Is Your Business Yesterday’s Tractor Cab?

- Jim Schweigert

I was talking to one of our seed growers recently and he said, “My grandpa wouldn’t even recognize a tractor cab today!” I agreed, but also thought, even my childhood self wouldn’t recognize it!

It’s during planting season that I’m always reminded of how much agriculture and the seed business have evolved. Field mapping, nearly autonomous tractors, high-speed planters and equipment monitoring have made the farmer’s field one of the most high-tech places in the world. In a context I love to use, my grandpa farmed with horses and now we farm with information from space. It’s truly remarkable.

So what’s next? The point of this article isn’t to predict what the future will bring, but to drive home the point that the future will be different, and to succeed, your business will need to be different too.

Change Comes, Even if You Aren’t Ready

The next few years will see change at an unprecedented pace. The major mergers are all underway and a wave of new strategic alignments and relationships is likely to develop. The entire deck may be reshuffled. Ideas you once thought were impossible or ridiculous may now be the perfect strategy. Brainstorming “what if” scenarios, challenging the status quo and being able to move quick will likely define those who will win the future.

We don’t, however, always get to pick when change comes and what it looks like. New breeding techniques, like gene editing, are allowing companies all the over the world to invent new and improved hybrids and varieties. How might they approach the market and what could that mean for your business? How can you leverage your farmer relationships and local knowledge to take advantage of this?

Additionally, technology is changing the way seed is sold. Web-based startup companies are popping up and are introducing themselves to farmers on social media, rather than with a handshake. How can your company demonstrate the value of your local knowledge and relationship in the midst of the lure of Big Data?

So Get Ready!

While I can’t predict the future, I can offer this recommendation – get ready! Disrupters and disruption are emerging in every corner of the seed business and agriculture. Prepare your staff, suppliers and even your customers for the inevitability of change. New technology will continue to spur new market entrants, and the completion of the major mergers will drive new relationships and shifting alliances.

All of this means that even your childhood self may not recognize the seed business in a few years. Make sure you’re ready for it!

Limited Seed Treatment Tools Increase Importance of Stewardship

- Nathan Ehresman

The modern crop-chemical registration process limits the number of available seed treatment tools and makes stewardship of existing tools even more important.

The increasing cost to obtain and maintain regulatory approvals for crop protection chemicals threatens to limit the introduction and retention of seed treatment pesticides.

By itself, seed treatment is a relatively small part of the overall global crop-protection market. The cost to develop a chemical for seed treatment alone would be prohibitively expensive. The expense and time to develop a new chemical pesticide — now estimated at $250 -$300 million and more than 10 years from laboratory to sale and distribution — requires wide market appeal for a manufacturer to achieve an acceptable return on their investment.

On top of the ever-increasing cost for new chemistry approval, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is deep in the process of reevaluating existing active ingredients which have been in use for many years. As part of this process, EPA looks at the current state of science, requires new studies, and finally re-screens all existing chemicals using new methods to estimate the risk from ongoing use. The reevaluation process culminates in an updated risk-benefit conclusion for each chemical.

The EPA’s risk-benefit analysis relies, in part, on computer models that simulate exposure to the chemical on several categories such as, honeybees foraging near a field being planted with treated seed, birds that may be exposed to treated seed left on open ground, and farmers who load a planter with treated seed. Manufacturers bear the cost of defending seed treatment chemicals.

The reevaluation process requires EPA to examine all incidents that have been reported during the past 10-15 years from alleged exposure to the chemical during its use. This is why stewardship and use in a manner that prevents unintended exposure is so very important to the future of seed treatments. If a seed treatment product would be withdrawn from the market following EPA’s reevaluation, there are few products in the development pipeline to replace it.

Because of the high cost for new registration and reevaluations, there is increasing interest by manufacturers in biologicals since the time needed to develop these products for seed treatment is much shorter. Toxicology and environmental study requirements are abbreviated, which means less development cost. The EPA and the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) have made provisions to encourage development of biorational products. These agencies have diminished the approval requirements from those that apply to conventional chemical products. One of the downsides is that biorational products are very specific in their use spectrum often targeting a limited range of pests. Conventional chemicals have much broader utility but face more intense scrutiny now and in the future.

Amateurs Built the Ark, Professionals Built the Titanic

- Rod Osthus

I didn’t coin that title but, when I saw it, it reminded me of the strategy many companies are using to prepare their salespeople for the 2018 selling season. I call it the Titanic Sales Strategy because it creates false confidence in their plans and in their salesforce’s ability to get sales in this highly competitive marketplace.

