Case Study: Penllyn Estate – Integrated software for an evolving business

The financial size and complex nature of many agricultural businesses makes the use of purpose designed accounts and management software, such as Gatekeeper, ever more important if farmers are to be able to quickly and accurately record financial data, and then use that information to make informed financial decisions regarding their businesses.

Like many farming businesses, the 1,200ha (3,000 acre) Penllyn Estate outside Cowbridge in South Wales has changed considerably in recent years, with farming just part of the overall diversified business, which now also includes a large composting business (Cowbridge Composting), accommodation, storage and other non-agricultural businesses.

Having previously used an accounts software package that was becoming increasingly unsuitable for the business, the decision was made five years ago to adopt Farmplan’s Gatekeeper, Business Manager and Earnie payroll software.

“The business is constantly evolving,” says owner John Homfray, “but since changing to Farmplan and Business Manager it’s very easy to constantly monitor and call up past financial data. It completely governs the internal workings of the estate and we use it for every facet of the business. Every quarter, we now do a complete analysis of what we are doing and Business Manager is the only key way to compare actual costs with budgets and to make informed financial and management decisions. Previously we had no idea at all.”

For farm manager Damien Burnell, in addition to the ease with which field and financial data can be managed, one of the great strengths of Gatekeeper is the ability it provides to incorporate and utilise agronomic or precision farming data, generated both by themselves and also from outside providers, such as their agronomist Dai Llewellyn, who also uses Gatekeeper.

“It makes it extremely simple and easy to record and implement recommendations and applications,” he explains. “Having walked the crops and inputted his recommendations into his iPad, Dai will then subsequently email over his recommendations, which I can then synchronise with Gatekeeper. Using a USB stick I can then export that data into the sprayer controller, and then having finished export back into Gatekeeper, which will automatically update the field records and stock levels. Basically it means I now spend less time in the office and more time out in the field.”

The last four years has also seen the increased use of precision mapping and variable applications on the farm. The use of variable drilling rates is also being implemented across the estate after a trial in 2017. Here, one historically low yielding field was scanned by Soilquest and from this data Damien was able to create variable drilling maps using Gatekeeper, with the result that average yield rose by 1 tonne/ha.

Working with Business Manager on a day-to-day basis, estate bookkeeper Rhiannon finds features such a Items Inspector, the Reports Tabs and Audit Trail make it extremely easy to drill down into the financial data, find nominal codes, investigate individual enterprise costs and compare these against budgets, and draw up cash flow and management reports.

However, John Homfray and Rhiannon both say that one of the most important features of the Farmplan software package is the UK based support that the company offers. “The support we receive is exceptional,” comments Rhiannon. “It’s great to know that you have that service at the end of a phone and Cherry, who looks after us, could not be more friendly and patient.”

“We have a lot of plans for the future, and one of the great benefits of Business Manager and other software Farmplan offers is that it will enable us to separately manage these new and existing business operations within the one integrated software package, and will play an important role in the development of these new enterprises,” concludes John Homfray.

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