When Lee Coleman and his young family made the decision to take over his grandparents’ farm just over a decade ago, he walked into what he calls a data “black hole”.
His grandparents had been leading wheat farmers in the Moree, northern New South Wales area, yet data on historic yields, fertiliser use or paddock records were not readily available. “Like many of that generation, they had kept some written records, but it was in diaries long lost.”
While Lee, a former mechanical engineer for Visy, got on with the task of running the farm, he and his wife Cassie Coleman also started looking for a simple farm management tool.
Finding nothing that suited their needs, and with nephew-in-law and software engineer Matt Higham on board, they created FarmSimple, a multi-platform software system.
“We wanted to create a complete all-in-one package that would incorporate most of the farm operations from spray logs and timesheets through to grain contracts and chemical usage reports,” Lee says.
“This would unlock efficiency operating the farm and give insights into how to improve the business performance.”
FarmSimple, a cloud-based software system, fulfils their early vision. It tracks jobs, from paddock activities such as spraying to vehicle management, grain movements and employee timesheets.
After developing an early version, the team decided to make it available for a low, “bugs and all” price to other growers. With early functionality and no marketing, they picked up 20 clients.
However, when drought in 2019 left them with time on their hands and a corporate farm asked them to customise the software, things became more serious. Matt started working on the software full time. They incorporated the company and applied for the GRDC Growers as Innovators Program, delivered by Farmers2Founders (F2F).
The ‘Bootcamp’ business support program helped them visualise where the product should sit in a crowded market. Lee says it helped them think about growers’ “pain points” and how FarmSimple can help alleviate these.
“We used to always be talking about features, rather than about how the solution could lift operations to the next level and generate greater insights and control into the business.”
When the team clarified who they were selling to, and what they cared about, it became easier to explain the product. “We realised that FarmSimple is suited to forward-looking farming businesses both big and small, businesses that are looking to streamline their day-to-day operations and utilise effective data collection and productivity reporting.”
He explains that every 10 years, broadacre farming ownership in Australia halves. “This concentrated ownership means there’s a lot of business data coming together and a system to integrate, process and track all of this information is needed.
“Our vision is to enable the operational data from day-to-day activities to integrate with the business cash book, then leverage this to provide real-time benchmarking capability of business performance and drive continuous improvement.
“We can read into that data and say: ‘on our best crop these were the inputs and these decisions were made through the season’. That’s what we are looking for in our operation – better insights and less data maintenance.”
Lee credits the skill set of the F2F instructors for helping improve FarmSimple. “We needed their guidance and influence. I don’t know if we could have got it off the ground without their help.”
Today, with 70 operations supporting 490 users on 370 farms covering more than 572,000 hectares, the team is continually working on new features and improvements for FarmSimple, including developing features for livestock and irrigated farms.
GRDC is supporting innovation investment through its Australian Grains Innovation Program. This includes the ‘Growers as Innovators’ and ‘Accelerator’ programs In 2020/21, the programs were delivered in partnership with Farmers2Founders, SparkLabs Cultiv8 and Sprout X and provide support for innovation at different developmental stages. See Agtech innovation initiatives.