Builders of the Titanic believed their ship was impenetrable because of the extra thick steel plating used to construct the hull. That attitude led to overconfidence in a ship, later found to have steel of inferior quality, that was never really capable of holding up to its assumed level of invulnerability.

In like fashion, architects of the Titanic Sales Strategy believe they’re developing more competent field sellers by teaching them knowledge skills, in lieu of selling skills. Learning to analyze personality types, segment customers, use digital field mapping programs, and develop business plans doesn’t enhance a seller’s ability to write orders.

Salespeople need to learn sales skills, so they know how to capture appointments, get more new customers, stay out of price fights, increase average order size, deflect competitor programs, and manage performance issues. They have to know how to control conversations, handle objections, protect margins, and keep customers long-term.

How will your sales reps respond this year when farmers say, “It’s too early to order. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet”? What will they say when they’re asked for plot data, free seed for test plots, or simply say you’re too high priced. The answer is 80 percent of the reps who call on farmers won’t know what to say to keep control of the conversation, therefore, they’ll lose the sale.

Jim Rohn said, “If you let learning lead to knowledge, you become a fool. If you let learning lead to action, you become wealthy.” Get your people into training on how to sell to farmers — training from someone who lives and breathes it every day with sales reps and their customers. Give your sales team the opportunity to win, by giving them the selling skills they need. Build them an ARK of assurance — a sales training system that, no matter how tough the selling environment, makes them highly competent and capable of getting the sale.

Optical Sorting versus Precision Density Sorting

- Christian Burney

Optical color sorting is regarded by some in the seed industry as an exciting, newish technology that offers innumerable advantages over other forms of product separation. While it is true that modern optical color sorting technology is powerful, we fear that seedsmen risk losing quality product by relying solely on optical color sorting systems over additional processes.

Optical color sorters first entered the commercial market way back in the 30s, and naturally, their potential has surged since then. Optical color sorting is largely visually based. Optical sorters today utilize shape recognition and monochromatic, dichromatic or RGB (full color) camera technology to accept or reject seed based on color, length and surface integrity of a given product. In some instances, this sorting method can capture bad seeds that would skirt around other forms of sorting and separation. For example, some diseases will render a seed discolored or scarred, but won’t affect the weight or mass of the seed itself.

But in many circumstances, the opposite is true, too. Many diseases will cause a seed to rot from the inside out, affecting the mass and weight of a seed without causing visual damage or discoloration to the seed’s exterior. In addition, if the interior of a seed is not fully developed, the germination and vibrancy of the seed may be inferior. The best way to remove these bad seeds from a production line is, no contest, through density separation.

I’m not here to advocate for density separation over optical sorting, or vice-versa. More so, I want everyone to be aware that the two methods work best in tandem. Each method is a test of very specific, defined variables – if one were to plot a Venn diagram with Optical Color Sorting on the left and Precision Density Separation on the right, there would be little overlap in the metrics they operate by. But, those metrics exist in all sorts of seeds, and using just one sorting method while ignoring another will guarantee that quality control is ultimately flawed.

In my experience, some seed facilities will determine that a seed’s quality is acceptable based strictly on what it looks like to their own two eyes. They will loosely examine the seed as it travels across a conveyor and make the call to reroute the seeds passing by the gravity separators.

Talk about optical sorting. I can’t dissuade one from doing this enough. As I mentioned earlier, visual discrepancies in seeds aren’t the only variables to consider; weight and mass are something for which optical sorters, and human eyes, just can’t account for. What is your standard for quality using optical color sorters and precision density separators?

Four Steps to Sprucing up Your Brand

- Glenn Friesen

In my previous column, I wrote about how to identify what’s preventing your brand from connecting with customers.

  1. You’re forgetting who your customers are.
  2. Your message is off.
  3. Your brand isn’t engaging enough.
  4. Your logo/overall brand look is stale.

All these factors work in synch. They all play off of one another and affect the others. There are some key ways to begin freshening up your brand and, in effect, tackle all four of these issues.

You can start with any step you like and tackle each of these in any sequence you like, but the result will be the same: you’ll have a better vision for your brand.

Step 1 — So, you’ve determined who your target customers are. Now, ask yourself this: what makes them tick? What values are important to them? How can your brand reflect those values? For example: it’s no secret that farms are being passed on to a younger generation, and younger people have different values than older people. They’re embracing new technology, for instance. Are you?

Step 2 — You communicate with your customers via your brand’s central message. What are you about? If you need to tailor your message to a younger audience, for instance, what should that message be? It’s very likely that you need to let them know that you, too, are enthusiastic about new technology. You have to tell them that you’re eager to learn new things, just like they are.

