Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida, Gainesville
John T Woeste, Dean for Extension
For Your Farmm
Some Things to Think About
What is a Computer 1
Why Use a Computer 2
A Working Computer 3
Input Devices 4
Memory and Storage 5
Output Devices 8
Other Special Hardware 12
Application Software 14
Specialized Record Keeping 16
Data Base Management 16
Electronic Worksheet 16
Word Processing 18
System Software 19
Language Translator 20
Operating System 20
Utility Programs 22
Buying Hardware and Software
Hardware Packaging 23
Where to Get Software 24
How Software is Sold 24
What to Look for as You Buy Software 25
Can I Really Benefit From Using A Computer?
Learning to Operate a Computer 28
Fitting a Computer to Your Management Style 29
Benefits of Using a Computer 30
Costs of Operating a Computer 32
Seven Steps In Buying A Farm Computer 33
Norlin Hein is extension economist, farm management, and Mark
Wilsdorf is extension assistant, Department of Agricultural Economics,
University of Missouri. Reprinted by permission.
The use of trade names in text or photographs in this publication is solely for
the purpose of providing specific information. It is not a guarantee, warranty, or
endorsement of the products named and does not signify that they are approved
to the exclusion of others.
For Your Farm
Some Things to Think About
and Mark Wilsdorf
Are you interested in using a computer on your farm? Farm magazines
and the news media have been full of stories about farmers using
computers. So you have probably heard that computers can be a big help
in managing a farm business. But you probably have also heard that it is
easy for first-time computer buyers to make mistakes-to buy a computer
that does not fill their needs or suit their style of management.
How do you decide whether or not you would benefit from
using a computer? And if you think you might benefit from using
one, how do you choose the computer system that is right for you?
This publication may not answer all your questions, but it should give
you a head-start on the information you need.
The first part contains basic information about what computers are,
why they are useful, how they work, and what the parts of a computer
Next comes a discussion about learning how to use a computer, and
deciding whether you would benefit enough from having a computer
to justify owning one.
Finally, we present a step-by-step approach to buying a computer
What this publication does not contain is a lot of strange computer
terms and technical talk. Hopefully, it will give you enough general
information about computers to help you:
(1) decide whether computers are worth looking into for your farm
(2) talk more comfortably with computer salesmen, and
(3) start learning more about this new farm management tool.
What Is a Computer?
Someone has said that a computer is something like a "cross
between a calculator and a file cabinet." Like a calculator, a com-
puter can perform mathematical operations: add, subtract, multiply,
divide, and compare numbers. But computers can also store numbers,
words, and other information in an organized manner so that they
can be recalled at some later time-just as you might store folders
of information in a file cabinet.
More will be said later about what a computer is. For now, just
remember that a computer is an electronic device capable of doing
thousands of calculations per second, and capable of storing information
for later recall.
Most computers for the farm are microcomputers that cost less than
$10,000 and use a microprocessor (small computer chip) to perform
calculations. When the word "computer" is used here, realize that
it actually refers to microcomputers-computers inexpensive enough
to be used on farms and in small businesses.
Why Use a Computer?
You may have heard that computers have no more calculating ability
than humans. That's correct. Given sufficient time, a human can do any
calculation a computer can.
Then why use a computer?
(1) A computer can free time for other pursuits-such as spending
more time in the farrowing house, or checking crops.
(2) Computers do repetitious calculations without getting tired and
(3) Computers are thousands of times faster than humans, they can
provide more timely information.
Most people fail to realize how significant this third reason is. The
speed of computers allows calculations, analysis, and summaries of
information that would not be feasible for a human to do by hand, simply
because it would take too much time.
Consider the job of keeping detailed crop records by hand, on a
field-by-field basis. If you have tried this, you may have found that if you
write down all the crop data you want to keep-planting dates,
herbicides, plant populations, fertilizer rates, yields, etc.-and do it for
each field, you have a lot of paper by the end of the year. Even a limited
summary of such detailed records can take hours or days to do by hand. A
computer could provide a detailed summary in minutes and would
permit you to analyze the data in many different ways. For instance, you
might compare this year's soybean yield on your farm with the average
yields of the past five years, the past ten years, etc.
Because of their speed in summarizing and analyzing data, comput-
ers let you keep more detailed records than you would try to keep if those
records had to be summarized by hand. That is, computers help you
glean management information from detailed records-items such as a
sow's average production for her past three litters, or the percent of equity
you have in your farm-without you having to spend much time to get
Computers also let you quickly forecast the results of various business
plans. Suppose your lender wants estimates of what your next year's cash
flow situation would be at low crop prices, medium prices, and at higher
prices. It might take a whole day to prepare three detailed twelve-month
cash flow plans if you did them by hand. A computer would help you
prepare them in a few minutes.
A Working Computer
Two main items are required for a computer to work-hardware and
software. Hardware refers to the physical parts of a computer. Anything
you can see or touch-electronic circuits, wiring, the computer cabinet,
etc.-is part of a computer's hardware. Software refers to instructions
that tell the computer how to solve a problem, analyze your data, etc.
Software is just another word for computer programs. Said differently,
both software and computer program are terms for a list of instructions
that tell a computer how to do a job.
A computer cannot do anything unless it has both hardware and
software, working together. One way to visualize how hardware and
software work together is to think of hardware as a.tractor, and software
as implements the tractor can pull. The tractor (hardware) provides the
power and ability to do work. The implements (software) determine what
type of work will be done-plowing, disking, planting, etc. Neither the
tractor nor an implement can do any work alone; but used together,
much can be accomplished. Likewise, a computer (hardware) cannot do
work without a computer program (software), but together they can
provide solutions to problems.
Not all implements fit all tractors. They must have compatible hitches
and hydraulic couplings, and the tractor's horsepower must be matched
with the implement's working depth and width. So it is with computers.
For a computer and a program to work together, the program must be
compatible with the computer. Most programs are designed to be used
in only one type of computer, and will not work in other types without
When automobiles were introduced everyone was faced with
learning some new words-muffler, transmission, radiator, etc. As
automobiles became commonplace, so did those words. Now, no one
thinks of automotive terms as being difficult or strange. Almost everyone
understands enough about his or her car to tell a mechanic that the fender
is dented, the motor is not running properly, or the radiator is leaking.
People using computers have a basic understanding of computers
and common computer terms. To talk with a computer salesman or
repairman you need a similar understanding of what the parts of a
computer are and what each part does. Just as only a few people became
automobile mechanics few will become computer technicians, but every
computer user will have enough understanding to communicate with a
technician or with other computer users.
Central Processor Cassette Tape Recorder
This section describes the hardware typically found in a farm business
computer system. It explains the purpose of each major component and
introduces terms that anyone buying a computer should understand.
Some special hardware devices are also discussed.
Input is just a backward way of saying "put in." An input device,
then, is something that lets you put data into a computer.
Every farm computer should have a keyboard, the most common
input device. Computer keyboards are identical to typewriter keyboards,
with the exception that some computer keyboards have additional keys
above or to either side of the standard keys. These keys are usually used
for giving special commands to the computer.
Memory and Storage
When you type something on a computer keyboard, where does it
go? What does the computer do with the things you have typed?
Everything you type is stored, at least temporarily, in the computer's
memory. Memory in computers-as in hand-held calculators-consists
of electronic circuits made of plastic, solder, memory chips, and other
electronic parts. You do not see memory circuits because they are tucked
away inside the computer somewhere, often in the same case that houses
Since no one can actually see data stored in memory circuits, it is
sufficient just to know that your data is stored there while it is being
processed by the computer. Memory circuits also are used to hold a
computer program while the computer is reading the program's instruc-
tions and processing your data.
Most memory circuits can "remember" data only while the computer
is being supplied with electricity. As soon as the computer's switch is
turned off or someone pulls the power plug, the entire contents of the
memory is lost.
