An official website of the United States government.

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Developing a Grower-centric Online Software Prototype to Enable Vegetable Producers to Collect Accurate and Timely Crop Harvest Information

Investigators
Stellari, Guilia; Froikin-Gordon, Jeff
Institutions
AgSquared LLC
Start date
2012
End date
2013
Objective

The goal of this project is to research the problem of harvest information capture among specialty crop producers and to develop a prototype solution that enables growers to record extended information about their harvests. Harvest information is of great value to specialty crop producers in the management of their day-to-day operations, and to crop buyers and processors who rely on accurate information about upcoming harvest quantity and quality to plan sales and production. In addition, well-structured harvest records are a necessary component of an effective food safety and traceability infrastructure. By better understanding the challenges around the capture of information about harvests we can develop tools that help producers, buyers, and processers increase the efficiency of their businesses, diversify their marketing channels, and enhance their capacity to protect their businesses against food safety issues, thereby increasing the competitiveness of American specialty crop, organic producers, and processing businesses. This project has three main objectives:

1) Researching the harvest attributes that are of greatest value to buyers and producers;

2) Working with growers in a structured brainstorming process, develop prototype software interfaces that enable the capture of harvest information within the context of the existing farming workflow;

3) Integrating the resultant prototype software interfaces into AgSquared and testing the new software for its efficacy in improving harvest information capture The expected output of this research is the development of a prototype software interface that enables specialty crop producers to capture information related to their harvests, both quantitative and qualitative, in the context of AgSquared, a crop production planning and management online software package. This tool will simplify the collection of accurate and complete harvest records by producers, and will make those records available online where they can be integrated into a variety of downstream applications. This in turn will enable the creation of new opportunities for marketing and encourage specialty crop traceability from seed purchase through harvest.

More information

NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY:
Consumers are now demanding more information about farm production processes and their resulting harvests. Harvest records, although difficult for farmers to capture, can contain rich product data such as grading information and macro and micronutrient content, allowing farmers to differentiate themselves from competitors and market their produce effectively, as in organic farming. Harvest records also play a key role in food safety and traceability as they are often at the top of a chain of records describing the inputs in multi-step food production processes that combine the products of many harvests into a single food product. By linking harvest information to crop production plans, one can obtain more in-depth information about the quality and safety of harvested produce, which in turn could improve food safety and traceability initiatives. Our solution to the problem of harvest record capture for vegetable growers is an online software module that enables growers to capture information about their harvests including a variety of information such as quantity, quality, and time to availability. This software solution will be integrated into AgSquared, our online software for farm production planning and management. AgSquared is designed to use a farm's crop production season plans as the basis for operations management and record keeping during the course of the growing season. This integrated approach vastly simplifies the process of keeping comprehensive, organized and meaningful farming records, and we anticipate that this benefit can be extended to the capture of information about harvests as well. AgSquare's software is available on a subscription basis and is already being used by a diverse group of U.S. farmers several thousand strong. The objective of this study is to identify the optimal approach for enabling farmers to collect, organize, and utilize detailed information about their vegetable crop harvests to enhance their marketing efforts. Our research will shed light on the specific harvest quantity and quality metrics that are of greatest business value to both growers and produce buyers. It will yield a prototype software module optimized to enable vegetable crop producers to effectively capture those metrics as part of their farm management processes. Our approach involves first researching the harvest attributes that are of greatest value to buyers and producers. Next, working with growers in a structured brainstorming process, we will develop prototype software interfaces that enable the capture of harvest information within the context of the existing farming workflow. Finally, we will integrate the resultant prototype software interfaces into AgSquared and test the new software for its efficacy in improving harvest information capture. The impact of this study will be the creation of a farmer-friendly harvest data collection system that seamlessly integrates valuable information from seed purchase, through farm operations, and harvest, all accessible through an online database. This will enhance the livelihood of U.S. specialty crop producers by expanding marketing opportunities and simplifying produce traceability.

APPROACH:
Our farmer-driven approach to optimizing the capture of harvest information among specialty crop producers will employ a combination of methods including statistical data analysis, interviews, surveys, prototype tests and user observations. At each step in the project the results will be analyzed using an appropriate combination of the above methods and used to determine how best to proceed in the next phase. In Step 1, which has already been completed, we designed and built an online farm production planning and tracking system that can be extended to allow for the capture of harvest records. We will use descriptive statistics to analyze the data collected from AgSquared's many thousand users to identify which software features growers use most effectively. This will allow us to identify the basic characteristics of an optimal harvest data collection system. In Step 2, we will identify the harvest data that are most important to specialty crop buyers. Our partner on this project will be the largest real-time marketplace for buyer-producer matching. Using descriptive statistics, we plan to analyze the data obtained from their database of thousands of online buyers' searches, click-through data, sellers' profiles, and reported harvest attributes, to identify the characteristics and attributes that are common to successful buyer-producer matches. Based on this information, we will then assemble a panel of growers who could collect such data to assist in Step 3 of our approach. In Step 3 we use the data obtained from Step 2, and based on an understanding of what the most relevant harvest attributes are and why they matter, develop a software module that enables their capture in the context of AgSquared's online farm production planning and management software. This step will be carried out by using a well-known and proven technique for determination of user needs and rapid prototype development known as Joint Application Design (JAD) (Beynon-Davies and Holmes, 1998, Moeller, 2010) where we will work together with a diverse panel of growers to identify solutions to the harvest-recording problem. Throughout the process, we will survey the growers to measure their satisfaction with the tools developed. And using this iterative process, we will then improve upon initial designs, aiming for continuous improvement at each iteration. In Step 4, the prototype interfaces created in Step 3 will be made available to growers for use in the field. We will measure the difference between the completeness, and frequency of capture of growers' previous harvest data records and those captured through the new harvest data collection interfaces. In Step 5, the prototype interfaces developed in Step 4 will be refined further and will undergo usability testing to ensure their suitability for use by a wide range of growers. At that point we will also explore the development of a method to export AgSquared harvest record information and integrate AgSquared harvest records with other online software applications. Subsequent steps will involve commercialization of AgSquared's farm production planning and management software and new harvest information recording module.

