Aug 052012

They can also share information easily with consulting agronomists, crop insurance agents, the Agriculture Department and others.

THE world doesn’t necessarily need the gazillion-and-one games that seem available on smartphones. But it could use more apps and services that address the needs of business people with specialized needs. Like farmers.

FarmLogs, a start-up based in Ann Arbor, Mich., is a one of a few new companies that are making a pitch to farmers. It offers a cloud-based software service — no software is downloaded; only a Web browser is needed — that embodies the latest technology. But in reaching its intended customers, the company must often rely on an old-fashioned medium: in-person selling.

Jesse Vollmar, 23, and Brad Koch, 22, graduated from Saginaw Valley State Universitylast year and were running their own small I.T. consulting company when they decided to try to make easy-to-use software for farms like the one on which Mr. Vollmar grew up in Caro, Mich., about 90 miles northwest of Detroit.

The two received funding from Y Combinator, a seed fund in Mountain View, Calif. During a three-month residency in Silicon Valley last winter, under Y Combinator’s aegis, they worked on farm management software aimed at tracking all of a farmer’s field activities. In one view, a farmer can see rectangular representations of what is planted on each field. A click leads to a log of what was done when on each field: tilling on this date, fertilizing on that date, spraying on another.

With the data stored in one place, it can be combined with information from other sources and used by the farmers. If they need, they can also share it easily with consulting agronomists, crop insurance agents, the Agriculture Department and others.

Nathan Engelhard, an early customer who farms 1,000 acres in Unionville, Mich., says FarmLogs gives him the ability to take his iPad out into the field and make entries himself. “FarmLogs is a money saver,” he says, “because I don’t have to write things down on a scrap of paper and pay someone to sit in an office and enter them into the computer.”

FarmLogs officially opened to customers in June. “We’re trying to reach a community that isn’t all online yet,” Mr. Vollmar says. “We have to use more traditional marketing methods.” FarmLogs declined to say how many people have signed up.

In mid-July, Mr. Vollmar set up a booth at a local county fair. (In the booth to the left was a political candidate; to the right, a psychic.) Farmers who stopped by were receptive, and many signed up for the service, he says. But the local fair drew too few attendees.

FarmLogs reached many more prospects by demonstrating its service at a booth at the much larger Ag Expo at Michigan State University. This annual agricultural trade show drew more than 18,000 visitors last month.

FARMLOGS has spent little on advertising. Print magazines about farming are often found in rural homes, but the company has not yet tested the efficacy of print ads, which Mr. Vollmar says are costly. Instead, experiments with Google ads have produced encouraging results, especially when tied to a search for the phrase “farm management software.”

Read more . . .

via New York Times – Randall Stross

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