Computers can be purchased with different amounts of memory. If
you listened to a group of farmers talking about their computers, you
would probably hear someone mention 32K, 48K or 128K. K is an
abbreviation for the word Kilobyte, which is the unit of measurement of
computer memory. One Kilobyte or K of memory is roughly the amount
needed to store 1,000 characters of information. (A character is any letter
of the alphabet, numeral, punctuation mark, or other special symbol.)
So, a 48K computer is one with a memory capacity large enough to hold
about 48,000 characters. To put this into perspective, realize that one full
page of type contains about 3,000 characters-spaces, letters, and
punctuation marks. Such a page could be stored in about 3K of computer
Computers can have two types of memory: RAM (random-access
memory) and ROM (read-only memory). For you as a computer buyer,
only the amount of RAM a computer has is important. Your computer
programs and data can be held in RAM memory, but not in ROM. The
amount of RAM a computer has is usually optional, while the amount of
ROM is fixed. (In some computers a certain amount of ROM is required
for storing frequently used instructions.)
Computers can be purchased with various amounts of memory, but
how do you know how much your computer needs? This question is
usually answered by finding out how much RAM memory is required for
the computer programs you want to run. Companies selling programs
can tell you how much memory your computer must have for operating
their programs. Most farm business programs require at least 32K or 48K
of RAM memory.
Many of the microcomputers available today can be purchased with
up to 64K of memory, but the new second-generation microcomputers
can have 256K of memory or more. More sophisticated programs can be
developed in such computers because of their larger memories. This,
plus the fact that memory circuitry is decreasing in price, indicates that
most farm business computers will have more than 64K of memory in the
Suppose you have typed data into a computer-the amount of
fertilizer and herbicide used in a field-and you would like to be able to
store that data for recall several months or years from now. As soon as you
typed the data it was put in the computer's memory. But, as mentioned
earlier, if you turned the computer off everything in memory would be
lost. How can your computer store data in a more permanent form?
Disk drives. Most farm computers use floppy disks for permanent
data storage. Floppy disks (sometimes called floppies, diskettes, "or
disks) are flexible plastic disks 5 or 8 inches in diameter. They are
coated with a magnetic material-much like the coating on an audio
cassette tape, and are enclosed in square plastic outer jackets.
Just as music can be recorded on tape, data can be recorded on a
floppy disk by magnetizing the disk surface. A disk drive spins the disk in
the same way that a record player spins a phonograph record. Through
holes in the disk's outer jacket, the disk drive mechanism can access the
surface of the disk and record (write) data or retrieve (read) previously
recorded data. Data is recorded in concentric circles on the disk,
arranged like the growth rings in a tree trunk.
Computer programs are stored on disks in the same fashion as data.
To use a previously stored program the computer transfers the program
from the surface of the disk to its memory. Because disks are easily
transported, handled, and mailed, most business programs-farm pro-
grams included-are sold as recordings on floppy disks.
The storage capacity of floppy disks is measured in Kilobytes, the
same unit used to measure memory. Disk storage capacities range from
around 100 to 2,000 Kilobytes, depending on disk size, make and model
of computer, and on the computer's software.
Farm computer systems generally have two disk drives, although
from one to four can be used with most microcomputers. As with
memory, the capacity and number of disk drives you need depends on
the programs you want to use. Any software company can tell you what
disk hardware is required for operating their programs.
Cassette tapes-identical to the ones used for recording music-can
also be used for data and program storage. Special connecting cables
allow tape recorders to be used with many computers. But some com-
puters require a special tape recorder.
The initial cost of a tape recorder is only 10 to 20 percent of what a
disk drive costs. Because tape recorders are inexpensive, they are
popular among computers for home use-for playing games, preparing
family budgets, and running other household and leisure time programs.
But when large volumes of important data must be stored, as in a farm
business, cassette tape recorders have several drawbacks:
(1) They store and retrieve data at a rate many times slower than disk
(2) They tend to be more error prone than disk drives, in recording
and retrieving data.
(3) They do not allow random access of data.
Disk drives allow random data access, which means they can read
individual pieces of data from anywhere on the surface of a floppy disk.
Cassette tapes allow only sequential access: data must be read in the
order it was recorded onto the tape. For example, if you wanted to find
the record for a sow with ear tag number 103, a cassette recorder would
first have to read through all the records for sows numbered 1 through
102. A disk drive could immediately read the 103rd record without
having to read through the lower numbered records.
Other storage devices, besides floppy disks and cassette tapes, may
soon be important. Hard disks are beginning to be produced at prices
low enough to be an attractive storage alternative for microcomputer
users. Previously, hard disks were extremely expensive and available
only for large computers. They operate on the same principles as floppy
disks, but are faster and offer many times the storage capacity.
Again, your choice of a permanent storage device really depends on
the computer programs you want to use. Most farm programs require that
disk drives be used, so a cassette tape recorder is seldom necessary.
A computer must process your data in some manner if it is to be an
improvement over manual record keeping and analysis. The part of a
computer that does all processing is called the central processing unit
(CPU), or central processor.
The CPU in a microcomputer is called a microprocessor. The word
micro means small, so a microprocessor is just a small computer
processor. Such great progress has been made in miniaturizing computer
circuitry that the computing ability which used to require a room full of
electronic equipment, in the 1950s, is now available on a silicon chip the
size of a dime. The fact that these chips and related electronic
components have become inexpensive is the major reason why micro-
computers are inexpensive enough to be used on farms and in other small
The CPU can be thought of as the "brain" of any computer. Acting
upon the instructions in a computer program, the CPU controls all
devices that make up the computer system. It determines when to accept
data you've typed at the keyboard, when and how to transfer data from
memory to a floppy disk, how to print out the results, etc. It also performs
all calculations on your data, and can compare numbers and words and
make simple decisions.
So far we've discussed devices that get data into a computer, store it
in memory or on disk, and process it. Once all that has been done, you
must have some way of getting your processed data back out of the
computer in a form that will provide useful information. You need an
CRT. The most common output device is a display screen, also
called a cathode ray tube (CRT) or monitor. Display screens are much
like ordinary television-some computers will even accept a television
as a display screen, thereby lowering the cash outlay needed to buy
Output (the results from processing your data) can be displayed on a
screen as words and numbers, as graphs and pictures, or as any
combination of these. Some types of output-a financial statement, for
instance-are best displayed as words and numbers. Other types of
output are more meaningful when displayed graphically. Commodity
futures prices are a good example of data which becomes easier to
visualize and understand when your computer displays them in chart or
Besides being used for output, a CRT screen also displays your typing.
When you type on a keyboard the computer displays each character on
the screen as you type it. That way you can see (on the screen) what you
are typing, just as you see on paper what has been typed on a typewriter.
Although some computers allow a regular television to be used as a
display screen, special-purpose CRT screens are more popular. They
produce sharper, clearer images that are easier to read. Some types,
called phosphor green screens, display green lettering on a black
background. These are preferred by many people because they are
believed to cause less eye strain than plain black-and-white or color
Color of the screen is not likely to be your most important purchase
consideration. However, if you choose a computer which can produce
colored graphs and pictures you may want to use either a color television
or a color CRT as your display screen. Color CRTs are like color
televisions, and are more expensive than black-and-white or black-and-
The number of characters printed across each line of a screen is
usually controlled by the computer and is not an option of the screen you
choose. However, be aware that different computers print a different
number of characters per line, ranging from about 40 to 132 characters.
While there are no established standards, it appears that 80 characters
per line may eventually become the standard CRT line width.
Communication with some remote computers may be simpler if your
computer uses an 80-character line, because many large systems send
80-character lines. If your computer has a CRT line width shorter
than 80 characters, such lines will have to be printed on parts of two
lines of the screen, making them more difficult to read. But programs
written specifically for your computer will print lines of the correct
Printer. A printer is the next most important output device to have
with a farm business computer, and in most cases is an absolute
necessity. Many accounting, crop, and livestock record programs will
not work without a printer. Though you could use a pencil and paper to
copy information from your display screen, that would put a lot of
drudgery into the use of your computer-which is exactly what
computers are meant to eliminate.
