This case study was filmed through the magic of Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic. More proof that farmers (and Conservis) never stop working.
The elder of three sisters, Michelle and Diane Gooding have proudly taken over management and ownership of Gooding Farms. Five generations prior, their ancestors began growing hops in the Willamette Valley of Oregon in 1895. Motivated by the craft brewing movement, the owners seized an opportunity to take the business to the next level by delivering 14 varieties of high quality hops to craft breweries worldwide. Michelle oversees food safety, fertility management, livestock health, herd management, and marketing. VP and sister, Diane, manages the day-to-day operations spanning banking, finance, sales, and crew management. Youngest sister, Andrea, is responsible for housing and transportation for upwards of 120 hard-working H-2A workers during peak seasons.
Between 2014 and 2018, the women grew the business 100% with the demand for hops fueled by the craft beer boom. With a strong dedication to their employees’ well-being and the environment, Gooding Farms was proud to be the first farm in Southern Idaho to become GLOBALG.A.P. certified. With this came a robust food safety audit of the farm’s recordkeeping, facilities, and harvesting processes. Strongly rooted in sustainability, the leaders are constantly striving to minimize their carbon footprint. They’ve capitalized on their southern roof exposure by implementing solar panels, and they employ aggressive cover crops while using softer pesticides that are easier on the environment.
At a glance
Headquarters: Parma, ID
Production: Hops (14 varieties), Hay, Livestock, Wheat
Traceability & Tracking from Farm to Consumer
Comprehensive Stakeholder Reporting
Specialty Crop Farm Management
Michelle thinks back to before using Conservis. “Tracking really became a huge time suck for me,” she states candidly. “There's a lot of other things that I could do during the day that would benefit the farm on a more significant level, and it was like, ‘We don't want to hire more people, so how can we use the people we have and be more efficient?’”
“We actually started looking at tracking software in 2018 and didn't pull the trigger,” elaborates VP Diane. “We vetted a number of other opportunities and ultimately we came up with Conservis. From spray reports to activity tracking, yields, and harvest, it was the front runner. For GLOBALG.A.P., we needed tracking software for our pesticide and spray tracking. But ultimately, Conservis has been able to offer a lot more than just that capability.”
“It's not normal how we harvest, or how we grow,” says Michelle. “It's an 18-foot tall trellis. If we were going to pay for a program, we needed to be able to apply it directly to what we're doing. That was the biggest selling point… knowing that Conservis was going to work with us to make it so that this system from the very beginning of the season was going to be applicable all the way through the end.”
Smooth Adoption & Phenomenal Customer Service
“When we were new to Conservis, onboarding was actually pretty smooth for us,” says Michelle. “Conservis made a good effort to help us input the massive piles of information. I'm really glad we did it in the winter. I would highly suggest that to people… do it in the off-season. But it was honestly pretty easy.” Diane elaborates. “Especially the first year it was really critical and the representative came and did a multi-day on-farm training and really teed it up so that we would be set up for success.”
“Our experience with the Conservis support has been phenomenal,” says Diane. “To the point where I feel bad calling our agent after hours, because in the summertime the farm doesn't stop. I think one of the big selling points for us on Conservis was the tech support. I just really appreciate the response time or lack thereof. It's so fast. I really appreciate that.”
“For the hop, we had to be a little creative on how we use the tools and the modules of Conservis to fit our crop,” explains Diane. “A lot of large row crop farms use Conservis and even vineyards and orchards. Hops are so specialized, but the team really worked to figure out solutions that would work for us. You guys went above and beyond to think creatively on solutions and that was super, super helpful.”
“Customer service is really important to me, and I have always felt appreciated as a customer, and treated extremely well. That's a big deal.”
Real-time Spray Diaries & Work Orders
Before Conservis, Michelle found that field activities weren’t organized. Workers used to call and say, "Michelle, where are we going next? And what's the recipe?" She used to write these details down, and then transfer those pesticide records into an Excel document. Using Conservis, Michelle says they have a better plan for the week and season. “It's much more exact,” she says, “It has the weather feature built into it, which is really great on that work order side of things. And it's nice for the guys. They don't have to call me every 30 minutes. They can just look on the list and be like, ‘Okay, we're [going] here next,’ and just keep rolling.”
