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National Grazing Lands Coalition

How Knack helped an agricultural researcher
save hours of data entry.

National Grazing Lands Coalition

Farm to (Database) Table

Dr. Greg Clary knows databases. Years ago, he would regularly build his own in Microsoft Access for small projects.

Today, Dr. Clary says, “I have long forgotten how to do that and just do not have the time to invest in relearning programming.”

Instead, when he found himself in need of an online database, he selected Knack.

Dr. Clary walking through his Knack app.

After researching user friendliness, cost, and flexibility, it was an easy choice. “Knack was straightforward to use and I could see the possibilities right away,” Dr. Clary explained. “Having used databases in the past, I knew what I wanted.”

What he wanted was a way to automate a form capture process. Dr. Clary collects data from farms and ranches around the country. Previous to Knack, this was done the old-fashioned way: on paper. He would send surveys to farmers, who would fill them out and mail them back to him. He’d then input their responses himself.

In Knack he found a simple but immensely efficient means of streamlining this process: have the farmers enter their own information online.

Knack has already saved me countless hours, It’s helped get data into the database without trouble or an inordinate amount of time.

An Hour Saved Is an Hour Earned

Dr. Clary is an economist in The Matrix Assessment Group (TMAG), a Texas-based consulting firm. He specializes in rural entrepreneurship and economic development.

TMAG is currently partnering with the National Grazing Lands Coalition on a three-year project. The goal is to explore the effects of conservation practices on agricultural operations, productivity, and economics.

For TMAG, this means collecting and processing sizeable amounts of data from farmers. When Dr. Clary was using paper surveys by mail, it could take up to an hour to enter in a single individual’s information. As the volume of responses began to add up, it became clear that a manual approach would not be sustainable.

To help automate the process, Dr. Clary built a simple website explaining the project and providing instructions on how to address the different questions. Now, rather than mailing batches of lengthy surveys, he sends participants to the Knack app where they can create a profile and enter their individual data.

The project website that enables farmers to enter their data.

He found it easy to set up the fields for his surveys and then create the corresponding forms for farmers to enter their data. Those responses are tied to individual user IDs, ensuring that each farm’s data remains intact. And thanks to his separation of the app into multiple sections, users don’t need to fill it out all at once. Instead, they can save their data and return to finish the survey later.

Reshaping the process so that the farmers could enter their own information was a game-changer. “Knack has already saved me countless hours,” Dr. Clary says. “It’s helped me get to a place where I can get data into the database without trouble or an inordinate amount of time.”

More data, more insights

While the time savings may have been the immediate benefit from moving to Knack, Dr. Clary is eager to explore the additional advantages that come with storing this data in a powerful online database.

The forms Dr. Clary built in Knack prompt users to enter wide-ranging information about their properties, from soil health and water quality to grazing systems and the threat of climate change. Knack’s reporting and search tools will help provide insight into how farmers make decisions and how those decisions in turn affect their operations and output.

One of the forms farmers can fill out to enter data.

Once their data collection is complete, Dr. Clary and his partner will conduct a cost-benefit analysis of certain conservation management practices, as well as participation in Natural Resources Conservation Service programs.

Further data collection and reporting will follow, and eventually Dr. Clary and his partner and will also be coordinating some of the education practices that come of this study. These will largely take place online, in the form of webinars and written resources. Eventually, they’ll also return to the six states from which they collected the data, to report results and conduct in-person educational programming.

What I found from the start is that Knack is very intuitive…it didn’t take me very long at all.

“I am the team”

When asked what role he plays in the team, Dr. Clary’s response was simple and telling: “I am the team.”

Though he has a partner who helps with the project, Dr. Clary handles all of the technological aspects. Simplifying the data collection process was therefore critical, as was ensuring that he was working with a program he could understand and customize.

“What I found from the start is that it’s very intuitive,” Dr. Clary says of learning the ins and outs of Knack. Where others tools had proved cumbersome or confusing, with Knack he was able to put together an app quickly and efficiently.

Knack will help contribute to the project goals of optimizing grazing land like this.

The Knack knowledge base also proved helpful in bridging any gaps in his understanding. “It didn’t take me very long at all with your online help. All those resources explained things to the point where I could then figure out what I needed to do.”

Knack gave Dr. Clary the exact tools to implement the solution he needed, with a minimum time commitment. With no additional technical resources, this allowed Dr. Clary to stay focused on the big picture of his project and the high-value work he provides.

I’m not going back to writing in Access. I’m using Knack.

Only the beginning

In January 2018, Dr. Clary had the chance to meet up with Knack at the second ever Knack Meetup, in Austin, Texas. He met the team along with other local Knack users, an opportunity that was both social and educational.

Dr. Clary chatting with Knacksters at a Knack Meetup in Austin.

Dr. Clary came away with helpful suggestions and new ideas after hearing how others use Knack. The experience opened his eyes to opportunities that hadn’t previously occurred to him. “This is one powerful tool,” he says. “There are possibilities for using it that I never even imagined.”

Those ideas will likely be put into practice sooner rather than later. In addition to the project for the National Grazing Lands Coalition, Dr. Clary also has others lined up. These include a market research initiative for an agricultural company that produces honey, for which he intends to build another Knack app to store and track the data.

Whatever other projects and tasks may arise in the future, he says, one thing is certain: “I’m not going back to writing in Access. I’m using Knack.”