A Hidden Cost of Plant Breeding Staff Turnover – Will it Impact You?
If any of your plant breeders were to suddenly and unexpectedly leave your organization, would it be a smooth transition for the new breeder? Or would the change be a devastating blow to your new product pipeline, putting years of R&D progress at risk because there was no succession plan for your breeding program information?
Businesses of all sizes routinely develop detailed succession plans to assure the availability of experienced and capable employees who are prepared to assume leadership roles as they become available. Succession planning for a breeding program assures that the program’s data, records, observations and pedigrees are organized and readily available to new leadership and breeders so that the program can continue with minimal transitional cost or disruption.
Simply having pages and pages of field notes or a computer full of Excel data files is not effective succession planning. Such collections are not even an effective source of information. When plant breeders eventually make the million-dollar decisions as to which new hybrids to release and which to discard, they want to rely on the best information available from an all-inclusive relational database.
An unexpected change in plant breeding leadership can cost thousands of dollars in time spent to reconstruct a useable record of R&D data if the information is a hodge-podge of notes and files. Without proper succession planning, a new plant breeder may have to spend weeks or even months organizing Excel files and field notes ideally into one relational database as a more efficient way forward. If there is no one to sort out what has happened – typically with little or no documentation – the existing data become meaningless. A U.S. seed company’s R&D program was recently delayed by one growing season because they had to regrow plants after the succeeding plant breeder was unable to decipher his predecessor’s data. That’s probably the worst-case scenario – and really costly!
Organizing a breeding program’s data into a single relational database yields benefits even without a change in leadership. Colleagues using the same database can work as a team instead of as individuals working in isolation – with any new breeder more quickly “coming up to speed” and being fully productive to everyone’s benefit. An organized system will standardize how pedigrees are written, among many other advantages. When marketing inbred lines, an integrated program can immediately provide answers to questions about performance related to a wide variety of environments, something not easily achieved when using assorted Excel files or a flat file system.
Each successful breeding program has many moving parts. Succession planning with a relational database eliminates the risks and costs of not having an integrated data succession plan even before there is an unexpected change in the program’s leadership. Such changes are inevitable – plan now to minimize the costs.
New Laws Present New Opportunities
Could we be a missing piece of the puzzle? The puzzle being Colorado’s hemp value chain. As I chewed on this question, I started online research and trying to spark conversations within the team here at Oliver, but it wasn’t until a farmer came to us in January and asked if they could use some floor space at one of our manufacturing facilities for testing different equipment.
You see, even though hemp itself is hundreds of years old, as an industry it’s in its infancy. It wasn’t until the 2014 Farm Bill that the growth of industrial hemp was legalized in states that regulated the crop. It’s really like the wild, wild West. You’ve got people trying to deregulate, you’ve got people trying to regulate, you’ve got people trying to grow, you’ve got people trying to process, and you’ve got rogues who are just winging it and hoping for the best. But all of this comes with a lot of risk, because state and federal laws send mixed signals when it comes to financing, crop insurance, USDA’s farm programs and land use, and moving seed and end product across state lines.
When you look at the value chain (breeders/seed producers, growers, processors, and buyers), the last two are great big fat question marks. It’s thought there are a great number of buyers; however, without being able to process the hemp, it’s really hard to gauge true market demand. And that’s why Colorado hemp growers have bales stacked up in their barns or fields — they don’t have a way to process it.
On the seed side of things, there are about 13 groups in Colorado alone working as breeders and seed producers. They, too, are uncertain of what types of equipment already exist for seed processing and how they handle hemp seed.
Enter Oliver Manufacturing. Since that initial conversation in January, we’ve sparked up many more conversations with breeders and seed growers, and members of the Colorado Hemp Co-op to further explore how we might help add to the puzzle.
We’ve been working with a few local hemp producers and using our Westrup machines to test and demonstrate the processing and conditioning capabilities of hemp seed.
Right now, it’s lots of meetings and talking with people to find out what their needs are and explain who we are and what we do. Through these meetings and working with the Colorado Hemp Co-op, we’ve been able to work with hemp seed, get experience with it and find out what works and what doesn’t. So far, we’ve produced fantastic results with our Westrup and Oliver equipment.
Hemp seed is incredibly easy to separate. The healthy seeds are dark brown, and any underdeveloped seeds are light green, so you can visually see if the equipment did its job. We’ve not observed any troubles whatsoever in processing hemp seed.
We will be attending a few expos in the coming months and continue to engage with the people of this blossoming industry face to face.
There’s a great deal of people interested in the market but just aren’t sure what tools they need or what is even available. Part of what we’re doing is just letting them know that tools do exist to separate, process and condition seed. It really is like a puzzle and finding what pieces fit where.
Long-Term Relationships Are Worth More Than One-Time Deals
Every week, I receive the latest deals from satellite TV providers. They offer incredible “introductory” rates for switching to their service. While these deals are likely effective at customer recruitment, how do current customers feel? Should a new customer be rewarded with a better deal than a current one? Why don’t loyal customers get a deal?