Diane agrees. “The spray report is paramount,” she states. “For hops, the load transport is how we track harvest, different lots and loads, going to different folks and consumers. We've started integrating the costs, whether that be the labor cost or chemical cost, on our spray reporting.”
Michelle estimates that Conservis saves her one to two hours per day during the production season (totaling 150-300 hours/production season). On the conservative side, this saves “Work orders save time and fuel,” says Michelle. “Because if I'm at our Oregon farm, I'm not having to come all the way back here [to the Idaho farm] and direct people and make sure the spray list is right and that they actually finish the field. When we harvest the hops, we can attach our spray reports very easily to the lots (some call these bins) and that is very important. We're sending that out to the dealer or seller who’s going to resell the hops to a brewery. That tool saves us so much time formatting. It's probably my favorite thing about Conservis… the ability to quickly and efficiently submit a spray report and it has all the information that they need.”
Irrigation Foreman, Zion Stuffle, greatly appreciates that Conservis helps him delegate and track field work. Without Conservis Zion says, “It would be very hard, a lot of handwriting and transferring that into a computer. I would have to print out all the sheets that I create for the men and make a big old folder that would turn into three or four folders in the summer. Then we'd have to keep track of all those throughout the years. Then if we have to look back at what we applied last summer at a certain time, we'd have to flip through thousands of pages.” Using Conservis, Zion types in exactly what he’s searching for and he’ll have the precise date, time, and quantity of everything applied. “It is a big help to see the amount… we get to see how much nitrogen we put on and see if it's working with our plants or not. Or if we try a different fertilizer, we could see how well it compares with last year's.”
“When the vendors want our spray records… it's been a game changer, honestly.”
Fast ROI via Billing Corrections
Gooding Farms uses Conservis to cross-check their bills and Diane was surprised by what she found. “We had an herbicide that we use, a grass killer in the hops. We were quoted $106 per gallon and we were charged $152 which is a big difference when you're buying hundreds of gallons.”
These mistakes are common and they add up, especially over time. “Because we have the prices on Conservis, that was certainly a red flare,” states Diane. The farm delivers bales to customers and multiple customers share warehouses, so Gooding Farms delivers to three customers at one location. “I had a billing issue where the warehouse was saying that I delivered three lots and that I had to pay the warehouse fee,” says Diane. “And I'm like, ‘no, actually those were for this customer and they should pay it.’” In this scenario, Diane was billed $12,000 and she reduced it to $5,500 because of their real-time tracking capability. “It made it super fast and easy to see, ‘This was delivered to your warehouse, but it was for this customer.’ So it's not necessarily our responsibility to pay for the warehouse charge."
“We've actually found in a number of cases that the quote was not consistent with what we were billed.”
Timely Stakeholder Reporting
“Pulling the reports is so easy. As long as you've done your due diligence through the season, it's so handy.”
The business owners leverage Conservis reports to keep their landowners in the know. “We have to send, by field, our input reports from the chemigation, fertigation side, as well as [to] some of our landlords,” states Diane. “Michelle sent a report to an outside entity showing that we're being a good steward.”
Prior to Conservis, Diane didn’t have the financial information her bank needed in a timely manner. Harvest concludes between late September and early October, yet it took months to get visibility to profit margins. “I wouldn't know what we delivered by the pound until I got our delivery summaries from the vendors in November,” says Diane. “I wouldn't know where our dollars and cents were until November. Now we can track the load to the pound [and] I know where our income is going to be at the end of harvest. October 15, when my bank wants a harvest summary, it’s super simple.”
“With the bank, we've used it to adjust different budgets and projections when we're submitting for our line of credit renewal,” says Michelle. “Also, we have had a couple insurance claims [and] there have been times where we have to prove that we still tried to farm, so the input usage and that side has been helpful.”
"There's been some instances where we had residue problems with a delivery,” states Diane. “And we took that information to the chemical supplier and worked through some of the problems because we track it in real-time.”
After fees, Michelle estimates an added value of about $12,500. She feels the platform provides a competitive advantage due to the historical data that is accessible at the push of a button.
Traceability from Field to Customer
“We're tracing from the fields all the way to when the hops leave the farm,” states VP Diane. Michelle and Diane know every input that went into producing each 200 pound bale, where each bale came from, and where every single one is headed.