Step 3 — Now you have to engage them. Are you on social media? If so, do you engage with people over the internet? If you aren’t yet on Twitter or Facebook or another platform, it’s time you look at doing so. Younger people gravitate toward social media, and if your company and brand don’t have a presence on it and don’t engage with them even if you do, that tells them your brand is stale and behind the times. And if your brand is boring, what does that say about your product?

Step 4 — Your logo is the face of your brand. Is the design of your logo old-fashioned? A retro look can sometimes be appealing, but there’s a difference between looking retro and looking old. What colours do you use? Is your logo well designed for the modern age? Does it serve to catch attention both in print and on a screen?

Tackling these four problem areas will help you determine where your brand is lacking and get you on the road to sprucing it up.

In my next installment on branding (Part 3 of 4), I’ll delve deeper into how to engage with your customers and get their attention in a technology-dominated world.

Global Growth Strategy Might Mean Equipment Flexibility

- Jason Kaeb

With the maturation of the domestic seed treatment market, one might be looking for growth opportunities. While our market share here is fairly high, we are looking to grow and that means moving outside our traditional territory and even half way across the globe. But with that, we know there are points of difference that must be accounted for. A few of which include logistics, understanding tariffs and servicing equipment.

We are evaluating global opportunities, including Australia, Canada, Central America, Europe, South Africa, South America (Brazil and Argentina). These are places where similar planting methods are used and where we also have good relationships with possible partners. But that alone doesn’t mean a certain locale is a good place to start up business.

As we expand into new geographies, four considerations rise to the top:

· Timing of and number of planting seasons. Does their planting season coincide with the U.S. planting season? Do they have more than one planting season? For example, parts of South America can have up to three, whereas other parts of the world only have one. Our business is very cyclical. We do a significant amount of work leading up to planting (October – March). We have to think about when equipment installations and commissioning that equipment would be the highest.

· Time zone. When we think about support for future customers, considering how their time zone compares to ours is a must. How we go about supporting those in South Africa might be very different than how we support customers in Canada. Because of the difference in time, it might make more sense for us to have a local support person in South Africa; whereas, in Canada we can easily provide the support needed from here.

· Complexity of the equipment currently in use. Here, the downstream seed treating market has been established for about 15 years, but that’s not the case around the world. We don’t want to take our equipment as it is to areas that aren’t ready for it. Our equipment can treat 1,500 to 2,000 pounds per minute, but they might only need half of that. Full automation, how it’s integrated and capacity might make it cost prohibitive. We must take a fresh perspective and consider the needs of our customers where they are. For example, in parts of Mexico, there are no semis or seed tenders. They more or less use mini bulk bags.

· Tariffs and shipping logistics. When it comes to getting our equipment in the hands of potential customers, are local tariffs too much to incur? If so, can we manufacture the equipment locally and avoid these tariffs and shipping costs? For example, shipping equipment to Australia is relatively easy with containers; however, Brazil has restrictive tariffs. So it might make sense to manufacture our equipment in Brazil. These two countries offer great opportunities but we have to manage them very differently in our approach.

Remember: If you’re looking for global growth, you must stay involved and be engaged in those areas. Regardless of where you might find our equipment, we look to stand behind it as the manufacturer. That means we will keep our same commitment to service and support that one might find right in our backyard here in Sabetha, Kansas.

What Is the Value of your Business Processes

- Mike Dorris

Have you ever stopped to think about why you do what you do in your seed business every day? I am not talking about your products or your sales territories or your management hierarchy; rather, the daily, weekly and monthly routines you go through just to keep your business functioning.

You could be wasting a great deal of time and effort on inefficient and ineffective routines if you have not critically reviewed your business processes. You may have lost sight of some processes’ initial purpose. Why they are in place? What improvements should be made? Without realizing it, you might be acting more from habit than out of necessity. It could be that some of what you are doing should be tweaked, radically redesigned or even eliminated.

After completing an initial analysis, the next step is to assign value to each specific business process and to each of its individual internal components. What value does each process add to your operation? What does it cost in time and effort to complete each process? What is the cost and consequence of not completing each individual process? Are the processes error prone and cumbersome to complete? Think about all the steps required from the point of view of both your customers and your employees.

Carefully consider these key business activities:

· What are the processes and procedures needed to place an order?

· What is the process to maintain an accounting of your current inventory?

· What is the process to ship an order?

· What is the process to know when lab results (seed tests, for example) need to be updated?

· What is the process to manufacture raw seed into a finished good?

· What is the process to calculate business results?

· What is the process to know and project current and future sales demand?

