The Farm Toolbox
By Treena Hein
By Treena Hein
Farmers are becoming more computer and technology savvy than ever, and are on the lookout for programs and hardware that make production easier. They want record-keeping to be streamlined and show more clearly how costs might be cut. That’s why two years ago Costa Aza, a second-generation poultry farmer in West Lincoln, Ont., began developing The Farm Toolbox, an online software farm management program. It keeps track of profits, makes sure you are in compliance with on-farm food safety protocols, allows you to compare production cycles and much more.
“During my first eight years of farming – seeing firsthand the importance of overall farm management as well as attention to daily operations – I was looking for a time management solution to help reduce the number of hours that I spent completing paperwork,” says Aza. Two years ago, he began creating the initial concept for the program, and once he found the appropriate support team (mainly Bruce Leung, a programmer with previous background in information technology development for the poultry industry), the development of the website moved ahead quickly. It was introduced in April 2010 at the London Poultry Show in Ontario.
How it works
After registering on the website, users can log on and access the program whenever they choose. They can enter or view information on crop results for each flock/production cycle, OFFSAP checklists, SOPs and other operational details. Flock data recorded in the program includes feed consumed, medications used, supplier information, mortality rates, water consumption and more. One of the most useful aspects of the program is the way users are able to go back and look at data from previous production cycles. “The ‘Dashboard’ application compiles and analyzes crop results automatically to provide you with barn-to-barn and crop-to-crop comparisons,” says Aza.
In Abbotsford, British Columbia, on a farm with 22,000 broilers, Ron Faber started using The Farm Toolbox in December 2010. “I have only entered data on one flock so far, but I’m very impressed,” he says. “It’s got everything you need, and you can look back and it’s all right there and very convenient. You don’t have to go through sheets of paper to find the information you’re looking for. It simply works like a computer program should.”
The OFFSAP and SOP information can be printed or e-mailed to the marketing boards when required by the auditing process. “It’s all in one secure location, organized and easily accessible, which makes the audit process a lot less stressful and more efficient,” notes Aza. “It allows producers to concentrate on their farming operations.” All the information is stored on a remote server that is backed up daily. “We have the highest level of security and follow the Canadian Privacy Act, which means the only person who sees a producer’s information is the producer,” Aza explains.
The program can be used on a daily, weekly or flock/production cycle basis. “For the average-sized farm using all the functionalities, it would take a producer no more than five minutes every day to enter data, but you can also log on once a week and get all the information entered in about 10 minutes,” says Aza. “Or, you can choose to enter in all the results for a flock once it’s shipped, and that takes about 30 minutes.” In terms of record-keeping efficiency, he estimates that by using The Farm Toolbox, customers are saving an average of an hour per barn per quota period.
Generally, the first crop is the most work for a producer because they need to enter all their farm details into the program, Aza notes. “During the second crop, the producer learns the copy function of the program which copies common items from your previous crop,” he says, “and by the third crop, producers are comfortable with this process and easily interact with the program to quickly enter new data.” It takes about three crops for users to feel completely comfortable and fluid with the website. “This is why I felt it was very important to provide a free 90-day trial,” Aza says. “We also provide customers with help during this time.” Aza is in the process of hiring people to provide demonstrations and hands-on support to new users, with the province of B.C. first in line.
As an added bonus to using the software, Aza says he has partnered with other select farm service providers in order to give discounts for products and services such as barn cleaning, shavings and disinfection. Ivan DeVries, who farms 60,000 roasters in Smithville, Ont., says “The discount I have with a supplier helped pay for the program.” He has been using The Farm Toolbox for six months. “It’s very user-friendly,” he notes. “You’re able to get on the program and right away, everything’s in front of you. I also like the way you can bring things forward to the new crop record that are similar to the last one.”
Chris Rose has been using The Farm Toolbox for about a year to manage the broiler barns and one turkey barn at Vassilakos, Apostolakos and Sigma Farms near Smithville. “We find it’s a nice service because you can access things online,” he says. “It’s also helping to solve paperwork issues, especially in our situation, when there are several barns to oversee.”
DeVries is also happy the way Aza is willing to make changes to the program so that almost everyone in the poultry industry can use it. Aza continually receives feedback from customers on ways to improve the site and to adapt to changes in the OFFSAP/SOP process, such as the recent inclusion of animal welfare requirements. “The program will continue to expand and add new features based on customer feedback and board requirements,” he says.
For more information, visit www.thefarmtoolbox.ca .