ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

Is there software out there for organic recordkeeping?

Posted April 12, 2007

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our NewFarm.org readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Click here to send it to Jeff.

Dear Jeff,

Regarding transitioning to organic, the biggest obstacle to overcome—besides the change of style of farming or thinking of farming—is the abundance of notes to be logged in.

In my opinion if you want someone to participate in your program, you should make it easy as possible for them. How about software that utlizes Excel, Lotus, or whatever, that could be slightly changed to meet personal needs. Fill out a log every day, and let it generate the reports. It seems to me that if the state wants to increase organic participation, then how about having software from the state to facilitate us. I have enough things to be good at without having to master computer science, too. Should we (farmers) either reinvent the wheel or pay others to make software? One of the first things one has to do is hand out money to several people to get certified. Someone always has their hand out to the farmer.

Ricky Klein
North Carolina

 

Dear Ricky,

I just finished up sending in my own re-certification forms and can relate to your concerns and comments. The main reason no one has put together the forms in a prescribed way is because there is no prescribed way to collect the information. The federal rule allows each certifier, and each farmer for that matter, to collect the necessary information in the manner that is most convenient for them. This is to build flexibility into the system to allow for the great diversity of cropping systems, production styles, livestock, greenhouse and certification practices out there in the real world. Many certifiers do have their forms available electronically, where they can be downloaded and filled out with the use of a computer. But many farmers don't want to use a computer, so a paper and pencil are still viable recordkeeping tools.

We use a computer-based system utilizing Microsoft Access as the platform to construct our own recordkeeping forms for our field operations and soil and water test results. We then ask the computer to write a report based on our input data, and we get what we need for our certification as a printout. There is no getting around recordkeeping in almost any type of agricultural system. Our conventional neighbors need to get pesticide credits, keep detailed records of what they sprayed, where they sprayed and when they did it. They may even need to notify certain residents in the area they are spraying to warn them of the operation. We all need to track our animals as they move through the system and assign lot numbers to grain shipments. It seems to be part of the business of agriculture.

The trick is to do exactly what you are doing. Take notes as you go and record them in some sort of organized system—with or without the use of a computer. Don't wait unil the last minute and try to remember what you did eight, nine or even 12 months ago. By keeping track of this information, you'll find that you actually begin to learn a lot more about your farm, your soil and your entire operation. And as you learn, you'll see places to make improvements that benefit all of us.

We are currently working on a transition training course as an online teaching tool that will use a series of electronic forms to collect the necessary information to fill out an Organic System Plan. We're hoping this will alleviate many of the headaches you describe, and you won't need to become a computer wizard to make it work.

Jeff