If a software program could be implemented to streamline your processes, what would that be worth to your business? Perhaps, it could make it easier to place, process and track an order to allow you to handle more orders in less time. Saving time when shipping an order means more orders can be shipped.

Let’s take a fresh look and explore your current business processes to see if our software can add value to your business by solving some of your process challenges.

Develop the Team Sport That is Vital to the Success and Well-being of Your Business

- Christian Burney

Like a well-oiled machine, an efficient manufacturing line contains many moving pieces – welders, carpenters, painters, forklifts, flying sparks, docking semis, hammers and wrenches. A manufacturing line is only as healthy as its employees. That’s why a coordinated Safety Team is vital to the success and well-being of the people who make that business what it is.

At Oliver Manufacturing, we take safety extremely seriously. So much so that we have a dedicated Safety Team that meets regularly to review procedures, precautions and possible complications. From potential environmental hazards such as red flag warnings to irresponsible use of company equipment or vehicles on and off the Oliver property, the Safety Team addresses a myriad of issues twice monthly.

Oliver’s Safety Team is a collaborative group of seven to 10 employees concerned about factory and office affairs alike. Thanks to the Safety Team’s efforts, Oliver Manufacturing in 2017 had a total recordable incident rate (TRIR) of 1.86, well below 2016’s industrial average of 5.0. But the team wasn’t always quite so effective. It’s important to structure such a council to make sure that the right people are managing safety rules and procedures.

“Oliver’s always had a safety committee,” says Brandon Dickinson, former Safety Team chairman. “But it’s evolved from a committee to a team over time. It used to be that newcomers or employees with fewer responsibilities would be drafted onto the old safety committee automatically when monthly meetings were held in an upstairs office space above the factory floor. New recruits were never asked whether or not they wanted to be a part of the committee. Not much got accomplished.”

Because those lower on the totem pole were forced onto the team, some people weren’t fit for or interested in the job. This cast a gray cloud over the idea of safety.

In February 2015, Dickinson and COO Joe Pentlicki restructured the safety committee when it became the Safety Team. It is still working well.

Dickinson sought participants who wanted to be team members. The restructuring led to more productive meetings, which began to churn out effective procedures to reduce safety hazards and promote safety awareness. Team members receive a small pay differential. This attracts people who really want to help and be a part of the team.

In addition to keeping the workplace and workers safe, the collaborative effort demonstrated by Oliver’s Safety Team exemplifies the team’s real value from a B2B perspective. “The Safety Team keeps the factory current on our safety ratings,” says Dickinson. “Without this sustained rating, we cannot gain access to crucial customer sights/facilities.”

Caption This!

- Kelly Saunderson

This spring around the Issues Ink offices we are having an image captioning contest among us ‘Inkers.’ The current champ is from a surprising source. The ‘bean counter,’ our Controller, is consistently offering fantastic zingers; proving that with the right approach, anyone can contribute to content development. So, what’s the ‘right’ approach for captions you ask?

Captions should add new information, adding to the story. Don’t just duplicate what the audience is seeing in the image. (In fact, avoid “Above” or “Pictured Here” as that is unnecessary). Aim to intrigue or entertain the audience, while adding context.

When writing captions use conversational language – within reason. A caption that you may think is obviously joking, the audience may not interpret the same way. Sarcasm, for example, is a tricky one that is often a victim of misinterpretation.

Here are some other tips for creating good captions:

1. Place the most important words at the beginning of the caption.

2. Edit and rewrite! Practice makes perfect.

3. Use hashtags wisely when captioning social media images.

4. Pose a question.

5. Encourage engagement with a call to action.

When writing captions on behalf of your business, remember to write in the brand’s voice. This doesn’t mean being ‘stuffy.’ Captions are actually one of the best ways to show off a brand’s personality.

Identify your brand’s voice by outlining the qualities and values that represent the brand. What descriptive words convey those qualities and values? Try to either incorporate those into the caption or write with those descriptors in mind. Consistency is key when developing your brand’s voice. Utilize any existing phrases, taglines, or descriptors found in other marketing materials.

Image captioning is as much an art as it is a science. Experiment and have fun with it!

Bringing Unique Benefits to the Marketplace

- Dan Custis

Biological products offer unique benefits all along the food chain and provide advantages for growers, seed companies, dealers, consultants and retailers. Advanced Biological Marketing (ABM) has been in the business of “biologicals” since 2001, specifically microbial biologicals. We fully know and understand the advantages biologicals bring to the market.

Biological technologies have been developed over the years and give growers more targeted and effective options for crop production. Consumer demand and the need for higher production are part of the market drivers that have enabled ABM to continually innovate and improve biological products. As a result, there is an increasing acceptance and use of biological products.