PROGRESS:
2012/05 TO 2013/01
OUTPUTS: The goal of AgSquared's project "Developing a grower-centric online software prototype to enable vegetable producers to collect accurate and timely crop harvest information" was to research harvest information capture among specialty crop producers and develop a software prototype to enable producers to record extended information about their harvests. Harvest information is of great value to specialty crop producers in the management of their day-to-day operations. At the same time crop buyers and food processors rely on accurate information about upcoming harvest quantity and quality to plan sales and production. In addition, well-structured harvest records are a necessary component of an effective farm-level food safety and traceability program. The output of AgSquared's research was the development of a prototype software interface that enables specialty crop producers to capture quantitative information about their harvested crops and makes this information immediately useful for the purpose of sales, fulfillment and delivery planning. The tool designed as part of this study simplifies the collection of harvest records by producers, and by gathering the data within the context of AgSquared's farm planning, management and record keeping software, makes those records available in a variety of farm business management contexts, from the creation of yearly crop production plans to the management of farm sales. A variety of methods were used to achieve the project output. First, twenty farms that currently use AgSquared's farm planning, management and record keeping software were visited by Dr. Froikin Gordon and members of the AgSquared team. Producers in four different areas of the U.S. (Pacific Northwest, Northeast, Great Plains and MidAtlantic regions) were visited. Producers were selected who use AgSquared at different levels of proficiency so that the results of the observational study would not be biased toward those who are more adept in the use of online software. Following the farm visits, AgSquared convened a panel of producers who are also AgSquared users for a three-day intensive workshop to design the prototype harvest management interfaces. The workshop participants were invited to first explore the information management procedures on their farms, including the management of harvests. After identifying the most important steps in the management of each harvest, a harvest management software interface was described and sketched by the producers for further development by AgSquared's software design and development team. This resulted in the development of a harvest management software interface that was then shared with the workshop participants for further input and evaluation. PARTICIPANTS: AgSquared's software research, design, and development team participated in the study "Developing a grower-centric online software prototype to enable vegetable producers to collect accurate and timely crop harvest information". The team was comprised of Jeff Froikin Gordon, Ph.D., Giulia M. Stellari Ph.D., Drew Katz and Stephen Simmons. AgSquared's software graphic design subcontractor Miscellaneous Projects LLC which provided the graphic design work prototyping the harvest management application assisted the core AgSquared team. Heather Hilleren of Local Dirt provided access to its vast online database of buyer-seller transactions. Erika Block of Local Orbit provided her expertise in facilitating local buyer-seller transactions. David Baker of Primrose Valley Farm supported the AgSquared team in the design, management and execution of the producer-led software brainstorming session where the harvest management application was designed. In addition, we acknowledge the participation of AgSquared's software design and evaluation panel comprised of the following producers: Eric Rozendaal of Rockville Market Farm, Adam Colvin of Colvin Family Farm, Joey Smith of Shone Farm, Phyllis Duncan of Granny B Farm, Deb Fishel of Fishel Organic Farm, Clara Coleman of Four Season Farm Consulting and formerly of Divide Creek Farm, Mark Werner of Muddy Pumpkin Farm, Joe Bozzelli of Five Elements Farm and Jerry Cornet of Lakehouse Farm. We also thank the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Center for making available the facilities and lodging used during the producer software brainstorming session. AgSquared also thanks the USDA NIFA SBIR program for providing the financial support that enabled the research results presented here. TARGET AUDIENCES: The harvest management software tool that was prototyped targets U.S. specialty crop producers, especially those producers who are interested in participating in value added marketing, certified organic production or adopting food safety and traceability protocols in order to expand their network of buyers. The results obtained through the course of this study and the prototype harvest management software tool developed as a result of this study may also be of interest to the cooperative extension community, agricultural educators, and agricultural consultants. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: One major modification was made to the execution of the project. The farm visits, which were originally scheduled as part of a user acceptance testing study designed to evaluate the efficacy of the harvest management tool on the farm, were conducted at the beginning of the project. The AgSquared team felt that it was more important to document the harvest management practices on different types of specialty crop farms in different regions across the US before beginning to design a harvest management tool. This allowed the team to ensure that the harvest management software designed would meet the needs of a diverse set of specialty crop producers. User acceptance testing was then performed by making the harvest management application available online to the producers who participated in its design and soliciting their feedback through written evaluations of the tool and follow-up interviews. The team also considered using heat mapping tools, which are software tools that allow one to remotely visualize a user's interaction with an online software application, to gather quantitative feedback about the effectiveness of the application's design. However, heat mapping tools for online software are not yet sufficiently sophisticated to provide the kind of feedback needed to refine the harvest management application developed.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
Project source
View this project
Project number
DCW-2012-00322
Accession number
228833
Categories
Education and Training
Parasites
Natural Toxins
Viruses and Prions
Bacterial Pathogens
Chemical Contaminants
Policy and Planning
Commodities
Produce