Technology can be a blessing or a curse for many horticultural field managers in this age of instant communication, with useful information either right at their fingertips or perhaps buried deep in old email or whatsapp threads. With this in mind, as well as the strict reporting standards demanded by supermarkets, Argentine company Eland has developed a convenient smartphone tool that helps track field notes on a range of topics. After becoming established in Argentina’s commodity crops, the app’s use is now growing in the Chilean fruit and vegetable sector.
It all began with a young Argentine whose father passed away a couple of years ago, leaving him 10,000 hectares of soy crops to manage.
“He said he didn’t know what to do. There was a lot of paperwork and phone calls, all the tasks were assigned on the phone, and he had no record whatsoever of what was going on,” says the man’s friend and Eland co-founder Joaquin Rodriguez, whose project falls under the umbrella Buenos Aires development company Southapps.
“He said he knew people were stealing from the warehouse, and that sometimes when he gave orders about east or west, people would get confused about which field to work on, as the two words sound very similar in Spanish.
“We said ‘n0, the internet is coming to your farms’. We have smartphone devices that are powerful and the web, so why don’t we match these two tools together and create a platform for you to be able to manage your farm?”
In simple terms, the app allows people in the field to confirm the completion of tasks and take real-time notes that can be referenced now or later, focusing on specific plots and issues like pests, flowering, humidity, chemical use and inventories; the list goes on and the app can be adapted to client needs.
Since that first deal in 2013, the Argentine side of the business has grown to support 15 clients across 55,000 hectares of land in Buenos Aires and La Pampa, and it didn’t take long before Rodriguez teamed up with French entrepreneur Thomas Grandperrin across the border in Chile.
“The advantage in Chile is in fruits and vegetables, where you don’t need a big portion of land to be really profitable,” Rodriguez says.
“Ask any production manager about how long it takes for him to know about all of the phytosanitary aspects from every field or for different crops, and it’ll probably take the whole afternoon to consolidate different spreadsheets, and check that the information is not redundant.
“He will spend hours in front of the computer just for one report.”
While Grandperrin’s master’s degree focused on management, he has had to quickly learn a great deal about how agriculture works. One lesson is that producers, even in large companies, don’t like to spend too long in the office after a long day outside.
“They don’t have time for that, so basically with Eland it’s creating tools allowing them to spend as little time as possible in front of the computer, and to manage their inventories in a few clicks for instance, as they need to write reports all the time; especially big fruit companies that export,” Grandperrin says.
“Basically the production manager plans all of the activities for a task, and will assign them to field managers who receive the notification on their phones, saying to use this or that product. Let’s say for instance that it is raining – the field manager will add a commentary that only half the field was done or because of the weather the task will need to be done again.
“How does that happen today? You receive a phone call or you receive a message on whatsapp, and there is no proper recording of information. Or you read through an old thread of 100 email messages.”
Rodriguez emphasizes that the type of precision and efficiency measurement offered by Eland is extremely helpful in today’s competitive market.
“Managers are measured by their yields basically, and the usual saying goes that you can’t make the things you don’t track more efficient,” he says.
“You are now comparing everything that happens in the field and and you can compare it to a different year. You can ask why did I do ‘x’ in a particular year and did that affect my yield? Then you can read the comments on why.
“This information is really valuable, and with systems the way are today if someone leaves the company you cannot track it.”
But clients needn’t track everything if they don’t want to. Grandperrin highlights users can choose to go into deep information or just focus on a few specific issues.
“It means ou can say, ‘I don’t want to track my inventory with the app, I’ll do it a different way’. We don’t want to be like SAP for instance. We don’t want to be the big ERP (enterprise resource planning) where you need to enter all the information and if you don’t you’re screwed,” he says.
“When we start with a client we say, ‘why don’t you start with the observations, so you give phones to your three key people?’ Instead of taking notes about what they see, they just take a photo, write a few comments, and that goes into the background,” Rodriguez adds.
“The good thing is they don’t need internet for the app to work – they will synchronize all of it – they’ll store all the information on the device, and when they get a connection to the internet it will upload.”
The co-founders also plan to take the app to new markets, particularly Peru and France, but for now the main focus is Chile.
If you’re interested in knowing more about Eland, feel free to visit the company’s website here.