The printing speed of commonly available printers ranges from about
30 to 200 characters per second (CPS). Your printer's speed becomes
more important as the amount of printing you do increases. Slow printers
are like a "watched pot that never boils"-they seem exceptionally slow
when you are waiting for something to be printed so that you can do some
other job. But the cost of printers increases with speed. Slower printers
may cost just a few hundred dollars while the fastest printers cost $1,000
to $2,000 or more.
Like CRTs, printer line widths vary from printer to printer. Some print
no more than 40 characters across a page, while others print as many as
255 characters or more. Again, your choice of printer depends on the
programs you plan to use, but most programs require a printer capable of
printing at least 80 or 132 characters per line.
Printing speed and print quality are two of the major factors
determining any printer's price. Among the different types of printers,
speed and quality vary considerably. Here is a short description of the
common types of printers and their characteristics:
1. Dot matrix
Dot matrix impact printers are the most popular type. They are in-
expensive, fast, and versatile-some can print graphic pictures, use
multi-colored ribbons, etc. Their printing is accomplished by a group of
small, hard wires spaced closely together. To print a character, partic-
ular wires are made to strike an inked ribbon onto the paper. The
character that is printed will be made up of rows of dots, corresponding
to where the wires struck the ribbon. The quality of this print is equal
to or better than that of thermal and electrostatic printers, but dot
matrix printers have the advantage of using plain paper.
2. Thermal and electrostatic
Thermal and electrostatic printers are quiet, light-weight, and
inexpensive. They print by heating or electrically charging special
chemically-treated or aluminum-coated paper. They do not use ribbons.
But the special paper they use is more expensive than regular paper. A
drawback of thermal printers is that their print may fade or even
disappear after being stored for a long period of time. Either printer
is adequate where a low volume of printing is to be done.
3. Letter quality
Letter quality or word processing printers have the highest print
quality. They print by having a hammer or key strike an inked ribbon onto
plain paper-just as a typewriter does. Many people value the print from
these printers because a letter or other document printed on one of them
cannot be distinguished from a hand-typed letter. However, most letter
quality printers are slower and more expensive than dot matrix printers.
Record keeping and decision making are two of the more valuable
uses of computers on farms today. But farm business computing experts
believe that the computer's ability to communicate-to gather informa-
tion from distant computers-will soon become the most important
function of computers on farms.
For most computerized communications you need a modem.
Modems convert the audio signals that travel over telephone lines into
electronic signals understandable by a computer, and vice versa. This
lets your computer communicate over telephone lines with other
computers. Some modems have earmuff-like rubber sockets into which
you place the handset of your telephone. Other types plug directly into a
telephone wall receptacle, but all modems work in the same manner.
S \ When a modem converts telephone signals into signals your
S computer can understand, it is receiving data being sent from some other
computer. What about when you want to send data from your computer
to that other one? That's when the reverse process takes place: the
S modem converts your computer's signals into audio signals that are sent
S over telephone lines to the other computer. The other computer must
have a modem too, of course.
By now you may have realized that a modem is an input/output
device, because it allows two-way communication between computers.
Input happens when your computer receives data from the other com-
puter through the part of the modem connected to the telephone ear-
piece. In a sense, when you listen to someone talk on a telephone you
are receiving input. Output happens when your computer sends signals
to the other computer through the part of the modem connected to the
telephone mouthpiece. When you talk on a telephone you are essentially
sending output to the person listening at the other end.
What kind of information will you be able to get by connecting with
remote computers? Currently, you can get up-to-the-minute futures
market prices, news, government reports, weather reports, and other
information. Plus, you can use a much larger, more powerful computer
(the one at the other end of the phone line) for solving problems too big
for your microcomputer to handle.
Many changes in computerized communications are coming in the
near future. Hardware other than the telephone modem may soon be
used. Satellite signal receiving dishes and networks similar to cable
television are already being tried in limited areas. In addition, there are
many potential uses of computerized communication that have not yet
been tapped, including computerized buying and selling of commodities
and other goods; trading stocks, bonds, and futures contracts; and
Other Special Hardware
The hardware we have discussed so far is what you would commonly
find in a farm business computer system. But there are many other types
of hardware available for specialized jobs.
Special input devices, such as a digitizer, can be used. A digitizer-
often called a graphics pad or tablet-lets you describe visual images and
shapes to the computer. By tracing around a map, picture, etc., using the
digitizer, your computer receives data about the shape and size of
whatever you are tracing.
Though only a few farmers currently use them, digitizers and similar
devices may someday be important on the farm. One of their potential
uses is in keeping field crop records. With a digitizer you could trace
around field maps noting soil type changes, problem weed areas, and the
like. Your computer would store each map for later recall along with soil
test report results, yield data, and other field records.
Other special input devices such a sensors that input data about
temperature, moisture, heat, and light are also available. They allow
monitoring the condition of grain in a bin, soil moisture in an irrigated
field, or body temperature of an animal. Considerable research is being
done using television cameras and microphones for input. You may
eventually be able to keep computerized records by simply talking into a
Special output devices are available to turn electric motors and
switches on and off, control hydraulic valves, open and close doors, or
control nearly any other mechanical process. Some irrigation systems are
completely controlled by computer-turned on and turned off, or
stopped when a breakdown occurs. Similar devices allow ventilation
fans and baffles to be operated by computer for accurate control of
temperature and humidity in livestock confinement buildings. Other
devices operate grain bin aeration fans to maintain grain at safe storage
Be aware that the computer you use for farm management purposes
will not likely be the same one you use for controlling mechanical
processes. Control devices currently on the market-grain bin monitors,
livestock building warning systems, crop sprayer controllers, etc.-each
have their own internal computer: a central processor chip, memory
circuits, and input and output devices. If CPU chips and associated
circuitry remain inexpensive, process control devices will continue to be
manufactured with their own self-contained computers.
Any program that helps you do some job or receive benefit or
enjoyment from your computer is an application program. Programs that
help you with management decisions, record keeping, and accounting
are application software. So are programs that help you plan a food
budget, keep lists of spare machinery parts or recipes, teach math skills or
a foreign language, or let your kids play any game from checkers to Outer
The purpose of any application program is to control your computer
so that it gets the proper input data for the problem you want to solve,
stores the data, processes it, and outputs information that helps you with
the problem. Here are types of application programs useful in a farm
*$* ASSETS **
CASH IN BANK 1488 3974
RECEIVABLE 428 653
ASSETS USED IN FARM BUSINESS
MARKET LIVESTOCK 47099 42903
FEED INVENTORY 996 994
CROP INVENTORY 63169 57658
CROP SUPPLIES 5207 3992
MISC INVENTORY A PREPAID EXP. 792 874
0 BREEDING LIVESTOCK 41027 39943
MACHINERY I EQUIPMENT
COST BASIS 150727
ACCUMULATED DEPRECIATION 80607
BOOK VALUE 70070 70120
COST BLDGS & IMPROVEMENTS 74116
ACCUMULATED DEPRECIATION 33571
0 BOOK VALUE BLDGS 8 IMPR 40643 40545
LAND VALUE 361239 379145
TOTAL FIXED ASSETS IN FARM BUS 512979 529753
TOTAL ASSETS IN FARM BUSINESS 630242 636174
INVESTMENTS 8 SECURITIES 5427 6818
NON-FARM INVENTORY 8693 8945
LAND RENTED TO OTHERS 5096 5126
0 TOTAL ASSETS 651374 661690
1$* LIABILITIES $1*
ACCOUNTS PAYABLE 1309 1343
SHORT TERM CREDIT 53406 48202
INTERMEDIATE CREDIT 24495 26708
LONG TERM CREDIT 109506 105515
OWNER NET WORTH 462658 479922
TOTAL LIABILITIES 651374 661690
CHANGE IN NET WORTH 17264
Accounting programs are available for almost every computer on the
market, and for almost any kind of accounting system-single-entry,
double entry, cash basis, accrual basis, farm enterprise accounting, etc.
