Tech Apps for the Farm

The Tech Apps We’re Using on the Farm

19/07/2019

3 apps from the tech world that make farm life easier

We’ve taken our farm online. We don’t mean that we’ve installed IoT devices in every corner or started tracking our cows with smart cameras. We’ve upgraded our communications systems to make the daily working of the farm easier and much more efficient. There are thousands of organisational apps aimed at making teams work smarter. The three we’ve listed below, Slack, Trello and Notion, are the ones that have made the biggest impact on Agrichecker and more recently our farming operation. These days a farm is managed like a business and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be using the best business tools available to manage our farms.

Slack

Slack is a communication app that has transformed the way the Agrichecker team collaborates daily. Our team members are spread across South Africa and even those close to each other work in separate offices. Slack brought a level of immediacy and precision to our communications, in a way that email just can’t.

Slack also has an excellent backstory which you can listen to on the How I Built This Podcast:

Why We Love It

  • Accountability

    Remember that thing that guy said in that email, or wait, was it on Whatsapp? When you’re working in a team environment, things often get misunderstood, ignored or forgotten. With Slack, both team and private communication happen in the same place, all messages are saved and it’s easy to search for messages. This keeps every member of a team accountable.

  • Organisation

    With Slack, you can create different channels for each aspect of your business, and you can choose which team members you share each channel with. So, instead of sending endless internal emails and Whatsapps, each with a different subject line, and cc’ing your colleagues, Slack keeps messages and message threads streamlined and organised.

  • Integration

    Already using other apps on your farm? Slack syncs with your Google Calendar, Google Drive, Trello, Notion and more to make it easier to schedule meetings, discuss issues, share documents and more. For example, if your team is already using Google Calendar Slack will share notifications of events scheduled and send additional notifications if event details are changed.

How can I use it on the farm?

Slack is designed to be used by teams of all sizes, and enterprises of every kind. To give you an idea, businesses as diverse and large as NASA and Airbnb use Slack.

Think of all the messages your management team sends via Whatsapp, SMS and email, and how difficult it is to keep tabs on each of these. Even with email subject lines or Whatsapp groups, it can be tricky to know what’s happened, happening or going to happen on the farm. All these messages can be sent via Slack which functions as a central communication hub. Each message can be organised in the channel you create for it and message notifications are delivered to your smart phone, exactly as they are with Whatsapp, SMS or email. You can also be sure that team members know about things happening on the farm like who’s on leave or when the vet is coming because they get their Google Calendar notifications via Slack.

How much does it cost?

The good news is that for most businesses the free version of Slack is more than sufficient, but if you find you need extra features you’ll be paying upwards of $6.68 per user per month.

Trello

Trello Screenshot

Trello is based on the Japanese Kanban board technique. Kanban boards emerged in the 1940s as Toyota began to rethink their approach to manufacturing and engineering processes. Kanban is the Japanese word for “visual signal” or “card,” and Toyota’s line workers would use actual cards to manage production processes and demands for parts. In recent years Kanban boards were adopted by software development teams to manage workflow and workload from conceptual stages to testing and completion.

 

Trello embraces Kanban principles and Lean systems thinking to provide teams with an excellent visual platform for managing workflow, assigning tasks, standardising processes and more.

 

Trello can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. To get started you create a board for your business and invite your team members. You can then organise your board into lists representing your workflow and individual cards representing tasks to be completed. The cards are then moved from left to right along each list until they reach the completion stage. You can add text and images to cards, colour code them, assign them to different team members, add due dates, attach documents and so on. Trello is completely flexible so even if you don’t have a traditional left-to-right workflow you can organise your board according to days of the week or whatever system suits you. Confused? Watch this video:

Why We Love It

  • Information

    Trello lets you condense huge amounts of information into an easily digestible format. Not only can you see the progress of each task but depending on how you set up your Trello you can also see if deadlines are being met, who’s responsible for a task and more, all at a glance.

  • Precision

    Each Trello card can be elaborated to include detailed descriptions, checklists, pictures, discussions and more. This means that you can use Trello almost like an instruction manual or resource guide for your team. For example, if you create a Trello card for “cleaning dairy parlour equipment” you can add a checklist for each stage of the cleaning process and a detailed description of what needs to be done. This way every team member knows what’s expected of them and everyone completes tasks in more or less the same way.

  • Time-Saving

    Trello cards can be reused or copied, so putting in a little effort to create detailed Trello boards and cards is worth it. You save time by not having to relay the same instructions over and over again and by keeping processes standardised. Trello’s at-a-glance view of tasks also helps you to manage workflow more efficiently by spotting problem areas before they become real problems.

How can I use it on the farm?

We use Trello to manage our daily tasks on the farm. Our boards are organised by days of the week and each Trello card describes a task to be completed, for example, “Fertilise Pasture” or “Count Cattle.” Cards are detailed with descriptions, colour-coded or assigned to team members as necessary. Where appropriate, team members comment on cards to ask questions, relay information or discuss problems. Cards that reach the “Done” column are moved back to the start of the board to be reused.

Trello is so flexible that you can use it to manage any project, from planting a new orchard on your farm or building a new dairy parlour to organising your household cleaning tasks. It’s all up to you.

How much does it cost?

Again, the free version of Trello should be sufficient for the needs of most farms. Business plans start at $10 per user per month.

Notion

Notion is a dynamic all-in-one workspace and the newest addition to the Agrichecker toolbox. With Notion you can make notes and create docs, manage tasks and projects, create spreadsheets and databases and create a knowledge base for your business. Essentially Notion combines the best features of apps such as Google Docs, Evernote, Google Calendar, Trello and more so that all your information is in one place.

Why We Love It

  • Knowledge

    With Notion you create pages within your workspace and each of these pages can have their own subsections, almost like a book. This means you can make a user manual for your business which describes or explains just about anything. This makes onboarding new employees much easier as they have a detailed reference guide at their fingertips.

  • Variety

    What’s great about Notion is the variety of media and text that you can include in each page. Tables, Kanban boards, pictures, videos, checklists, galleries and more all help to present information in a straightforward way.

  • Collaboration

    Workspace members can comment on and add to pages so issues are resolved quickly.

How can I use it on the farm?

We use Notion as a user manual for our business. Tasks such as, “Care of Young Calves” are described on a Notion page and linked to the relevant Trello card. As the task changes or we receive advice from the vet, the Notion page is updated so all team members are kept in the loop. Notion can also be used to outline processes, such as the steps taken to care for a sick animal or place orders at the co-op. We find that a lot of knowledge on a farm is internalised by people as they gain experience. Notion helps to take that knowledge and make it easily accessible for everyone involved.

 

Our Trello, Notion and Slack workspaces are all linked. Any changes in Trello and Notion pop up on Slack as notifications, so it’s easy to see when something needs your attention.

How much does it cost?

The free version of Notion should suit most farms, however there is a 5MB file upload limit. Team versions start at $8 per member per month.

Each of these apps requires a little bit of effort to get started and it’s not always easy to convince team members to start working in new and different ways. However, we’ve found that the early growing pains give way to a much better, smarter and faster way of working which is embraced by all team members.