Best management practices and a strong emphasis on environmental stewardship are major factors in commercial farming operations and the supporting network. Top producers not only maximize their returns but they also consider being good stewards of the land an important role in their operation. Biologicals typically provide both of these benefits. There is little to no toxicity when using them, and they often provide an avenue to enhanced soil health.

Our experience and expertise have led us to make some observations when it comes to providing a beneficial microbial product. If our microbial biologicals are to be successful, we know they must have these attributes:

1. They must be reliably effective in accomplishing the goal for which they are developed or sold.

2. They must give a consistent high return on investment to growers or provide other advantages that users can see and quantify.

3. They must be formulated into products that are easy to use and meet grower needs.

4. Products usually must have a reasonable shelf life.

Another very important point is that, in our experience, the plant benefits are strictly strain dependent. Just because one strain in a specific Trichoderma or Bacillus strain is effective is no indication that other strains in the same species will be effective. Only a few, highly selected strains are effective and useful, while the majority of strains in any species will have low or no efficiency. An important capability we apply is the use of defined synergistic strains to accomplish various goals in plant performance improvement. These unique benefits range from disease control to abiotic stress resistance to plant yield enhancement.

How to Use Biological Seed Treatments to Help Manage Pest Resistance

- Bill Diemer

Like death and taxes, pesticide resistance is inevitable. Sooner or later, pests will develop insensitivity or resistance to chemical pesticides. The aim of pest resistance management is to postpone or delay resistance if possible. Biological seed treatments are a valuable and effective tool in the ongoing resistance battle.

Pest resistance is not to be taken lightly. A limited number of chemistries exist to control pests, with even fewer new chemistries in the development pipeline. Older chemistries already carry the brunt of the load. For some of the most widely used chemistries, the base rates labeled have been increased to maintain efficacy. If we let pests develop resistance to these, there may be nothing available to take their place.

Because chemical and biological controls work differently, they can be used together to improve their effectiveness. Regardless of soil temperature, the hard chemistries begin working immediately, whereas biologicals prefer warmer soil temperatures. Just as the hard chemistries begin to wane 30-45 days after planting, the biological control mechanism is becoming more active on the root system. The combination of early chemical activity and later biological activity keeps the seed cloaked in protection, extending the span of protection beyond what either product can do alone.

In other applications, biologicals complement the range of coverage provided by chemical controls. Adding multiple chemistries with similar modes of action provides redundant control of the same pests while leaving others unscathed. Adding biologicals introduces different modes of action to the mix that reach different pests. We are just now understanding how one biological strain can work differently in different soil environments. A biological treatment that is extremely effective in one area may provide only marginal benefits elsewhere.

No single product, whether chemical or biological, is capable by itself of being the silver bullet to control the entire spectrum of early-season seed and seedling pests. Biologicals provide alternative and complementary methods of pest control and resistance management. It takes careful attention and diligent analysis to select the most effective combination of chemistries and biologicals. This is the effort needed if we are to maintain effective, long-term pest management.

Why it’s the End of Democracy as we Know it

- Rod Osthus

For decades, the democratic system of selling to farmers was fairly successful. That is, sales reps set their own sales goals and decided how and when they were going to achieve them. Many sellers were independent dealers who had the freedom to set their own prices and manage their sales territories the way they wanted. Sometimes they hit their sales goals, sometimes they didn’t.

But that democratic system of selling to farmers, though still in place in most ag companies, is not working. As the cost of doing business continues to go up, achieving sales and profit goals is no longer an option. Companies need their sales reps to take total responsibility for hitting their sales targets every year in order to stay in business. Ag companies need to stop being so democratic and insert a system of accountability if they expect to survive the next 10 years.

A couple of years ago, I was hired by an ag company to conduct a two-day training session for 110 of their sales reps. Only 82 reps showed up for the class. Prior to starting the session, I told the VP of sales that I didn’t realize his salespeople worked on commission and had the power to decide which company events they wanted to attend. He looked at me in disgust and said, “They aren’t commissioned, they’re salaried.” I said, “Then why do they have the option not to attend this training session? “He said, “You just nailed our biggest problem and a big reason why past trainings haven’t been working very well. That’s going to stop.”

Some salespeople can operate within a democracy, but most can’t. The cost of doing business today is too high, and achieving sales goals needs to be a more autocratic process, operating under the mentality that hitting goals is no longer optional, but essential to company survival.

When you are asked to reach goals that you believe are beyond your ability or resources, your only option is to rethink and innovate. The majority of ag sellers don’t achieve their sales goals because they refuse to innovate and, instead, make excuses. Innovating to achieve goals means taking total responsibility for doing what your company asks you to do. And that, my fellow street fighter, is not a democracy — it’s your job.

