Vegetable Farm Reaps Benefits of Software: Customer Success Story

October 5, 2018

It’s not very often you hear a senior company executive get excited about how staff are spending less and less time in the office.

But that’s precisely the case at Duncan Family Farms. The Buckeye, Arizona-based vegetable and fruit operation, deployed a new software platform a year ago that has transformed clunky, time-consuming processes into streamlined, automated workflows that boosted productivity, improved decision-making, and empowered staff.

As a result, Duncan’s field team is spending less time in the office because they can capture data and complete tasks right in the field using their mobile phones at the time the event occurs.

“Instead of leaving the field, going back to the desktop in the office, entering the information — and sometimes that Excel document would be locked because someone else was using it, so you’d have to come back — our new system not only saves hours, but also helps us build more consistent routines,” said Sean Duncan, a fifth-generation family farmer and the company’s Director of Supply Chain.

Time saving is “the most concrete and direct benefit” of Duncan’s decision to integrate Trimble Ag Software’s complete farm management software solution across all aspects of its operation. They use the platform  to track customers, manage customer data, implement the planting and harvest schedule, and oversee inventory. It includes several customized features developed to meet the unique needs of Duncan’s operation, such as providing real-time calculations of ‘required commitments’, which provides a weekly breakdown of amounts of each commodity required for delivery. This information is used to back-schedule planting schedules in order to meet weekly commitments.

Once the planting schedule is set, seeding applications are established in the office and then shared to workers in the fields via the mobile app. Trimble Ag Mobile is also used to track irrigation, fertilizer applications as well as other inputs used during the growing stage. Additional ‘bin transaction’ customization developed by Trimble engineers comes into play after harvest, when the field team uses the mobile app to create and communicate IDs for each commodity harvested and on its way to logistics. This allows the logistics team to track produce harvested at the time it is received and prepared for delivery. Automated emails are sent to the office team each time a bin transaction activity is entered.

Lynn Godman, Trimble Ag Software’s account manager overseeing Duncan Family Farms, said the input and collaboration from the Duncan team has been a major contributor to the overall success.

“They are really good about diving in and looking around to see where things could be improved. And they aren’t shy about utilizing technology to improve their business.” said Godman. “We’re also creating custom analytics reports for them so they have fast access to data without having to wait for a development team to release canned reports. Now reports are available to them in hours or minutes rather than weeks.”

Embracing the Benefits

Duncan’s first milestone in the Trimble Ag Software deployment was to replace its existing points of data capture, which meant overhauling the planting schedule.

“This was a lot of planning and execution that was done through a very time-consuming process on Excel and our field log, so we spent a lot of time with Trimble building out how we could replace this process,” said Duncan. “Now we’ve fully implemented both of those processes and we’re really pleased. It was about understanding Duncan’s processes, and then understanding what Trimble could do. Overall I really like the approach we took. I’m happy to say the outcome is what we were expecting.”

Duncan and Stephanie Pharris, Supply Chain Specialist, summarized three key benefits to the company following the Trimble Ag Software deployment:

  1. Time Savings

This is probably the most obvious and impactful benefit felt by the entire team, said Duncan. In addition to streamlining that came with the new workflows, the customization Trimble added shaved hours off Duncan’s previous workflow.

“It fully met our needs and now we’re solely reliant on that,” Duncan said. According to Pharris, “That’s one of the things that makes Trimble a great partner, and one thing that makes Duncan different. Both companies are open to looking at how best to achieve the end goal — more than what the individual party is getting out of it,” she said. “They’ve really dug in.”

Going mobile has also made a huge difference in the daily workflows, especially out in the field.

“This is one of the things we liked about Trimble,” said Duncan. “Because of the synergies between the app and the web, the majority of our team at the field level are using the app on their phones, while the people in the office creating the planting schedule are on their desktop.”

  1. Value of Hindsight

One of the key reasons Duncan’s team chose Trimble was the platform’s broad capacity to capture not just current and ongoing activities, but also its ability to compare actual tasks completed to planned tasks. This gave the team a greater opportunity to run scenarios and compare outcomes, explains Duncan.

“When we went through the selection process with Trimble, we really liked their platform for farm management and some of the more sophisticated way of monitoring activities,” says Duncan. “We felt there was a huge benefit to include that planning piece. Not only are you capturing your executed activities, but right in the same platform you’re able to see your planned activities and compare them to the actuals to see what worked.”

  1. Improved Decision-Making

Prior to the Trimble Ag Software deployment, a lot of the information Duncan was capturing on its crops was for compliance and food safety purposes. However, on the old system this data wasn’t readily available to the team and, therefore, couldn’t be fully leveraged.

“Now it’s so visible and we’re able to capture value in that,” he explained. “We can pull that same information and use it to better manage operations. It’s made the data we have more usable, more functional. For example, for a spray event, Trimble Ag Software allows our team to efficiently capture the necessary compliance data. And because features such as scouting report and inventory management are integrated right in the platform, our team can easily use this same spray data that was used for compliance to analyze the cost and performance impact of that spray event.”

Another key benefit of this enhanced visibility of data is more profitable decisions made in real time, said Pharris. “It helps for us to get more granularity in our cost valuations because we can really look at profitability markers and make different decisions,” she explained. “When we ask, ‘Are we getting performance out of our spend?’ We can see that now and use it to make decisions.”

Successful Staff Buy-In

Change management can be one of the greatest challenges facing businesses today. As Duncan began rolling out the new processes enabled by the Trimble platform, Pharris said she was excited to see the team’s positive response.

“You always have the early adopters and we’ve seen some people really shine with it. That’s one of the most rewarding things,” she said. “Watching people out there scouting and they’re really digging into the system! They’re learning it and they’re seeing so much value in it. Seeing that level of engagement? That’s the part I love”

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