These programs let you input and store records of farm business
transactions, and print reports such as a balance sheet (financial
statement), profit and loss statement, depreciation schedule, check
register, etc. Some also help you do income tax planning or make
budgets and projections-a month-by-month cash flow plan for next
year, for example. Such extra reports help you get more management
information from the accounting records you keep.
This program maintains a record of feed fed to pigs
during a specified period. Such management information as
the Feced/Piia. Feed/day, Feed/Pig/Day as
incurred are calculated.
1. Start of observation peri od
2. Number (tf days involved
4. Farrowi ng group
5. Number of pigs involved
6. lotal beginning weight (actualc/ost)
7. Total ending weight (actua]/est)
S. Amount of feed 1
9. Amoun t of feed
10.Amount of feed
1 ..Price of feed 1
2.Fr ice of feed 2
13.Price of fedd 3
well as the costs
CAIL CULATLD VARIABLES:
1. Average beginnning weight
2. Average ending weight
3. Toal gain
6. ',eerage daily gain (Uain/pig/day)
7. Total amount of feed
] (-. F ped/pi g / day
11.Cost of feed 1
12.Cost of feed
17..Cost of feed
14.Total Lost of feed
15.Cost of feed/day
lo.C ost o feeed/pig
17.Ctost of feed/pig/day
18.Feed efficiency (Feed/Gain)
19.Cost of feed/cwt-qain
l 000ll (iO
0 T.GA I
--- - - - - - ---.. ..
Specialized Record Keeping programs are available to help with
many farm record keeping chores, but are most plentiful for livestock and
field crop records. As with accounting programs, these programs let you
input, store, and retrieve data, plus they provide specialized manage-
ment reports. A sow record system may print a work schedule for the
coming week, a list of sows needing to be pregnancy-checked or moved
to farrowing quarters, a list of sows serviced by each boar, and other
reports. A crop record system may provide historic summaries of yields
and fertilizer used on each field, print a list of fields where you used a
certain herbicide, or calculate the average corn yield for all fields where
you used a nitrogen stabilizer last year, etc.
Data Base Management (DBM) programs are very flexible programs
that help you organize, store, and recall almost any kind of data. They
can be used for most kinds of record keeping: accounting, production
records, grain inventories, spare parts inventories, etc.
A data base management program is not as simple to operate as a
specialized record keeping program written for a particular task. By using
a series of commands, you must describe to the DBM program the
records you will be keeping and how you want to input them. You must
also describe how you want those records to be processed (e.g., compute
average yields for each crop on each farm you operate), and how you
want printed reports and summaries to look.
One strong advantage of using a data base management program is
that its cost can be spread over several record keeping uses. (Specialized
programs for jobs like accounting have only one use.) The disadvantages
are that data base managers require more effort to use and may not be
able to do extremely sophisticated processing of your data. A data base
management program used for accounting, for instance, may print a
summary of cash receipts and expenses but may not readily provide a
report helpful in end-of-year tax planning. You may need an additional
program if you want that report.
Electronic worksheet or spreadsheet programs are probably the
most versatile of all microcomputer programs. They are useful for
budgeting, business planning, math (they can be used like a calculator),
and even for simple record keeping. A spreadsheet program can help
with crop and livestock enterprise budgeting, cash flow planning,
or income tax planning. It can be used to analyze changes in the
business (putting up another silo or buying more land, etc.), or for
any job you would do with pencil, paper, and a calculator.
A spreadsheet program operates like a large sheet of paper in the
computer's memory. On this sheet you can type words, numbers, and
mathematical formulas. The program instantly calculates all your
formulas on the sheet and allows you to view the results on the display
screen or print them on your printer. Some of the newest spreadsheet
programs are three-dimensional. They appear to be made up of many
worksheet pages, arranged like pages in a book. Three-dimensional
spreadsheet programs are more suitable for record keeping than two-
dimensional spreadsheets are.
One of the most important features of spreadsheet programs is their
ability to store your formulas and numbers on a floppy disk, to be used
again later. This allows you to reuse last year's corn budget, for instance,
in estimating this year's cost of growing corn. You simply command the
program to read the old corn budget from the disk. Then you change any
II EIAHPLE FARMS INC. It 1980 1981
II CASH FLOW PROJ'N 02/03/81 II TOTAL ESTIi. JAN FED HAR APR HAY JUN JUL AUG
-------------------- (IIAN)---(PRICE)--------- ---------------------------------------------------------------
111111111113 CASH INFLOlI Illl l8llI8llII8ll3ll3l8lllullllI ll l tillt IIIIIISIII IlIItll|lll|ll|lIt ll I flUtt|lll
S I(IIIIIII lU CASH INFLOi W I11I u u u
I OPERATING INCOME I
^ CORN 1115 0
NILO 675 0
7 500 7.50 12017 18750
0.14 0 210
1 129 10530 10530
I NON-FARi 54000 13500 13500
CASH INFLON FROM OPERATIONS 80336 97685 37
iii ituIIItI CASH OUTFLOWN IitiiitiSi iuBIIItini3ti itut81: asti8itu111ttt181 88: I tsrm1a3
I OPERATING EIENSES I
LABOR 200 3.60 350 720 180 360 180
REPAIRS 1307 1500 300 300 300
INTEREST 3300 4500 2025
CASH RENT 0 0
FEED: HAY 3200 0
HOG SUPPLEMENT 12113 18000 1500 1500 1500 1500 1500 1500 1500 1500
TL SUPPLIENT 2246 2900 181 181 181 181 181 363 363 363
'RAIN 1900 5000 556 556 556 556 556 556 556 556
2700 3000 495 990 990
7000 8500 1700 2550 2550
S3775 4400 880 2200 1320
FAIRRm ..350 175 175
TOTAL CAPITAL PURCHRA. 60 60 60 60 60 60 60
33 33 33 33 33 33 0
I OTHER CASH OUTFLONI 700 700 233 233 233
PRIN. PAYRENTS: 6000 11000 98 33 33 33
SINC. I SOC. SEC. TAI:
TOTAL OTHER CASH OUTFLON
15200 20950 3654 792 792
TOTAL CASH OUTFLON 105999 95105 8413 4825 14953 9114 14251 5375
((1$111))ti111111 1 SUNRIllll ttlllllllltlltllllllllllll l 838888888ttllllllllllllllllllltllllllllllltli tlitiiiiiiiiillltt
IIIaunIIas SUA ARMARBY
CASH BALANCE IDIFFERENCE IN-OUT) : -25663 2580 -8376 -4788 -1416 -9077 -14214 9962 6879 -2488
S PLANNED IT. I LT. LOANS : 38000 0 1300 8300
OPERATING CASH BALANCE : 12337 2580 -8376 -3488 6884 -9077 -14214 9962 6879 -2408
ACCUMULATED OPERATING LOAN BALANCE: -8837 -11417 -3041 447 -6437 2640 16854 6892 13 2501
numbers or formulas that will be different for this year's crop (i.e.,
fertilizer and herbicide prices, and amounts you plan to use) and
command the program to print out a new budget. Of course this new
budget can also be saved on a floppy disk, to be used next year.
Because spreadsheet programs are quite flexible, they, like data base
management programs, are more difficult to learn to use than most
specialized programs. Before using a spreadsheet you must become
familiar with the commands which control the program.
Word processing programs assist you in writing, correcting, and
printing business letters and other documents. They let you type a
document into your computer; reread it; insert and delete words,
sentences, and paragraphs; search through it for any word or group of
/\ Mark Wilsdorf
\! Rt. 1
/\ Hollidav, MO. 65258
\ December 7, 1981
/\ Missouri Agriculture--SHOW-ME anw better!