Will Your Vendor’s Mission-Critical Support Rescue the Day?

- Dieter Mulitze

Providing technical customer support is crucial, mission-critical at times. Suppose you suddenly are unable to print labels for your 20,000 plots and you must plant tomorrow. This is a mission-critical problem. Will your vendor be there for you? It can really cost you if they are not.

In our company, we have worked as breeders. We know the urgency of maintaining a schedule, and we act accordingly — often within hours if not sooner — when your critical issue needs immediate support. A seed company in India says our support is “supersonic.” Our clients in Australia are surprised to receive replies during their daytime hours.

On the backend, it only takes a few minutes in the evening here in Winnipeg to support our Australian customers. Because we’ve added an office in France, our European clients get their first replies and support at the beginning of the day, often by 7 a.m. from one of our staff. Our clients in Europe and beyond really appreciate the response times we’re able to provide when it comes to support.

Mission-Critical Support Understands the Context

Support is more than just solving the problem of the moment; it is about understanding the context surrounding the problem. Maybe the client is not using the most optimal approach with the software, so we ask questions and go beyond a “fix-the-immediate” mentality. We want to do more. With our two plant breeders and staff with agronomy backgrounds, we know the mind of the client. Our clients appreciate it – who doesn’t appreciate being understood?

We want to develop a relationship with our clients. We take all support requests as an opportunity to get to know our clients, not just give them an answer and say goodbye. We go the proverbial “extra mile” by asking all our clients each year how our software is working for them – any needs, any help we can give, any questions, any way to improve efficiency?

We have learned through experience about the importance of supporting our software with critical service. This is a frequent concern we hear from prospective clients, especially in countries, such India, where differing time zones is a challenge. Will we be there when they need us?

Mission-critical support is about keeping promises, keeping your word, going beyond and offering more than asked. Support is being there for your clients. We have been here as a company for almost 30 years because we support what we sell.

How Is Preparing Your Income Tax Like Seed Quality Testing?

- Craig Nelson

You are likely reading this article around the middle of April, so many of you may be focused on something that grabs my attention during this time of year, taxes! Yes, it is the inevitable annual process of gathering all of our W-2s, 1099s, receipts and charitable contribution documentation, then working through the unenviable task of defining what our financial contribution to our various governing bodies will be. While pondering the mortgage interest credit, my mind drifted off into thinking about how taxes are somewhat analogous to seed testing quality information.

This might seem like a stretch, but stay with me. There are certain components of a tax return that are always required such as your Social Security identification number, the number of dependents you claim and the amount of income you earned as reported on your W-2. It’s the same with seed labeling laws, which require the seed seller be identified with contact information, the germination percent be listed along with the test date and a physical seed purity and noxious weed analysis be documented, along with a list of any seed treatments that have been applied to the seed.

Both of these processes have components that are required for completion. There are also components to both processes that might not be required but are critically important. When considering completion of tax returns many of us rely on various processes to help mitigate our tax liability. We participate in tax-deferred savings plans, such as a 401K or an IRA to help reduce our tax load. Or, we itemize our deductions to identify the various expenses that we incurred to help reduce our tax liability. We give generously to our churches and charitable organizations not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because we can receive a tax deduction for this good deed. These good tax planning practices are analogous to having a complete set of seed testing results to help us have a clear picture of the quality of our seed lots.

While germination and physical seed purity are vital pieces of information and required to be listed on all seed labels, what about the genetic purity of the seed lot? Is the variety or hybrid correct for what is stated on the label? Do seed producers and retailers know if any unwanted transgenic events have contaminated their seed lot? Have they completed an adventitious presence (AP) test? If the seed should contain a genetic trait, such as insect resistance or herbicide tolerance, have these quality assays been performed and reported?

And what about the seed treatment, has it been applied appropriately within the chemical manufacturer’s specifications so as not to over or under apply the active ingredient? Then, don’t neglect the seed health of your seed lot; have you completed a screening for any pathogens that could affect the quality of your seed lot?

It may seem like a lot of additional testing that is not required, so why make the investment in dollars and time to complete all this non-required testing? Well, just like with your tax return, the goal is to have the most complete representation of the process, be it the seed lots that you are preparing to market to your customers or your personal finance representation to the government. If any of the pieces are missing you could be in for a problem, in the form of customer complaints and potentially lost sales opportunities or in the case of the IRS, the dreaded audit.

So when you are thinking about the testing you need for your seed lot, I urge you to consider how you compiled your tax return and be sure not to forget to complete the seed treatment loading rate analysis. Could that be tax deductible … hmmm?

