Industry wide assessments
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