A prerequisite for making sound business decisions is access to relevant and timely information. The information collection system on the farm depends on the size of the farm and the professional background of the producer.
On small farms, systematic information records are generally not kept and farmers rely on memory, which is often unreliable. On larger farms, formalised information records are used. The minimum documentation needed for proper farm management includes (according to the Code of Good Farming Practice):
- an up-to-date soil-agricultural map and maps (sketches) of soil pH and basic nutrient content,
- field cards and information on herd turnover of animals and their unit yield,
- records of receipts and expenditure,
- registration of the share of equity capital and that derived from loans.
In order to grow crops more efficiently and to better monitor crop production, records of fields, crops and treatments must be kept. The extent of the required documentation of fields, crops and treatments depends on the crop production standards adopted and implemented; regulations apply to farms with integrated agricultural production, organic farming, and may also be related to the use of Good Agricultural Practice principles, HACCP-compliant production and/or certification under quality and sustainability schemes. Sometimes additional documentation of fields, crops and treatments carried out on them is required by the recipients of the crops. In addition, according to the law, activities related to the use of plant protection products must be documented in a specific manner (Act of 8 March 2013 on plant protection products (Journal of Laws, item 455), Article 35, paragraph 3 and Article 67, paragraph 1 of Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 October 2009 (OJ L 309, 24.11.2009). The above regulation enforces the keeping of records of plant protection treatments. The documentation resulting from the use of plant protection products should contain such information as: the name of the plant grown, variety, area of the field where the treatment was performed, date of its performance, name of the product, applied dose, reason for using the product (which disease, weed or pest was controlled, harmfulness thresholds, extent of the controlled pest), equipment used and type of sprayer, amount of applied spray per hectare, etc.
One element of the documentation of fields, crops and the treatments carried out on them is the field card, which is a tabular and simplified way of recording the production process. It is used to monitor the work carried out and its content depends on the type of production. The field card should facilitate the management of the production process and enable effective analysis for the purpose of improving it. In general, the field card should contain the following information: date of activity, parcel number, area of the agricultural parcel (ha), type of use (main crop / intercrop), type of activity, name of fertiliser, amount of fertiliser (t/ha), comments. As the range of records to be kept by the farmer continues to grow, software is available to streamline the process for larger farms with more complex crop structures or specific food safety requirements.
It is also possible to use complete, off-the-shelf farm management systems according to the direction of the farm, made available by organisations or companies involved in sustainable agricultural production.