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Published February 20, 2012, 11:15 AM

Becoming a better farm manager

MINOT, N.D. — Paul Overby, a Wolford, N.D., farmer and self-described “computer geek,” wants to help farmers manage their farming operations more efficiently.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

MINOT, N.D. — Paul Overby, a Wolford, N.D., farmer and self-described “computer geek,” wants to help farmers manage their farming operations more efficiently.

“Everything we do is geared to helping them (farmers) be better managers,” he says. “Our focus has been more on management training and education, rather than selling products.”

Overby and his wife, Diane, operate Verdi-Plus Management Solutions in Wolford. Paul Overby was among the exhibitors at the annual KMOT AG Expo held late last month in Minot, N.D.

Verdi-Plus — pronounced “vaer dee” the Norwegian word for value — is involved with Farm Works, a Hamilton, Ind.-based software development company that offers products for field records, yield mapping and accounting, among other things.

The North Dakota business also offers management zone development using SatShot 3D imagery. Management zones provide a way to apply variable rate inputs.

SatShot describes itself as providing “premium mapping and imagery for precision agriculture.”

Verdi-Plus works with area grain marketing clubs, too.

The business began under a different name in 2000 with presentations to marketing clubs. Overby continues to work with marketing clubs, providing what he says is a level of ongoing support beyond a one-time seminar or training session.

One of the clubs with which Overby works is the Lake Area Marketing club in Devils Lake, N.D.

“Paul does a good job, a professional job,” says Ray Sletteland, a retired Devils Lake, N.D., farmer and leader of the Devils Lake club.

In 2007, Overby’s business began expanding into other areas, including Farm Works and precision agriculture. In all the areas, Verdi-Plus seeks to help farmers become better managers, he says.

“Yes, Farm Works software is a product. But to me, more importantly, it’s a tool for improving farm management,” he says.

“It’s the same thing with variable rate (application),” he says. “My real interest is, it’s a management tool farmers can use to enhance their profitability and their soil stewardship.”

Overby stresses the importance of stewardship. “It drives a lot of what I do and teach,” he says.

Farms in general are getting bigger, and some farmers are adding new crops to their rotation. Further, some farms are transitioning from one generation to the next, he says.

That makes record keeping more important and difficult than ever, he says.

“Guys are realizing that what they’ve been getting away with putting in their head, or maybe on a spreadsheet, doesn’t cut it anymore. There’s too much stuff,” he says.

“Data management is becoming a huge, huge issue for farmers,” he says.

Overby gives this example of how he’s helped a producer become a better manager:

“I have one guy (client) who’d been overestimating his field by about 20 acres. The sloughs had slowly gotten bigger. Out of a quarter (160 acres) of land, he thought he was farming about 140 acres. But after using this (mapping software), he found it was 120,” Overby says.

For years, the farmer had paid expenses for 140 acres, not 120. To make things worse, the farmer had been calculating the field’s yields on 140 acres, not 120 acres, which hurt the field’s actual production history, Overby says.

North Dakota accounts for the bulk of Verdi-Plus customers, but the business has customers in surrounding states and Canada, too.

Farmer, ‘computer geek’

Overby, a third-generation farmer, continues to operate a 1,750-acre farm with what he describes as diverse rotation of crops.

“I’ve made my farm fairly complex, even though it’s small, while a lot of guys are trying to make their farm simpler because it’s bigger,” he says.

Overby says he bought his first computer in 1984 for $5,000. By today’s standards, the technology was almost laughably primitive.

“You can call me a computer geek, I guess,” he says.

He stresses that his business focuses on helping farmers become better managers, not on providing technical expertise or advice.

Overby encourages farmers to try new management tools now, when crop prices are high

“This is the time to try stuff. You can make a mistake, you can go through the learning curve, and it’s not going to hurt you,” he says.

He also encourages farmers to go slowly, especially at first.

“Start simple, start with something that’s important to you, and add to that. Because if you try to do everything (initially), it’s overwhelming,” he says.

Information: www.verdi-plus.com.

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