Mrs. Vera Landowner
123 Easy Life Drive
St. Louis, MO 65000
Dear Mrs. Landowner,
I am writing this to tell you that we have completed harvest
on your farm. The soybeans were excellent this year, with an
average yield of 42.7 bushels on .our 235 acres.
Your checks from the elevator should be Payment for .5017
bushels, in total amounting to over $31,000.00. If jou do not
receive payment in this amount, Please send Photocopies of the
check stubs to me, and I will straighten out any errors with the
Your half of the combining amounts to $3525.00. You may pay
me by mail or wait until wou are in the area.
You should soon be receiving a bill in the amount of
$1010.00 from Jefferson Stone Co., for liming of the 40 acre
field west of the house.
As always, if you have any questions feel free to write or
call. Otherwise, I will see you around Christmas time to discuss
next year's rental contract.
words; and print it on your printer. You can also save the document on a
floppy disk to be used again later.
Word processors are time savers because they let you change what
you have typed without retyping the entire document. For example,
assume you have used a word processing program to type a letter to your
livestock feed supplier, explaining a mistake on your previous month's
bill. After printing the letter you find that you forgot to mention your
account number in the letter. If you had hand-typed the letter using a
typewriter, you would either have to retype the letter or add the account
number at the bottom of the page. With a word processor you could re-
trieve the letter from a floppy disk, correct it, and have it reprinted on
your printer-saving lots of typing and making the corrected letter as neat
as the original.
Many legal professionals use word processors for storing contracts,
leases, rental agreements, and other standard legal documents. A word
processing program used on your own computer would give you the
cg same capability-for storing and printing annual farm rental agreements
S and other documents you use periodically. Rather than retype a rental
S agreement each year, you would only need to change the items that
differed from the previous year's agreement.
An important feature of word processing programs is their ability to
print a document in many different ways; giving letters, etc., a
professional and business-like appearance. Your documents can have
automatically centered headings, right-justified text (words printed even
with both margins of the paper-as a newspaper column), boldface
type, and other special print features.
Other programs are available for many specialized jobs: budgeting
for the lease of land or machinery, or for the purchase of feeder livestock;
maintaining depreciation schedules; calculating income taxes and
deductions; projecting livestock gain and feed consumption; and much
You could accomplish most of these tasks using a data base
S management program or electronic spreadsheet. However, as already
^ , mentioned, using data base management and spreadsheet programs
requires that you spend some time learning about them beforehand.
Though specialized programs are not as flexible (not suited to as many
different uses) they usually require less effort to use.
If application programs will do all the jobs mentioned so far, they
should be the only programs you need. Right? Well, not quite. Your
computer must also have special programs to help it run your application
programs. These special programs provide instructions for operating the
CRT, printer, and disk drives; reading and interpreting your application
program's instructions; moving data around inside the computer; and
doing the other housekeeping chores necessary for running a computer.
These programs are called system software. While it's not important that
you become an expert on system software, you need to know what jobs
are done by system programs and why they are necessary.
Language Translator. Most application programs are written in a
language easily understood by humans. Maybe you have heard of
computer languages like BASIC, FORTRAN, COBAL, or Pascal. Unfor-
tunately, these languages are not directly understood by computers. A
language translator program is needed to convert them into machine
language-the language computers understand directly, without transla-
Why isn't every application program written in machine language, to
save all this bother about translation? Writing machine language
programs is considerably more difficult and time consuming than writing
programs in a higher-level computer language like BASIC or Pascal.
Writing programs in machine language requires a strong knowledge of
the technical inner-workings of computers and of programming tech-
niques. Programming in a language like BASIC, though, can be done by
most people after only a limited amount of training.
Two primary types of language translators are available: interpreters
and compilers. An interpreter program reads your application program
one line at a time. As each line is read it is translated, and the resulting
machine language instructions are sent to the central processing unit.
Compilers work in much the same way, except that a compiler program
reads and translates your entire application program into machine
language without sending any instructions to the central processor.
Instead, the machine language instructions are saved on a floppy disk.
They are then loaded from the disk into the computer's memory and used
in place of the original application program.
An interpreted program runs a bit more slowly than a compiled
program. However, more disk space may be required when compiled
programs are used. There are several trade-offs involved in choosing
between the types of language translators, but they are mostly related to
What type of language translator do you need? That depends entirely
on the application software you want to use. Many farmers have more
than one translator-a BASIC interpreter and a Pascal compiler, for
example-simply because the various application programs they have
bought require different translator programs. Almost every computer
comes with at least one language translator-usually the most popular
one for that particular computer. Additional translators may be pur-
chased separately as needed.
Operating System. Though different application programs have
different jobs, each uses your computer system in much the same way:
they get data from the keyboard, move data around in memory, operate
the disk drives, display things on the screen and print, etc. Because each
application program requires the same instructions for operating the
various parts of your computer, computer designers normally put these
instructions in a set of programs called an operating system, to save
Operating system programs control and coordinate all parts of a
computer. They contain the detailed machine language instructions that
make the CPU, printer, disk drives, and other components function
controls and coordinates
together smoothly, even though these components operate at different
An application program simply calls on the operating system program
to take care of jobs like reading and writing onto floppy disks, printing on
the printer, etc. This permits easier development of application programs
because they don't need to contain the complicated system operating
instructions. It also allows application programs to use less disk storage
space. Each would be larger if it contained the operating system
Operating system programs provide the working environment for all
the other programs that run in a computer. For this reason, your computer
must have an operating system that is compatible with the application
programs you want to run.
Most computers come with an operating system; usually the "stan-
dard" operating system for that computer. It will normally be the one
required for running your application programs. But a large selection of
operating systems are available for nearly every computer, because
computer designers and programmers desire various capabilities in their
operating system programs.
Two different makes of computers using the same operating system
will be able to use most of the same application programs. So if your
computer has an operating system used by several different kinds of
computers, you will have more software to choose from. If possible then,
choose an operating system that is available for several computers
besides your own-but only so long as it is compatible with the
application programs you want to run.
The common computer jargon for operating system is "DOS", which
stands for Disk Operating System. One popular DOS which is available
for most microcomputers is called CP/M (Control Program/Monitor).
Utility programs are those that do "housekeeping" chores inside
your computer. They do jobs such as copying disks, deleting unwanted
information from disks, testing your computer's memory, printing lists of
the data files stored on your disks, etc. Utility programs are included with
most operating systems, but you may buy additional utility programs as
your needs grow for specific tasks.
Miscellaneous system software is available for some special tasks.
One of the most important of these is communication with other
Communication programs help you gather information by letting
your computer communicate with remote computers over telephone
lines or other communications systems. A communication program
contains the computer instructions that allow your computer to send and
receive messages from another computer, using a modem.
Computer design engineers have had as much freedom in designing
the exterior of computer systems as farm equipment engineers have had
in designing tractor hoods and cabs. Though microcomputers generally
have the same components, those components do not necessarily look
alike from manufacturer to manufacturer.
r I1 I
Some computers have disk drives in the same enclosure as the
Keyboard, CPU, and memory. Others have disk drives in a separate case.
Some computers have a display screen in the same enclosure as the
keyboard, while others use a separate display screen. Keyboards may or
may not contain the CPU and memory, etc.
The reasons for these different arrangements are varied, and not
overly important to you as a computer user. However, the trend in
computer systems is away from having multiple components that plug
together. More computers are being produced with all components
housed in the same enclosure. This makes computer systems more
reliable and more portable.
Where to Get Software
Where do you get good farm software? You could write your own.
Some farmers have successfully written good programs, but most either
had prior computer training or spent considerable time learning how to
program their computers. And even an experienced programmer may
need several months to write a useful program. Unless programming is
one of your hobbies, you may find it too time consuming for anything
S other than simple problems.
3 Several public institutions-universities, etc.-have programs avail-
f able. Many of these programs are just converted ones from large
S/ computer systems, and do not work efficiently on microcomputers. The
Co quality of public programs may be rising though, because an increasing
number of them are being developed specifically for microcomputers.
