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January 15, 2010

Getting Started

Melissa Hansen, Good Fruit Grower
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With dozens of software vendors offering management information ­systems for farmers, how do you choose the program that’s right for you?

Pam Mitchell, chief executive officer of SureHarvest, Inc., a company that offers farming and sustainability management software, sustainability consulting services, and third-party sustainability certification, said it can be overwhelming to growers interested in getting started in farming management programs. She gave a few tips on getting started with management information software during the annual meeting of the Washington State Horticultural Association.

Consider the origin of the software program. Was farming the original focus or is it software with a labor or accounting emphasis? Or was the program originally designed to track chemical use?

Figure out what you really need in a program. Understand what your data collection needs are.

Define your requirements. Define the scope of the project, but also look at what more you can or should do.

Look beyond the software features. Consider ease of access, security controls, hardware requirements, technical platform (Web or not), and implementation support. Does the company have a project manager for the product?

Prioritize your requirements. Know which features you must have and which are nice but not a high priority.

Engage the vendors. Make sure they show you all features and functions, and provide full pricing. Make sure the full product is delivered before making the final payment.

Negotiate. Times are tough for agriculture, but the vendor must make a profit also.

Be careful of free. Companies offering free services may in turn sell your data or aggregate with others. Find out why it’s free.

Staff accordingly. It must be a priority with you if you want it to be a priority with your staff.

Understand that implementation is a process.

Involve your information technology department, if applicable. •