Figured's David Kirby caught up with Neil Adams, MD of Promar International on the future of farming, consulting and data
“Customers can now make the best use of the data that is being recorded on farms so that they have reliable, robust, accurate datasets that can be used in many different and versatile ways.”
Neil Adams, Managing Director of Promar International
Earlier in 2021, Promar International, UK’s leading agri advisory provider to farmers, announced the launch of Agstute, a new cloud-based system powered by Xero and Figured that combines accounting, reporting, planning, benchmarking and forecasting to create the data dashboard of choice for farm businesses.
The Agstute offering will be rolled out to all Promar customers in the first half of 2022. As more and more farmers in the UK adopt Agstute, Neil Adams, Managing Director of Promar International, and David Kirby, Executive VP Europe and Americas at Figured, sat down to reflect on the challenges the agriculture industry in the UK has faced over the past year, and to discuss the solutions that Agstute will be able to provide farmers and supply chains across the country.
David Kirby: For people who don’t yet know, can you give me the introductory pitch on Agstute and what you want to achieve with this new venture?
Neil Adams: Promar has been providing farm management accounting for about 50 years, and in looking for a solution that is not just fit for purpose for farms today, but also unique compared to what else is being offered in the market today, we developed Agstute.
But more than that, it's the service that we provide to make sure that customers can now make the best use of the data that is being recorded on farms so that they have reliable, robust, accurate sets of data that can be used in many different and versatile ways.
David Kirby: Tell me about what you saw in the market that spurred the idea for creating the Agstute service?
Neil Adams: Due to the nature of the industry and the need to work with complex data, one of our objectives was to find a more streamlined solution for farmers and their accountants. We were also aware of a growing demand, and need for a cloud-based accounting solution, which is a tool that has proven to be incredibly successful across the world.
One of the particular requirements for us after seeing lots of different tools out there, was for software that was tried and tested and that we knew would be reliable. Obviously the fact that Figured and Xero have so many customers across the world gave us the confidence to work with those businesses, and the confidence that they will continue to evolve their products in whatever form the market needs and requires.
David Kirby: Farming teams in the UK are facing some significant changes to the industry, what are some of these wider challenges that led Promar to see the need for Agstute?
Neil Adams: Well on one hand, farmers continue to need what they’ve always needed, such as a set of farm management accounts that they can interpret, as well as to meet all the statutory requirements that relate to farming and accounting.
I think the other thing they’ll need is a simpler and more automated solution, because farmers are often constrained by time. So anything that makes their jobs easier is really, really important. This is particularly relevant to farmers today because of the requirements of the suppliers and other businesses that we work with. There could be five or six organisations that all want the same data from a farmer, such as how many cows they have, or how much feed they provide. With Agstute, we’re making that simple and straightforward for a farmer to manage so they don’t have to duplicate and replicate work, which is understandably not a good use of their time.
Going forward there will also be more and more requirements for farmers to consider the impact on the environment, carbon accounting being one example of that. So a service that will evolve to enable us to help farmers accurately, and easily put that data together, is very important.
David Kirby: Touching on subsidies, and perhaps the business opportunities that are arising from diversification, what value do you see in having a system that brings all up-to-date data into one place?
Neil Adams: Oh, great value. As you said, many farmers are diversifying into lots of different enterprises. Some of those might be retail enterprises, some of them may be classical farm enterprises and so on. You’re introducing a lot of complexity, and could end up with a farm business that is operating over multiple sites. There needs to be an accounting platform that can accommodate that.
One thing that we think is going to be a bit of a game changer is the ease by which we will be able to support farmers themselves. Agstute offers the possibility to plan and budget, which is important. Margins are going to be squeezed as subsidies are cut back, so I think having access to really good detail and being able to plan, and monitor against that, is going to be massively important.
David Kirby: We briefly spoke a little about the growing demand for a cloud-based platform. Why do you think a farming team should consider moving to cloud-based technology, and what do they need to think about when they make the shift?
Neil Adams: I believe what’s really important to a farmer is ‘will it work?’ Will they get the support they need when they want it? This is why we want to give our customers the confidence that cloud-based technology offers an advantage.
Firstly, the data will be compliant which is essential when it comes to meeting the legal requirements that farm businesses have to follow.
Secondly, using cloud-based technology will mean that data is held securely. Amongst all the factors that I have mentioned, I would say that this is probably the one that people worry about most. That’s why it’s important to reiterate that all data is encrypted.
Finally, I would say that a key benefit of this technology is that it is being updated all the time and there is no action required from the user. With our current software, if there is a bug or it’s not working for a particular reason, an update is usually required. This falls down to the user to go through the process, which can often take a long time and can cause errors in the system. You don’t have to worry about this with Agstute, it is automatically improving and evolving everyday in order to make the system as customer-centric as possible.
A high majority of farmers will already be using cloud technology, whether that be through the GPS on their tractors or collecting information from their agronomist. Understandably, however, there will be people who are a little bit more nervous about the concept. It’s our job to put their minds at rest and to make sure we give them the reassurance they deservedly need.
David Kirby: We touched on the other opportunities that could arise from utilising Agstute, such as supporting the development of new environmental requirements. Do you see further opportunities arising from our collaboration?
Neil Adams: We just have to look at the issue of duplication and the fact that this system eliminates the need for farmers to re-enter the same data twice, or perhaps even three times. The cloud based application means that it’s much easier to link to other sources of data, which may be from your milk buyer or perhaps your mobile phone company.
Essentially, the whole process of collecting information is streamlined. We too are able to provide more comparative information, so the whole process of benchmarking through these tools will ultimately be much slicker and easier.
An immediate concern here may be whether you will have control over your own data and who has access to it. That is massively important! But, the farmer does have complete control over that within the system and it’s the farmer that gives permission for someone else to view their data.
Fundamentally, it’s about the farmers themselves and providing them with a system that’ll help to improve their decision making.
David Kirby: A natural concluding question here would be, how do farmers get started and how will you help your clients through this journey onto Agstute?
Neil Adams: We’re striving to create a seamless transition for all our clients, from one system to another. We have set up a solid foundation of processes, protocols and training. All of which will be communicated very clearly with our customers. This new system offers a collection of clear benefits, and we’re excited to be sharing these with all our clients.
Not forgetting the value in the partnerships we have formed with your team at Figured and at Xero. It has made the whole process a lot easier because of the expertise, support and help that has been provided to us and our clients.
If farmers are using Agstute, then they not only have the support of their analyst, they too are able to utilise forums, helpdesks and much more. It’s about providing an option to suit everyone’s business and needs, and I think we have done that with this new system.
If you’d like to learn more about Agstute and how this new service will benefit your farm business, click here. Promar will be happy to set up a 1-2-1 meeting with you to provide a detailed demo of Agstute, discuss its benefits and evaluate how you can make the most of the tool.
Promar International will also be exhibiting at Dairy Tech on 7th April 2022, where you’ll have the opportunity to delve deep into the workings of Agstute and its capabilities. Visit Dairy-Tech's website to purchase your ticket. It’s not one to be missed!