The main problem with public software is that most of it is sold or given
away "as is": no one may be available to help you learn how to use a
program or to fix errors in it.
Much software has been sold by mail order software companies and
as packaged off-the-shelf software by computer stores. This has proved to
be an effective and convenient way to mass market software, but it may
o hold some pitfalls for you as a software purchaser. One problem-
especially of mail order software-is that you may not have the
opportunity to try out a program before you buy it. Only a few companies
permit you to return a program for refund if it does not work as you
Service on software may also be hard to get. Some mail-order
i software companies have no service personnel available for answering
_- your questions. Buying a packaged program from your local computer
store does not insure service, because few dealers are intimately familiar
with all of the programs they sell. Because of problems in the past, many
software companies are offering telephone hot-line numbers you can call
for assistance and will work hard to help you use their products.
The largest dollar volume of farm software will likely be sold by
dealers and custom programmers who can provide adequate service with
their software. Dealers and software companies who can advise you
about buying hardware and software, train you in using their software,
and modify programs to suit your needs are becoming more plentiful.
Many companies sell a complete package of hardware, software, user
training, and service. Software that is well backed by service is usually
more expensive than that offered by companies that provide little service.
But without an adequate backing of service, inexpensive programs may
actually be more "costly" in terms of your time and frustration, if you
have difficulty using them.
How Software is Sold
Most software is sold on floppy disks, but some is sold on cassette
tape. A considerable portion of the system software is provided on
permanent, non-erasable memory chips (ROM memories, mentioned in
the hardware discussion) included with a computer when you buy it.
Some game programs are also provided on ROM memories, but almost
no farm business programs are sold in this manner.
Regardless of the medium on which software is provided, it should be
well documented. Documentation-the instructions that help you use a
program-may range from a typewritten page or less for some programs,
to a complete operating manual for more complicated programs. A
program may be excellent in most respects, but can be difficult to use if it
does not come with enough documentation.
Some programs are said to be "self documenting", meaning that they
print a lot of instructions and messages on the display screen, to help the
user run the program. These programs may not require as much written
documentation as some others; however, the term "self documenting "
should not be taken literally. Every program capable of sophisticated data
handling-accounting, record keeping, decision making, etc.-should
come with considerable written documentation.
Some programs also come with test data for you to use in learning
how to operate the program. By using the test data and following
examples in the program's documentation, you may more easily learn
how to use the program's commands and capabilities.
What to Look for as You Buy Software
Of the things to consider in buying a program, the first should
probably be whether or not it is compatible with your computer system.
As we mentioned earlier, almost every application program is designed
Sto operate with a certain type of hardware, operating system, language
a translator, etc. Use the following check list to insure compatibility of a
o program with your computer:
| INPUT DEVICES-Some programs require a special keyboard or
other special input device.
MEMORY REQUIREMENTS-Maximum amount of memory (Kilo-
bytes, or K) required to run the program.
STORAGE DEVICES-How many, what capacity, and what type.
OUTPUT DEVICES-Type of display screen, and line width. Type of
S 0 printer, and line width.
0 LANGUAGE TRANSLATOR-Your computer must have the same
translator-and it must be the same version-as the one used by the
program. Example: if the program needs JBASIC Version 2.1, your
computer must have JBASIC Version 2.1; or, you must buy it to allow
your computer to run that program.
OPERATING SYSTEM-Must be compatible with both the applica-
tions program and the language translator program. In some cases and
you may need to purchase an additional operating system to run a
S" specific application program.
Next, determine whether the program is easy to use and whether it
will do the jobs you want done. If at all possible, try the program out
before you buy it-at the dealer's store, at the house of a neighbor who
already owns the program, or in your own computer if the dealer will let
you. Learning how to operate almost any program takes time, so give
each one a fair chance before you reject it as "too hard" to use. Mainly,
you should try to see whether the program's commands are simple and
easy to use, and whether its documentation is adequate. Good documen-
tation is written in layman's terms-not in terms that only a programmer
could understand-and gives a complete description of how to use the
Ask the person selling the program to refer you to several people who
already use it. Talking with them may give you a feel for how easily the
program can be used, whether it performs as advertised, and whether it
contains any serious errors. These people will also be able to give you
their opinions of the program's documentation and the company's
Finally, ask at least five questions about the software dealer and his
1. How well has the program been tested? All software should be
thoroughly tested before it is put on the market, but some of it is
not. The length of time a program has been sold is probably the
best indicator of how well it has been tested. Over time, people
using the program in a wide variety of situations will find "bugs"
(errors) the programmer overlooked. Since most software compa-
nies continually upgrade their programs (in response to com-
plaints and suggestions from users), later versions of a program are
usually better than early ones. However, realize that newly
introduced programs often contain improvements over similar
programs which have been on the market for a long time. A
program which has been marketed for six months to one year or
more may be considered fairly well tested.
2. What will the software company charge for program updates? As
errors are found and corrected, and as improvements in a program
are made, most companies make updated versions available to
owners of old versions. Some companies provide these program
updates free of charge, some supply free updates for a limited time
after purchase, and some charge for all updates. The company's
update policy is especially important if you are considering a new
program-one that has not yet been well tested-that is likely to
undergo several revisions.
3. Does the company have a software maintenance agreement? If
so, what are the terms of the agreement? These questions are more
important when you are considering custom-written or custom-
modified software. If the company has agreed to fix program
errors as you find them, or to alter the programs to suit your special
needs, the terms of this agreement should be in writing. You
should know exactly what your and the seller's responsibilities
4. Are there any "hidden" charges? Prices quoted by a software
dealer may not include his charges for delivery, installation,
instruction manuals, or for training you in how to use his
5. Is the company reliable and easy to reach in case you have
problems? Ask about the company's reputation for answering
questions and solving problems encountered by users of their
programs. Some companies are very accessible, offering tele-
phone "hot lines" for problem troubleshooting, and/or quick
response to mailed-in questions and problems. The length of time
a company has been in business, the completeness of their user's
manuals, and their reputation for quality software (well tested,
easy to understand and use, etc.), provide hints about the
company's willingness to service their product.
Can I Really Benefit
From Using A Computer?
Learning to Operate a Computer
For a computer to "pay its way"-for it to become a useful farm
management tool-you must use it. So before you buy a computer you
need to know whether you will actually use itor whether it will just set on
7 your desk, collecting dust. No one can tell you if you "have what it takes"
Sto learn to operate a computer. You must decide for yourself.
'," Some individuals believe that only younger people can readily learn
to operate computers. But age is not a deciding factor. Attitudes about
oO using computers and about the information to be gained by using a
0 computer appear more important in determining whether someone does,
or does not, learn to use a computer.
Gone are the days when computer operators had to have a strong
& knowledge of the technical inner-workings of computers. To use a
,, s ~ computer today you need only minimal training, and almost no technical
knowledge. An understanding of the problems you want to solve or the
records you want to keep is more crucial than an understanding of
Though learning to operate a computer is fairly easy, learning how to
program one is no simple task. And if you are a farmer, you probably
don't have enough spare time to do your own programming. Your main
concern will be to learn enough about computers and programs to let you
o operate the programs that other people have written. Did you design the
tractors and implements you use? Probably not, but that hasn't stopped
you from using them, has it? The same is true of computers. You do not
need to be a programmer to use a computer to do useful work.
How do you learn to operate a computer? There are several ways. The
y easiest is to get some "hands-on" experience. Go to a computer store or
^ to a friend who owns a microcomputer, and have them show you how
Sto run some of their programs. This will give you a feel for typing data
into a computer and for reading things from a display screen. If you have
not typed anything for a long time, or have never typed, don't be too
concerned. People who own computers usually develop into good
"hunt-and-peck" typists after only a couple months of using their
Another way to learn about operating a computer is to ask several
computer owners how they learned to operate theirs. You may be
surprised to find that most of them learned to operate their computer by
just reading the manuals that came with it, and by following instructions
that came with the programs they bought. Don't be intimidated by the
technical manuals that come with many computers. They are mostly
meant for programmers. Simple, easy-to-read manuals are available that
provide step-by-step instructions for using a microcomputer-even
telling you how to plug it in and turn it on.
