Brad Gleason (President of West Hills Farms Service and Montage for Ag)

Brad Gleason: Farming Solutions

When Brad Gleason started farming in the 1980s, he never could have imagined how the decision would ultimately lead him to create his own software company some 30 years later.

His inquisitive nature and willingness to take risks has led Brad to create several businesses and partnerships that inject the San Joaquin Valley with economic and community-laden benefits as one of San Joaquin Valley’s accomplished entrepreneurs.

The move from farming into the software space may seem like a hefty stretch, but for Brad it made perfect sense – he had a problem that needed to be solved.  Without a practical software solution that met his needs as a farmer and farm manager, Brad set out to create a custom solution. Years into the project, he realized that he wasn’t the only one who needed a software solution. Brad turned the project into a business to make it accessible to his colleagues. The company is called Montage for Ag.

 

Farming Start

It’s a leap of faith to make such a bold move, but he has done this before. Brad started farming under similar circumstances. The situation involved an experimental planting of 40 pistachio trees in a region known as Pleasant Valley which is located near a rural city named Coalinga in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

At the time, the Pleasant Valley was known for limited crop production of grains, cotton and sugar beets due to dependence on water wells that were naturally rich in salts. Vegetables, vines and nut orchards weren’t planted in Pleasant Valley due to the salts in the available water source.

In 1988, Brad and his partner, Bob Viets, purchased property in Pleasant Valley and formed Double B Farms. Bob was the ranch manager and Brad handled the financial aspects of the business to create a well-rounded team.

Brad’s partner suggested they try planting pistachios after learning about research claiming the crop could be productive in spite of salty water.

In 1991, the duo planted a small plot of pistachio trees to test the claim, and it was a success. Planting pistachios on alternative ground was a strategic business move that proved worthwhile because pistachio production has steadily increased in California.

After Bob retired in 2007, Brad was introduced to Gregorio Jacobo who replaced Bob as farm manager and business partner.  They have continued to run their farm and farm management businesses, both of which have done well and grown to include approximately 13,000 acres of pistachios and almonds what is now known as West Hills Farm Services, Inc.

Brad’s success in farming is self-made. He was raised in the San Joaquin Valley, but not on a farm. He developed an appreciation for agriculture from his grandparents who farmed in the Delta-area, west of Sacramento, on about 1,000 acres of sugar beets, alfalfa and tomatoes.

“I think those childhood memories of being on a farm and . . . watching the way things happen on a farm was something I really enjoyed,” Brad said.

It wasn’t until Brad started working for a farming operation as a controller, then a president, that he had the opportunity to make a professional connection to his appreciation for farming. It was after this career move when Brad bought land to join the farming community.

“We started small, but it was exciting at having a shot at owning some land and growing crops,” Brad said.

 

Software Solution

Just a few months ago, Montage for Ag went live. The software solution manages all-that-is-farming to help farmers with the myriad of challenges and regulatory requirements that are now part of daily operations. Brad owns the Fresno-based software company.

Montage for Ag was designed by Brad to solve on-farm problems for the many people involved in the farm operation.

Throughout the three-year software development process, he has focused on creating a simple and easy to use program that is intended for farmers, farm managers, foremen and employees.  He assembled a professional, experienced team of software developers along with customer service and marketing representatives to take the software to market, starting with Fresno.

“I am going to be interested to try it in different parts of the state and country. I think there is a common denominator in all farms no matter what their size or commodity, no matter where you are,” said Brad.

Montage for Ag’s premise is to link all farm inputs and outputs into a single place to efficiently navigate the ever-changing business environment.  Essentially, it provides the user with the ability to check his or her operation by using one common denominator — a ranch map.

 

An example of a ranch map of a field of pistachios.

An example of a ranch map shown in the Montage for Ag program.

Connecting the dots

Montage for Ag is based on a need that Brad identified decades earlier when he started working as controller for a large Westside farming family in the 1980s. In the position, he saw a disconnect between the field and administrative operations.

“Farmers want to be near the crop, they don’t particularly enjoy paperwork. If paperwork does make it to the office, it has been in the pickup truck for a while,” Brad said.

It was a challenge to keep the farm operation and office staff running smoothly when reports go missing or are delayed. From the administrative side, an office manager needs to archive information that comes from spray records, application rates, pump repairs, crop yields, and so on to keep reporting up-to-date.

In 2014, Brad decided it was time to bridge the gap between the field and office — so he started working with a developer to create customized software for West Hills Farm Services.

“I saw the need to connect all paperwork to a ranch map. Ranch maps come in all different shapes and sizes but they are an absolute necessity to a farm operation. The great part is the technology; it has come along with mapping and satellite imagery, allowing you to map a farm using these tools,” Brad said.

The ranch map serves as the nucleus to a farming operation — whether information is field-based or administrative-based — because there is a single thread to tie the information together.

Montage for Ag is an independent software-as-a-service provider offering subscriptions to farmers.

Key to the software structure is how it meshes with other technologies by integrating technologies, such as an irrigation pump sensor or energy usage into a single dashboard. It was important to have data flow from multiple sources into a single site, so there is only one application to log into — whether it is on the computer, a tablet or phone, Brad said.

Each piece of information about the plot of land is accessible through the ranch map which connects all data points — whether it is a current report or historical data. Correlations can be made between the various inputs and outputs for a ranch along with the ability to drill down into a single data point.

Another critical option, is the ability to grant access to service providers.

 

A Step Further

Brad’s vision is that Montage for Ag will improve the flow of information between the farm operation and ancillary businesses.

“How can we connect all of those file cabinets to that ranch map and do it in such a way that it serves all the different people involved in a farm operation. They are not farmers, but they are a part of our world,” Brad said.

West Hills relies on third parties to keep thousands of acres running smoothly, and one example is an irrigation pump company that services water wells.

“Farmers have numerous vendor relationships to pull everything together to produce a crop. Between telephone calls and emails, the more we can streamline those communications, the better,” he said.

He is referring to documents or reports that are linked to a farm or parcel, like the irrigation pump. Montage for Ag offers an owner or administrator the ability to grant permissions to third parties. With the irrigation pump company, a permission could be set up to allow access to drag and drop files into Montage for Ag for a particular irrigation pump.

“They . . . come into contact with the farmer and have information that needs to be logged, so it can be accessed 20 years from now,” Brad said.

Preserving farm data for future generations can also serve a critical role to prove compliance among the plethora of regulations.

“Now with the various regulations that have come along, it’s really important that we get this right and its available,” Brad said.

One regulatory example is the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which is a statewide regulation that locally governs and enforces groundwater use.

Technology in the form of irrigation pump sensors can provide data about pumping volumes, as well as, pumping and standing water levels, he explained. Pump sensors can then feed data into Montage for Ag so it is available to the farmer.

“With the measuring and recording of water data, there is an opportunity to organize data and prepare for future SGMA reporting,” Brad said.

Data will have an important role in the development groundwater management plans as required under SGMA.

Brad is excited about how software can bring tangible solutions to farmers like having access to the data that will be key to satisfying requirements within the groundwater management plans. Stay tuned, Montage’s software will evolve to meet the needs of the farming community.

 

Want to Learn More?

Brad wrote two op-ed pieces in 2015 and 2016, both eloquent with well-rounded arguments:
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