From simple spreadsheets to full-service packages, there’s software for everyone
Unless you hire it out or do it the old-fashioned way with a pencil and a ledger, every farm business needs a software solution for bookkeeping. In honour of the “back to the books” feeling that comes with autumn, this is a survey of farm bookkeeping software on the market today.
It’s not absolutely necessary to buy ag-specific software. Lots of farmers use generic business software like Quickbooks say it works just fine for everything from GST reports to inventory tracking. But if you’re in the market for some new bookkeeping software with an ag focus, or you’re just wondering if there’s anything new that might be a better fit for your farm than what you’re using right now, read on.
1. BASF Compass Grower Advanced
Why is BASF offering farm management software? “It’s about looking at customers’ needs,” says Jeff Denys, commercialization manager at BASF. “Growers have been asking for insights that go beyond just crop protection.”
BASF’s new Compass Grower Advanced software is a full-service software package that can organize farm information from your field to your filing cabinet.
This bookkeeping package offers all of the features a farm is likely to need, including GST reports, detailed inventory tracking and, for an extra cost, payroll transactions.
Compass Grower Advanced is Microsoft-based. If you’re comfortable using Microsoft Word and Excel, you should find the transition reasonably easy.
Your data will be stored in the cloud, backed by three different servers. Not being able to store your data on your own hard drive might be problematic for farmers who have unreliable WiFi.
You can export data from Compass Grower Advanced data into Excel formats for yourself or your accountant. Reports can also be viewed in PDF format. You can also give your accountant permission to access your data remotely. Because Microsoft is such a common platform, Denys is confident that farm accountants will be able to work with the data.
If you choose to stop using the program, you can export your data from the cloud and save it in Excel format.
BASF’s support team offers phone and one-on-one virtual on-line training sessions. Support staff are also available to meet with farmers at major trade shows.
You’ll pay $600/month for the full package, including the field management component, Compass Grower. This $7,200 annual price is discounted on a sliding scale for farmers who also purchase BASF products, to a minimum of $220/month for farmers who spend at least $200,000 annually on BASF products. This price includes ongoing upgrades, training and support.
Using the payroll feature will cost an additional $14/month plus $0.50 per payroll transaction.
Compass Grower is the in-field portion of the new BASF software. This component, Denys says, “is really about farm planning or crop management.” Compass Grower is in-office and mobile software that covers crop applications, yield data, scouting records, soil sampling, and grain bin contracts. Basically, it will help you track “everything that happens in the field,” Denys says.
This program stores all farm data in one place, including information straight from the cab. “We actually integrate with John Deere and Case equipment,” Denys says. They’re working to see how they can integrate with other brands.
Farmers, staff and agronomists scouting fields can download offline-apps for Android or Apple phones or tablets. In the field, you can make notes, take photos and tag areas of the field. This information will be uploaded to the office program when you’re back in range of WiFi.
The in-field software is not integrated with the bookkeeping component of the software. “This allows for separation of potentially sensitive information,” Denys says.
2. Farm Ease
The product offered by Farm Ease Accounting is quite a bit different than the other accounting software on this list. Farm Ease is an Excel-based program developed by Bev McLachlan of Outlook, Sask. McLachlan created the program after working in an accounting firm for 40 years. “Our clients were always looking for something easier to use than what they could find out in the market.”
Farm Ease is made for farmers who aren’t comfortable working with typical accounting software, but are ready to transition their books from a paper ledger to a computer. Basically, it’s an Excel workbook version of that paper ledger. “This looks familiar to them,” McLachlan says.
Farm Ease will create GST reports so you can fill out the Canada Revenue Agency’s forms. It will also provide income and expense statements and trial balances. It does not do payroll calculations or create charts or graphs of historic data.
“It’s just an easy-to-use program,” McLachlan says. Users will be using Excel to run the program and enter their transactions.
Your data stays on your hard drive, as with any spreadsheet. You can email it to your accountant, or take it to town on a thumb drive.
You can share Farm Ease data with accountants in Excel form.
McLachlan provides technical support to users, but, because it’s so simple, she says, “I don’t get asked a whole lot of questions.”
The cost of Farm Ease is a one-time fee of $250. McLachlan doesn’t create updates often. When she does, clients can opt to buy them for a $60 fee.
To use Farm Ease, you will need a working version of Microsoft Excel software. If you don’t already have Excel on your computer, you can buy a version of Windows Microsoft Office software, which includes Excel, for $149.
Farm Ease sells a separate program for inventory tracking for Agri-Stability for $125.
3. FCC AgExpert Analyst
AgExpert Analyst is the most widely used farm-specific bookkeeping software. “Our only goal is to make the Canadian producers be the best financial and farm managers they can be,” says Dawn Kobayashi, marketing and sales manager for FCC management software.
“We are super happy that there are alternatives for producers in the marketplace.”
AgExpert has all of the bookkeeping features farmers look for, including GST reports, payroll, inventory management. It works for small unincorporated farms, but you can also use more advanced features for corporate farms and farms that include more than one operation.
There are two factors that can make it difficult to learn to use bookkeeping software. The first is the actual software, and the second is your starting knowledge of accounting. If you want to do the bookkeeping for a large operation with multiple income streams, you’re going to need to know more about basic accounting than someone doing the books for a small, unincorporated grain farm.