2 Ways a Playoff Bracket Can Help Guide Your Marketing Strategy

- Kelly Saunderson

Ah spring. Seeding is right around the corner. The harsh winter is (almost) in our rear-view windows. Yet, all I can concentrate on is sheets of ice…and men with beards.  Yep, it’s NHL playoff time.

Why am I talking hockey in a column about content marketing? Well both hockey and content marketing have talented ‘creators,’ plenty of available data or statistics and expert opinions. Yet, the outcome is uncertain. Winning is a calculated gamble. One has to experiment and take risks to find when skill, strategy and a wee bit of luck align.

Using the NHL playoffs as inspiration, consider a playoff bracket as a tool to guide your content marketing strategy.

Here’s two ways to do this.

One involves taking existing content and having your own team ‘bet’ on which content was the most popular. Find content where you have some audience data. Data may be number of: views, visits, print volumes or sign-ups. Select two to four pieces of the same content type – newsletters, sell sheets, social media posts, webpages or videos. Have your internal team bet on which piece had the most traction or audience feedback. Look to the data to announce a winner of that bracket and move to the next bracket. What this approach does is two-fold; it gets your team thinking about content and how it’s used, and it gives you an idea of what content resonates since your team is an indirect target audience.

The second approach to the bracket challenge aims to engage your customers/audience. Set up a bracket where there’s an option between similar topics (Or products. Or anything that is relevant to your business). Have customers vote on their favorite. The ‘winner’ of one bracket moves on to the next round, which could be different topics or just another layer within the same topic. Post the bracket challenge in your retail location or launch an online version. This approach is basically a fun, topical, and unique way to survey your customers. Done right, this approach could give insight into your customers’ needs, wants or ‘pain points.’

Tailor the bracket structure to your business. Obviously, the bracket doesn’t have to be as large as the NHL’s 16-team bracket.

So, who do you have in the final?

Is Your Brand Functional?

- Glenn Friesen

In my last column, I wrote about the need to ensure your brand is connecting with people on an emotional level. If you make a quality product but the competition is besting you, it’s because your brand isn’t attractive to people. You need to find out why, and then fix the disconnect.

There is one reason, and one reason alone, why a brand doesn’t resonate with people: they don’t feel the brand aligns with their values.

Research tells us that a brand truly connects with people when they feel the brand reflects who they are. People choose brands they feel reflect them as a person, some examples being brands that reflect certain identities such as “conservative”, “athletic” and “hip”.

Think about your favourite brand. What do you feel it says about you? Why do you choose it over other brands? Sure, maybe it’s partly due to quality, but there are plenty of high-quality products on the market under different brand names. You’re loyal to that brand in large part because you feel it reflects you in some way.

If your brand isn’t doing that for others, it could be for several reasons:

  • You’re forgetting who your customers are. Your target market may have changed over time. With every new generation comes changing demands and customer preferences. If you’re a company that’s been around a long time, you may not realize that your primary customers are now primarily younger people. Younger people are highly tech-savvy and gravitate toward brands that match this part of their identity. How tech-savvy are you?
  • It’s all in the message. What’s the primary attribute of your brand that you communicate to people? Once you determine what that is, ask yourself this question: are you actually doing what it is you claim to do? If there’s a disconnect between what your brand says it does and what it actually does, that’s something that could be hurting you.
  • Are you engaging? People like to purchase brands from companies they feel challenge them in some regard, or that are interesting to them for various reasons. Yours may have become a bit stale over time. Strategies that worked 10 or 20 or 30 years ago may not work so well today. It may be time to make yourself more relevant.
  • Looks matter. Has the look of your logo or product changed over time? Or have you kept it the same? Your logo and the images and colours associated with it are what people associate with you when they hear your name. You may need to think about making some changes.

Once you decide what to fix about your brand, you need to figure out how to go about fixing them. Stay tuned!

Lean Transformed Oliver’s Processes, Decreased Lead Time

- Joe Pentlicki

The simplest definition of lean manufacturing (lean) is to systematically focus on eliminating waste in every process within an organization whether in manufacturing, sales, marketing, engineering or administration. Each process has a series of steps. Some steps add value, some don’t. Lean’s focus is to improve or eliminate processes that do not add value to the customer or the business.

Oliver began looking at lean philosophies around 2008. We focused on product and informational flows to minimize waste and to make each process more effective. Following this analysis, we changed the layout of manufacturing flows. We consolidated some assembly operations; redefined and implemented a new accounting process; implemented pull production for inventoried items and first-in, first-out flow for make-to-order items.

