We all need an Elaine in our lives. Let me explain. Corning, IA, farmer Ray Gaesser believes in keeping really detailed farm records on both his production and finances. But, because he farms quite a few acres, he doesn't have time to record all that data himself. His wife, Elaine, shoulders that responsibility. Without her, it just wouldn't get done.

It goes without saying that a good set of records is the essential element to stay in business these days. And having an Elaine in your life can make that job easier.

So can a new program called Crop Check, which keeps track of your production and financial records. Although it's free to use, the program is partially funded by your checkoff dollars through the North Central Soybean Research Program (NCSRP) and managed by the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA). As of Dec. 1, you can go to the Crop Check Web site (www.cropcheck.org) and download the free software.

The best part of Crop Check, however, is that you can upload your information back to the Web site and then compare your data with that of all the other farmers using the program.

Crop Check is available to anyone with Internet access. Once you access the Web site, install the Windows-based software on your computer. After you fill in the data, upload the file to the online database.

“Crop Check allows you to analyze your operation from a production and financial standpoint at no cost,” says David Wright, ISA's director of production technology. “It allows you to compare the results from your farming operation to many others across the Midwest. That helps you identify areas of your operation that could be more profitable.”

Crop Check, for example, can generate variety specific yield reports. You can generate reports on cost of production by farm size, tillage system and rented vs. owned land. You also can determine the yield impact on planting date, seeding rate, row width and fertilizer inputs.

Gaesser participated in a Crop Check pilot program sponsored by ISA this year. “It gives us a chance to see how we're doing compared to other farmers and where we need to improve,” he says. “We found out that we're in the mid-range for production costs for soybeans and near the top on income for corn.”

The data entered is protected and anonymous. “Your production information is provided anonymously to all other users,” says Wright. “None of the information can be traced back to you.”

The real question producers have to answer, Gaesser notes, is whether they want to stay in business or not. “No matter what size your farm, you have to change with the times. That includes being able to document your financial and production history with records.

“You have to make the commitment. It's an effort and some just don't want to do it,” he says. “The guys who aren't willing to change might get squeezed. I've spent $7,000 on software over the years to get what farmers now can get for free.”