“For us, traceability is our lot numbers,” says Michelle. “From the lot, we are able to trace it to the cooling pile on the floor. From there, we can [trace] it back to the kiln room, and then obviously trace it back to the field. We can look back at when we're planting it, how long it's been in the ground, [and] what has been applied.”
“It used to be a total nightmare to dig up delivery slips, so it's really streamlined my response time.”
Prior to Conservis, Gooding Farms did not track dates and it took Diane too long to track down the necessary documents for deliveries such as load transfers and weight slips. Diane admits that she’s not the most organized person, but Conservis helped her gain control over what’s coming and going, both quantity and dollar-wise.
“With our GLOBALG.A.P. certification, it's required to have high traceability as well as [to] our customer bases, it's important to them. It's almost a requirement as an agricultural producer that you can trace from farm to fork, essentially.”
GLOBALG.A.P. & Organic Audit Prep
“We pursued GLOBALG.A.P. certification for not only being a leader in our community, but in industry,” says Diane. “It's the golden standard for hops.” Gooding Farms was the first farm in southern Idaho to become GLOBALG.A.P. certified in 2017 before using Conservis. This process started with an audit. “Like all those audits, if you don't write it down, it did not happen,” states Michelle. “That's a lot of paper. That was one thing I really didn't like was [that] I had notebooks on notebooks and it wasn't efficient for anyone. I was having to chase people down to try to get the irrigation schedule and what they applied. It really was a lot of time just chasing paperwork. Conservis definitely allowed our GLOBALG.A.P. to be streamlined, and it's also really nice because I can cut that paper piece. Good agricultural practice [means] trying to eliminate tons of paper usage. I can just download things to Excel, or send them off in a PDF and it has allowed that to be much quicker.” Michelle estimates her hours spent on food safety audits has been cut in half.
“Prior to Conservis, GLOBALG.A.P. certification was extremely stressful. With Conservis, it's made it less stressful because it [takes] less time.”
“We are in the process of certifying some organic fields and it's been very helpful just because of the historical information that they're looking for," says Diane. "When you're talking about an organic certification, they want to see the last three years.”
Cost Control, Inventory Projections & Input Usage
Michelle leans into Conservis to understand where money is being made and where they may be able to save. “It's breaking that down and looking at those dollars, cents, all of that,” she states. Michelle appreciates that Conservis helps her view their operational data in a variety of ways. She can compare one variety of hops to the next, cost and profit wise. “Especially this year, it's really a focus to get really good values and input costs, because everything has gone up so much in price,” states Michelle. “We're really trying to watch those dollars and cents [and] for that, it's really a great tool.”
Irrigation Foreman, Zion, sees value in using Conservis to manage the business of farming. “The real-time information of Conservis is helpful because we get to understand how much we're spending by week, and yearly, and keep track of it. “
Michelle appreciates having more control over the business and a quick view on input quantities. “I can just hop on and be like, ‘what do we have?’ and I don't have to go to the chemical shed and count the pallets. It allows us to be much more efficient from that standpoint, and to always have things available.”
“Conservis gives us a lot more control over the business, and [the] projection side and inventory.”
Safety & Compliance Recordkeeping
Irrigation Foreman, Zion, is grateful for Conservis because the system allows him to readily access information to keep field workers safe. Gooding Farms' operational compliance records are always findable on the cloud, within reach.
He views the safety of field workers as top priority. He’s grateful to work at Gooding Farms because he shares this value with Diane and Michelle. “Pesticide residues are something you do not want to consume,” states Zion. “As a farm, we wouldn't want to do that to our consumers, and there's regulations. It's very important for me to keep the irrigation workers informed. I'm able to look on Conservis and find out when the REI ends, and inform my workers and keep them safe.”
Zion is referencing the restricted-entry interval (REI) which is the time period immediately following a pesticide application when entry to the treated area is restricted. Zion is often moving around the many acres of Gooding Farms so having a cloud-based system provides easy access to real-time information. “If someone calls me and has any questions, I can look it up that minute and let them know.”
“If anyone has questions on what we put on, we're able to print out a sheet and tell them every single day [that] we put on a pesticide or fertilizer.”