Farm software and hardware dealers may also be a good source of
help. Some dealers are willing to lease or loan computers and programs
for a trial period, to let you see if you can learn to use them before actually
buying. And many dealers offer training sessions and/or provide personal
training with each computer or program they sell.
The extension service, vocational agriculture departments, commu-
nity adult education programs and the like may also provide hands-on
computer training. These organizations typically present workshops or
classes offering a wide range of information concentrated into a few short
Fitting a Computer to Your Management Style
Assuming you can develop the simple skills necessary to operate a
computer, what else do you need to know? One important question you
should ask yourself is, "Will a computer 'fit' my style of management?"
For most people, using a computer to organize farm business records and
Other management information requires some getting used to.
No computer has the ability to turn you into a record keeper. If you
are not already accustomed to collecting, recording, and analyzing farm
0 management data (sow records, crop records, etc.), don't think that
buying a computer will automatically get you into the record keeping
( N habit. If you are someone who already keeps good records, and you
would like to have better records, a computer may help you be more
disciplined about record keeping. Of course a computer cannot force
you to be more disciplined, but it may make you more eager to regularly
collect and record data.
1 How can a computer make you more eager to keep records? A
Computer can free you from some of the drudgery of record keeping,
o letting you concentrate on collecting data from your farm operations. The
o computer will take care of the big job of organizing, storing, and
summarizing your data, so that getting management information from it
will not require a lot of extra time. If you believe the extra management
S information will be sufficiently valuable, you won't mind spending extra
time collecting data.
Farm computer owners often find that they keep more detailed
records using computers that they did by hand. The information they get
from detailed records would be just as valuable if the records had been
kept by hand, but the cost of getting management information from a
manual record system-in terms of time needed to summarize and
analyze the records-is often more than the information would be worth.
You should also realize that computerized analysis of records or of
almost any problem can require more complete data than you might
need to do the same analysis yourself. More complete data? Yes. A
computer cannot guess at missing numbers or use past experience and
"seat-of-the-pants" estimates, as you might, to arrive.at an answer.
/' It is important to emphasize that improved management information
in the form of more complete records is not free. Besides the cost of
owning and operating a computer, the value of your time spent
collecting extra data must be considered.
You may have heard that computerizing your records will reduce the
amount of time you spend keeping records. In some cases that's true,
especially when a manual record system is simply converted into a
computer program, without making changes that take full advantage of
the computer's capabilities. But few people notice a decrease in the
amount of time they spend keeping records with a computer.
One reason for this is the extra time you will spend collecting data if
you do keep more detailed records than you kept by hand. Another
reason is that you may find yourself spending more time studying the
information gleaned from your records. Because a computer can
summarize and analyze records in many different ways you may be faced
with a variety of useful reports to examine.
Depending on how you think of it, you might say that the time you
spend examining your records and other management information is
management time instead of labor. A computer may decrease the labor
involved in keeping records, but will probably cause you to use more of
your time for management. But because computers do the work of
summarizing your data, you may spend your management time more
efficiently. For instance, it might take less time to study a printed
summary of information from your most recent farrowing than to shuffle
through a box of 150 sow record cards.
Having detailed records and a computer available to process them
brings up another management consideration. You must have a basic
understanding of how the computer processes your record data to make
sure that you 1) have supplied the right data, and 2) understand what the
For instance, consider a program that calculates least-cost feed
rations. The program will only calculate a ration using the feedstuffs, feed
prices, and ration requirements (for protein, energy, etc.) you have told it
to consider. What if it calculates a ration that contains 50 percent salt?
You clearly wouldn't use the ration, because past experience tells you
that it contains too much salt.
Do you just assume that the computer made an error, and quit using
the program? No. You must understand that once the ration requirements
are met, some ration programs complete a ration using the least
expensive feedstuff. If salt happens to be the least expensive feedstuff
available, then that's what the program will use to fill up the ration. To
correct the problem you simply limit the amount of salt in the ration
requirements, or add another feedstuff less expensive than salt for the
program to consider.
You need to have a grasp of this type of technical information to
effectively operate a computer. In this example, your understanding of
how the computer solves a ration problem would assure that you
supplied the right data and that you correctly interpreted the results.
Good program documentation will make you aware of how a program
solves problems, and will tell you how to guard against errors and
Benefits of Using a Computer
One of the most difficult decisions in buying a computer may be
figuring out whether the benefits you will receive from having one will
justify its cost. You can think of benefits as being divided into two
categories: 1) reductions in the cost of jobs you currently do, and 2)
increases in the value or income you receive from other jobs.
The cost of a record keeping service that you would no longer need if
you had a computer, or the value of your own time that a computer may
save, are good examples of how a computer may reduce your costs.
Estimating such measurable cost reductions will let you come up with a
rough idea of your annual savings due to computerization. But any
estimate of savings can be misleading. During your first year of using a
computer you may spend as much time just learning how to use it as you
usually spend for keeping records.
The value of intangible benefits you get from using a computer may
not be apparent until after you have used it for a while. Even if you knew
of all the potential benefits before you bought a computer, comparing
benefits with the computer's cost would not be easy because placing a
dollar value on the benefits is difficult. What sorts of benefits can you
expect? The following list includes benefits that many farm computer
users have experienced from using a computer:
* More detailed management information.
* More timely management information. Having your own computer
can improve the turnaround time between recording records and
setting them back in a summarized form that provides useful informa-
tion. A computer also improves the turnaround time for analyzing
many problems, such as calculating a least-cost feed ration, preparing
a crop budget, or computing your average corn yields.
* Management information and decisions more tailored to your own
situation-not to the average for farms representative of your farm type.
* More detailed analysis of records and farm management problems.
Because the computer does the difficult calculations, you may attempt
methods of analysis that you would not otherwise try if you had to do
them with pencil and paper.
* Increased opportunity to do forward planning. Because computers do
calculations quickly, you can look at many different plans and
situations-rising or falling crop prices, higher or lower feed conver-
sion rates, etc.-in a short time.
* Decreased drudgery in record keeping. Much of the time-consuming
and boring work of record keeping is removed.
May help you be a more disciplined record keeper.
Improved business image. Neat, professional-looking business letters,
a good set of records, and detailed forward planning and financial
analysis can help build your image as a skillful farm manager.
Not everyone places the same value on these benefits, and not
everyone gets the same level of benefits from using a computer. In
general, the larger your operation, the more likely you are to receive
substantial benefits from using a computer. But many other factors also
affect the level of benefits you would receive on your particular farm.
One is the type of farm you operate. Some farm types-producers of
registered livestock are a good example-have a great need for detailed
production information. Another factor is your own background,
experience, and goals as a farm manager. To some people, complete
records and detailed methods of farm business analysis are not impor-
Costs of Operating a Computer
How much does it cost to operate a computer? Generally, operating
costs are small relative to outlays for hardware and software. The
accompanying table provides an estimate of annual operating costs for a
typical farm computer system.
Annual Computer Operating Costs
Electricity 5 10
Diskettes 30 60
Printer paper, ribbons, etc. 25 50
Maintenance 20 200
Miscellaneous expenses 20 80
Estimated operating cost range 100 400
Computers require small amounts of electricity, so electricity ex-
penses are negligible for most farm computer systems.
Annual outlays for operating supplies are also normally small. You
will probably need to purchase a few additional diskettes each year, to
replace those taken out of service for permanent record storage, and
because of diskette failure. The cost of printing supplies-paper, inked
ribbons, etc.-you use will depend on how much printing you do.
Maintenance costs for any computer system are difficult to estimate.
