New software, OysterTracker, launched to help shellfish farmers manage operations
OysterTracker, a new software system intended to help shellfish farmers manage their farms, launched in April with 15 clients in the U.S. and Australia.
The program aggregates and helps manage a wide array of operational metrics on a farm to keep costs lower and increase efficiency. That can equate to big savings in costs, which leads to higher revenue down the road, according to OysterTracker CEO and co-founder Chip Terry.
“We listened to farmers (many of whom are friends) who told us the challenges of managing a growing farm. Our solution is custom built for their needs.” Terry said.
Terry grew up on the coast of Maine, an oyster hotbed on the east coast of the United States, and through talking with acquaintances on farms learned about the challenges of going from a small easily manageable farm to a large one dealing with millions of oysters. A software developer, he decided to try and create a program to assist with the organizational aspects of farming oysters.
“It sort of started as a passion project to sort of help them,” he said. He put out some feelers to oyster farmers and the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association to see if there was any ideas of what farmers would be looking for. “Within a day I had 35 farmers calling me back. Then I started looking and saying ‘maybe there’s more of an opportunity here than I thought.’”
The program allows farmers to easily put together detailed schedules for activities, allowing both employees and owners to make sure work is getting done when it needs to be. It also helps farmers track the details of their lease, allowing them to compare things like technique, equipment, and environmental conditions against growth rates, mortality, and activity.
Oysters are rapidly growing in popularity, particularly in restaurants. With increased demand comes more farmers and larger farms, and organizing that is starting to be a challenge for some.
“Talking to these guys, they all said basically the same thing: It’s really hard to manage the inventory and the activities," Terry said.
A farm of one million oysters may end up moving each one up to 12 times, resulting in 12 million interactions. Misplacing a line or forgetting a step could increase mortality, costing farmers money. Changing mortality by just five percent on a million oyster farm could mean an extra USD 25,000 (EU 20,900) in the farmer’s pocket.
“Revenue depends on knowing shellstock size, location, growth rates, and mortality. OysterTracker makes it easy for us to know what we have now – and what we will have in the future,” Andrew Speaker, of Toogoodoo Oysters in South Carolina, said.
Keeping all of that organized can sometimes get away from farmers who started as a mom-and-pop and have grown into a business employing multiple people.
To start, farmers feed in information like the number of leases, number of lines, equipment being used, activities performed, number of employees, and so on. Then, OysterTracker sets up the system for that farm’s needs.
"I wish I had this tool when I was farming. My life would have been a lot easier,” Bob Rheault of East Coast Shellfish said.
Terry said he expects OysterTracker to catch on in multiple markets. Even before a full version was available, they already had 15 paying clients.
“We’ve got a lot of room for growth both domestically and internationally,” he said. “Within the oyster industry itself, I think there’s quite a bit of opportunity.”