Excel Spreadsheet in Farming / Agriculture: Case Study

How can an Excel spreadsheet in farming / agriculture be helpful? In the below Excel spreadsheet development case study, Tiger Spreadsheet Solutions worked with a client in farming / agriculture to improve business efficiency and effectiveness. The project began in January 2014 and is ongoing.

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Mary-Anne Ross, owner of the Milimani Estates Farm in Chisamba, Zambia, contacted Tiger Spreadsheet Solutions in January 2014 for help with the farm’s lambing operations. The farm rears lambs and sells them to national buyers who buy according to weight. The challenge facing Mary-Anne, therefore, was to improve the quality of livestock, as measured by the ‘dressed out’ weight, and the selling price. With a growing stock of animals, it was becoming difficult to track the critical information that determines the quality of the livestock and the profitability of the enterprise.

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Mary-Anne picks up the story, ‘In a way, we were a victim of our own success. Sales were strong, which allowed the stock of animals to expand. But, growing numbers meant that our staff could no longer accurately remember information about the animals; for example, which lambs had been inoculated and wormed, and which had not. More importantly, as the flock grew, we could not keep track of the lambs’ fathers! This meant we could not identify the best rams and keep improving the weaning weight of the stock.’

A number of software solutions for livestock management in farming / agriculture are available for purchase. Why did Mary-Anne not invest in a piece of software? She comments, ‘We were aware of ‘off-the-shelf’ software, but I was not convinced that a piece of software would do what we needed. Moreover, a significant ‘one-off’ investment would be required, which was not ideal. I was looking for something more bespoke that would meet our needs very closely. I thought that an Excel spreadsheet in farming might be possible, which is why we got in touch with Tiger.’

Project Inception

Chris Mortimer, leading the project for Tiger, describes the inception phase of the project. ‘Mary-Anne was clear about the information she needed, and this was a great starting point. Our approach was to track back through the problem from the required outputs in order to identify the input data required. This allowed us to develop an input sheet for staff to use to record information about each animal. The sheet uses techniques such as data validation and cell protection to ensure user-friendliness, and we trained staff to make sure they were confident using it.’

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After the inception phase, the project progressed on an iterative basis: a small development step followed by client feedback, and more development. The project took place almost entirely online via email dialogue and Skype conversations. This way of working created a constant open line of communication which ensured that the spreadsheet model is a close match with client needs.

Development Process

As the dataset grew, the Tiger development team worked through the Excel spreadsheet development process to create the analysis that the farm required. The first priority was to understand the performance of ewes and rams according to the weights of their progeny. By analysing each lamb’s mother and father, selling weight and other data, the spreadsheet model presented a ‘league table’ of rams and ewes that identified the top performers on the basis of important criteria. Other important analyses were added over time. A ‘dashboard’ summarises performance information in a visual, easy-to-understand format.

Project Impact

What has been the impact of the Excel spreadsheet model? Mary-Anne comments, ‘The record keeping is so useful and the analysis amazingly easy-to-read. It looks great! I cannot believe that I can access so much information, so easily. We are now able to make investment decisions based on the history of the animals, not just based on our suspicions and intuition; it has helped us to exploit the best rams and to replace the poor performers, for example. The development process has been straightforward and the team and Tiger very good to work with.’

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