The electronic components in computers are fairly reliable and don't
often fail, but the mechanical components-disk drive mechanisms,
printers, etc.-are subject to wear and may get out of adjustment from
time to time. On the average, computers require little maintenance:
many people have used a computer for several years with almost no
repair cost. But others have faced considerable repair charges within
their first year of operation.
Miscellaneous expenses include small accessory items such as dust
covers, diskette cases, disk drive cleaners, and the like. Most computer
users also buy supplementary instructional manuals and computer
magazines, and pay fees to attend computer users' conferences, etc.
Though none of these items are absolute necessities you may feel a need
to buy them, to get full use from your computer system.
Possibly the largest annual outlay related to operating a computer is
not included in the table. Computer users commonly spend more each
year for new software than for any single operating cost item. Software
purchases were not included in the table because they are not really an
operating cost. Software is not used up and does not wear out, so
software purchases are more like the purchase of additional hardware or
As new programs are marketed, as updated versions of current
programs are made available, and as your computing needs change, you
may find that software purchases are a large portion of your annual
in Buying a Farm Computer
A If you feel that a computer might be worth looking into, where do you
start? How do you begin to tackle the big problem of learning more about
computers, and choosing one for your operation? Most of the decisions
related to buying and using a computer are interrelated: the programs
you want to use determine what type of computer, printer, etc. you need.
So don't think of the following list of steps as being entirely separate.
Think of them as a general guideline for the order in which you need to
consider the various aspects of buying a computer for your farm.
1. Become Familiar With Computers
Before you can make any accurate decisions about buying either
programs or a computer, you need to have a good idea of their
capabilities. You should try to get as familiar as possible with computers
and how they are used. Use every opportunity to get "hands-on"
experience. Attend farm computer conferences held by universities and
private companies. Talk to farm software dealers, computer dealers, and
farmers who have used a computer for some time. You might also
subscribe to one or more of the magazines and newsletters that deal with
2. Decide Exactly What You Want to do
With a Computer
This may be the most important part of buying a computer, because
unless you know exactly what you want to do with it, you may end up
with a computer and programs that do not suit your needs. Will it be
keeping accounting records? Crop production records? Livestock rec-
ords? Do you want to use it for financial planning, etc.? Remember that
YOU-not the computer-must decide what you want the computer to
be able to do.
How much detail do you want to keep in these records? To some
people "field records" mean keeping track of the fertilizer used on a
field, and of the crop's yield. But to others, "field records" mean detailed
accounting of the costs and returns on each field; historic records of soil
tests, fertilizer applied, weather, and yields; notes on tillage methods
used; or something more. The amount of detail you want is most
important in determining what programs you buy.
Before talking to your local computer dealer or farm software dealer,
you need to make a list of all the things you might want to do with a
computer. Here is an example list, dealing with sow records:
I want to keep farrowing statistics and lifetime production records for
a herd of 150 sows, including:
(a) sow I.D. number
(b) sow breed and pedigree
(c) sow birth date
(d) Sow production history:
number of litters farrowed
number of live, dead, deformed pigs farrowed each litter
comments about farrowing difficulties
reasons for pig death losses
number of pigs weaned
(e) sow's most recent breeding date
(f) ear tag number of boar used for most recent breeding
(g) next date on which sow should be pregnancy checked
(h) predicted farrowing date
3. Find Software Capable of Performing the
Jobs You Have Decided On
Notice that this step was placed before the steps dealing with buying
computer hardware. Because programs determine what tasks a computer
will be able to do, it is important that you consider the programs you want
to use before deciding what computer to buy.
Locate as many sources as possible for the types of programs you
need. Computer dealers and advertisements in farm computer publica-
tions may currently provide the best information about companies to
contact for farm programs. The more programs you locate, the more
likely you are to find a program that closely suits your needs.
Next, gather as much information as you can about each of the
programs. You need to determine how closely each one fits your list of
objectives. Talk to people who are currently using the programs you're
considering. You should also see the program demonstrated if pos-
sible-either by a dealer, or by someone who owns the program.
Choosing between several programs that are similar may not be easy,
especially if each one has most or all of the capabilities you want. But you
should be able to narrow your choice down to just a couple of programs
for each category of software you need-data base management,
accounting, crop records, etc.
4. Examine the Computer(s) that Can
Operate Your Software Choice(s)
Next, look at the computer or computers capable of operating the
programs you have chosen. Because a couple of programs in each
software category may suit your needs, you may be faced with several
possible combinations of computer hardware and software. Some of
these combinations may be "package" systems-complete computer
systems with programs included.
At this point, gather information on the cost of the various computer
systems you are considering. Be wary of the cost comparisons that
dealers make. Even an honest dealer may compare "apples with
oranges" when comparing the capabilities of his computer system with
others. If you can find someone who knows a bit about microcomputers,
ask them to help you compare the computer systems you are consider-
ing-but realize that computer owners often have as much brand
preference as tractor owners do.
Above all, don't forget that the most important part of your purchase
will be the software-programs to allow the computer do the jobs you
want done. Make sure the application programs you want to use will
work on the computers you examine. Also, ask if the proper operating
system and language translator programs are available, and whether the
ones you need are standard equipment or would have to be purchased
5. Consider Future Uses of Your Computer
Your immediate plans may not include some uses of computers that
you might like to have in the future. For example, you may not wish to
have a modem for communicating with other computers over telephone
lines. But next year you may want your computer to have that capability.
So as you investigate the computers that are available, ask about the other
types of hardware and software that will work with them.
Most microcomputers can use all the popular hardware devices-
modems, digitizers, etc.-but in some cases extra electronic circuitry
must be added before any of these devices can be used. So you should
ask what the total cost of adding a modem, etc., would be, including any
additional necessary hardware.
6. Check On the Availability of Maintenance
for Both Hardware and Software
Whether you are talking about computers or other farm equipment,
the distance you live from a dealer who can service your equipment is an
important purchase consideration. Establishing a good relationship with a
local dealer may hold several advantages for you, including better
service and better turnaround time on servicing. Remember that prices
charged by mail-order hardware firms usually include very little service,
so they may be lower than prices charged by your local dealer. But when
your computer needs to be serviced, don't expect your local dealer to be
eager to service hardware purchased from a mail-order house.
You should also consider whether you will be able to get service on
the software you purchase. Custom-written software is best purchased
with some guaranteed amount of service, from a company that is close to
your area. Otherwise you may not be able to make program changes to
suit your operation, or to fix program errors if any are found.
Service may be more difficult to get for mail-order and packaged
off-the-shelf programs, but don't avoid them for that reason alone. Some
of the best software is sold by mail or off-the-shelf. One substitute for the
software company's service is contact with farmers or others in your area
who are currently using the programs you want to use. These people can
give you valuable advice about how to use a program, and may be
willing to help if you have problems.
The same is true of computer hardware. You may be wise to buy a
brand of computer that is popular in your area, because other computer
users may be one of your better sources of information. By answering
questions and helping you learn to use your computer, they may partly
substitute for a dealer's help.
7. Choose the Combination of Software and
Hardware that Meets Your Objectives
Actually making a decision is your final step, of course. If you
carefully follow the first six steps, you will have a fair idea of the types of
computers and programs that are available. You should be able to choose
a computer and programs that meet your needs at a reasonable cost, yet
allow for future expansion of uses.
qRr q?1984 2
This public document was promulgated at a cost of $3712.10, or 27.5 cents per copy, to provide information about us-
ing a computer on a farm. 06-13.5M-83
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL
SCIENCES, K. R. Tefertlller, director, In cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture, publishes this Infor-
mation to further the purpose of the May 8 and June 30, 1914 Acts of Congress;and is authorized to provide research, educa-
tional Information and other services only to individuals and Institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex or
national origin. Single copies of Extension publications (excluding 4-H and Youth publications) are available free to Florida
residents from County Extension Offices. Information on bulk rates or copies for out-of-state purchasers Is available from
C. M. Hinton, Publications Distribution Center, IFAS Building 664, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611. Before publicizing this
publication, editors should contact this address to determine availability.