As a result of these changes, we elevated on-time completion of new machines to 95-100 percent on a consistent basis. We also reduced lead times by 38 percent and inventory by 55 percent.

Team Support Essential for Success

To be successful, lean must be supported by all levels of senior leadership. Team members at all levels had to be educated on what lean entails. We had to be open to both change and failure. Some changes don’t work as expected. We had to leverage those failures to learn and re-evaluate the process to make continued improvement.

A lean environment must be open to talk about problems, focus on root causes and implement changes to eliminate those root causes.

One of the biggest hurdles we had to overcome was gaining an understanding of waste as it relates to individual jobs. A team member might have to go and retrieve parts from somewhere. Since they have always done that task, they viewed it as a natural part of their job. In reality, this is a transportation waste. Getting members to fully understand that just because something was always done that way does not mean it adds value from a customer’s perspective.

To be a value-added step, an activity has to change the fit, form or function of the work product. It has to be done right the first time and it has to be something for which the customer is willing to pay. Getting too attached to what we do impedes our understanding of waste in the spirit of its elimination and adding the most value for customers.

Do Your Employees Share the Company’s Vision?

- Jim Schweigert

Growing a business is hard. Hiring the right people, making the right capital decisions and countless other obstacles can stand in the way of an expansion strategy. Chief among them is, “Do all the employees understand and share the company’s vision for growth?”

This is one of the more overlooked elements of growing a business: getting employees comfortable with the change that comes from growth and contributing to the overall goals of the business. Some may wonder how a growing business could have challenges with employee relations. Company growth is good for employees, right? Fact is, even the most successful businesses have employees who wonder, what’s in it for me? It’s an understandable question.

Explaining the Why

Sales growth charts, better margins and major capital improvements are great for the company’s future, but do employees believe it helps their future? Many of metrics a business uses to measure success aren’t shared by employees. They focus on wages, job security, meaningful work and being appreciated. “Explaining the Why” means connecting the company’s vision to what the employees value. Making this connection means giving it more than lip service. It means truly showing employees tangible, personal improvements to their jobs and lives.

It also means showing them how their efforts help create company success. Describing to employees how unique projects have been the key to bigger opportunities encourages them to take on those new projects. When employees are motivated, by purpose, to go beyond standard expectations, the customer and company benefit.

Without this connection, company success can be seen as more of a negative than a positive. Company growth can translate to less time with family, more stress and not being appreciated for their contributions to the business. Connecting the company’s growth with direct benefits for employees like job stability, opportunities for advancement and better pay will help employees support the company’s expansion efforts.

When employees know that company success means personal and professional success for them, the results can be overwhelming.

ABM’s Successful Model for “Sustainable Food” Marketing

- Dan Custis

I have been involved in grain and livestock farming all my life raising corn, soybeans, wheat and hogs. I can tell you from experience that farming and the desire to feed the world never leaves you.

Since leaving the farm I have been involved in sales positions that kept me close to the farm. Most of my product exposure was with legume inoculants and chemical seed treatments. I always knew there was a better way of maximizing the yields of crops by integrating natural products with traditional mainstream farming practices. I got my chance to prove my theory was correct.

In July 2000, we started Advanced Biological Marketing (ABM) to introduce natural seed treatment products to mainstream farming in the United States. Since then ABM has developed a world-class line of proprietary natural seed treatments and legume inoculants.

The products ABM manufactures are designed as companion products to chemical seed treatments. Even though our products are approved for organic farming, our main market is the traditional commercial seed market.

The key to success is having “buy in” of key influencers by country, region, and local centers and people of influence. Influencers are foundations, non-government organizations (NGO’s), heads of state, ministers of agriculture, clergy, regional officials and Local officials. Influencers are key to successful completion and execution of this model. Initial marketing program must be targeted to the above centers of influence.

There are a number of keys to success for the small stakeholder farmers. The first is getting the logistics worked out so the farmer receives the critical inputs to successfully get a crop planted. How is the farmer going to receive these inputs?

Secondly, the farmers need high-quality seed (adapted to the growing region), fertilizer, herbicides, seed treatments, inoculants and insecticides to plant 1-2 hectares of farm ground.

The third piece is access to top-notch agronomists to provide advice and expertise on how the crop should be planted and cared for. That training must include:

1) Soils types

2) Annual rainfall in local area

3) How to grow specific crops in local area

4) Beneficial Biologicals

5) Fertilizer requirements

6) Pest control

7) How to monitor crop

The companies and individuals that get the agronomy, seed, pesticide, soil science, precision planting, biological science, logistics and local farmers working in harmony will capture the markets for food sustainability and food security around the world.