Users that are new to bookkeeping will be able to post most transactions directly into AgExpert without any prior knowledge of accounting terms like debits and credits.
Your AgExpert data is stored on your computer. (Though a cloud-based version of AgExpert may be coming in the future.)
AgExpert data can be easily exported to Excel. It is also simple to create an “accountant’s version” of your transactions which can be shared with your accountant by email or on a thumb drive.
FCC offers free online webinars, and customer support by phone. For an extra fee, AgExpert courses and one-on-one training are available from a network of certified advisors. Generally, this training is eligible for federal Growing Forward 2 funding, which offers eligible farmers a 75 per cent reimbursement (this funding varies by province, so check with your provincial specialists before you sign up.)
Help is also available through the AgExpert on-line community, where users (and accountants) help each other solve problems.
New users pay $499 for AgExpert or $499 for FCC’s field records software, Field Manager PRO. Customers can save by paying $729 for both. (That’s $230 for the second program, even if you buy it years after you purchased the first one). The Customer Care fee is waived for the first year. This fee includes AgExpert’s payroll function.
After the first year, that Customer Care fee, which covers updates and technical support, is $239/year.
There are discounts for farmers with FCC Young Farmer or transition loans.
Field Manager PRO is FCC’s full-service field management program. It is available as a desktop and mobile version. For now, Field Manager PRO is not integrated with AgExpert.
At https://www.fcc-fac.ca/en.html, choose “Software Products,” then “AgExpert Analyst.”
SIGA is a Quebec-based company that has been offering ag software since 1981. SigaFinance is the bookkeeping component; there is also field record software. Hilda Markis, sales and technical support and head translator at SIGA says, “It’s been under the same management all these years.”
SigaFinance offers inventory management and GST reports. For those who need them, payroll, multi-enterprise and invoicing “modules” can be purchased for an extra cost. “They’re sold in modules,” Markis says, “because not everybody uses everything.”
This program is fully Windows-based. Most of the data entry is done in a single screen. Potential users can download the trial version and test it at home for free.
When you first install the product, you’ll see a start-up wizard, where Markis says, “you can quickly enter the information that’s on your balance sheet. You can get started in half an hour.”
One aspect of learning to run bookkeeping software is learning the accounting terms and principles. Markis started working for SIGA after using it to keep the books for her own dairy operation. “The people who gave me tech support when I was a client basically taught me the terms,” Markis says.
Your data is stored on your computer.
Your data can be exported to other accounting software, but you can’t import historical data, if, for example, you’re hoping to compare current expense data with prior years.
Every financial report generated in SigaFinance can be exported in Excel format.
Annual fees include unlimited phone-in technical support during business hours. Everyone working for SIGA is involved in agriculture in some way. “When someone calls, they’re talking to a farmer, or someone with a farm degree,” Markis says. “We know what your day can be like.”
The price for the basic program is $795. This includes unlimited updates (including one major update each year) and tech support for the first six months. After that, you’ll pay $275/year. The payroll module costs $495 for the first six months, $95/year thereafter. The invoicing module is $495, then $60/year. There are discounts for users of multiple modules — heavy users will pay a maximum of $430/year for updates and unlimited tech support.
SIGA offers SigaField for field and crop records. It is not attached to the bookkeeping software.
5. Trimble Ag Software
“We were one of the first ones in this market,” says Brian Stark, Trimble’s marketing communications manager.
In 2009, Trimble bought Farm Works software, a company that had been offering farm bookkeeping software since 1992. Today, Trimble has combined that technology with Connected Farms and AgriTrend’s AgriData, meaning that Trimble’s software can take you from the combine to a crop plan, all the way through to your chequebook.
The bookkeeping component of Trimble’s software is not fully equipped for Canadian users. However, “We do have some farmers using it outside the U.S.,” Stark says.
While most bookkeeping transactions are the same in the U.S. or Canada, for example, a fertilizer purchase is still an expense, you can’t use this software for Canadian payroll calculations. Trimble Ag Software will let you calculate GST collected and owing, but it won’t print out a nice, fully-formatted GST return like some Canadian software.
This software is relatively easy for new users to get used to.
You can use this software on your computer desktop, with an option to sync to the cloud.
It would be difficult for new users to import past bookkeeping data (you would have to input the data manually). However, historic field and map data is easily imported from precision farming in-cab displays. “You could do a massive import of all those files,” Stark says.
Pricing includes technical support.
Farm Basic costs US$995 plus an optional US$495 annually for updates and technical support. These prices include full-service field record-keeping and GIA/mapping software. Or, you can purchase the Farmer Pro option for US$1,788 per year. This includes the desktop software, the online platform and the mobile app as well as fleet management capability.
Trimble’s software can work with a mixed fleet of machinery, and it’s easy to import data straight from your monitors to the program. This makes it simple to allocate costs by field and by crop, calculate your per unit costs and keep track of inventories.
Farmers who want to use Trimble’s solutions for field mapping and data but not for bookkeeping can export their accounting data straight to QuickBooks. “The cool thing about our software is that you can turn off the accounting module if you’re only interested in mapping and field records,” Stark says.