The timing of these questions could not be more relevant for seed companies. More than 80 percent of the U.S. corn and soybean market is going through consolidation. Sales staffs are being merged and brands are being consolidated. Relationships between seed companies and customers are changing more now than in any other single year.
The market is churning and the opportunity to acquire new customers seems ripe for the taking.
However, in the excitement for new customers, it’s imperative that existing customer relationships aren’t ignored.
Your Current Customers are More Important Than New Ones
Farmers are receiving compelling offers every day to switch brands. Those that are likely to make a change will be those with the weakest ties to their current supplier. While you can’t prevent your customers from receiving the offers, you can make sure they see your company’s value over the others. By defending your current customers with as much effort as you put into recruiting new ones, you demonstrate how valuable you are to their farms.
Long-Term Relationships are Worth More Than One-Time Deals
Long-term relationships are the hardest for another company to break. Building these should be a core element of your expansion plans. Further, customers acquired with “one-time” or “new client” deals are the less likely to be loyal. They are more interested in the perks from changing brands than in a long-term relationship. Loyal relationships allow both parties to share information and invest in each other for mutual benefit.
Every current customer is a potential new customer to your competitors. Showing your customers their business is valued and that loyalty has benefits, encourages them to pass up on the latest great deal to switch brands. You’ll know you’re succeeding when every new offer from a competitor ends up in the same place you put your last satellite TV mailer … in the recycle bin.
Who Owns Your Seed This Year?
The secret to success in seed sales is staying in control of the sale. If control is not maintained, the chance of getting the seed you sold planted decreases dramatically. Every year there are seed sellers who struggle to meet sales goals and this year is no exception. Because of their inability to get farmers to buy earlier, competitors are now offering late-season deals to your customers. They’re trying to appropriate the orders you’ve already written. So, how do you protect the orders you’ve worked so hard to get from late-season vultures? There is only one way — establishing seed ownership.
Seed ownership is best described as the time when a seed booking turns into a true sale. It’s when the customer takes full responsibility for the varieties he orders and begins to regard those varieties as non-returnable property. The customer believes the seed no longer belongs to the company supplying it but, instead, belongs to him.
So how do you get customers to take ownership to virtually guarantee the seed they order from you is planted? First, assign every variety you sell to the field in which it will be planted.
Sales reps continue to write orders instead of variety-by-field plans. Until each variety is assigned to a specific field, the grower doesn’t consider that variety an integral part of his production plan. A cropping plan is the prescription you write for the customer to ensure that he raises the best crop possible on that field.
Moreover, companies believe their sales reps can sell seed without a price. They can BOOK seed without a price, but final transfer of ownership to the customer cannot occur sans payment.
A lot of time, effort, and resources are wasted because companies price too late into the selling season. Sales reps are untrained on how to handle the easiest objection there is— price. Pricing is delayed in the hopes that sellers can somehow reconcile the non-ownership issue later. On top of that, companies don’t offer enough incentive for farmers to pay early. Early pay incentives have to be large enough to turn even the most conservative banker’s head.
Seed ownership takes place when a customer makes a psychological shift from ordering to owning. Until he takes ownership of the seed he orders, inevitably only one thing can happen — the seed reverts back to its original owner.
3 Ways Technology Supports Business Growth
Investment in software and technology can help to transform a business’s processes and data to really support driving value and growth.
3 key things that software and technology can drive growth through are:
- Improving efficiency and increasing productivity
- Strengthening data utilization
- Better service to your customers
For this you need software that can:
- Help reduce the time wasted on mundane administrative activity, re-keying data into multiple disparate systems and eliminate manually tracking the flow of work through the business.
- Bring all the data your business relies on together into a centralized data source so that it can be easily accessed for inquiry and reporting.
- Plan shipments more effectively, track inventory availability and quality, and price and process invoices and settlements accurately so that your customers always receive high-quality product on time.
Having the right software is not the only thing that delivers these key drivers. Of course the software needs to be focused on the specific requirements of the business, but also it needs to be customer-centric and configurable to the specific needs of each business. All this does not just come “out-of-the-box”. You also need a technology partner that really understands your businesses needs and works closely with you to help realize your goals with the software.
Through our continual engagement with our customers we respond to evolving customer needs and develop new features and products that add value by focusing on the same key drivers that our customers do to help them succeed.
We take the same approach when we are implementing our software to ensure that the software is tailored closely to the customer’s needs and delivers real value. The same level of attention to our customer’s needs continues in our customer service aftercare, ensuring that we remain always engaged with our customers. We see this as a partnership that makes our products and services the foundation of our customer’s success.
If you are investing in software to help you run your seed business, it’s not only about choosing a product that meets some basic need in a single area of your company. You really need to think about how the software will help drive efficiency, productivity and decision making so that it helps improve the whole of your business and exceed expected growth and with that a technology partner that will help make all that happen. Investment in both the right software and technology partner is really an investment in your business’s future success.
Are We Letting Complexity Get in the Way of Finding Answers to Hunger?
Think about it: We have the ability to save human lives and prevent the effects of malnutrition for children living in underdeveloped countries, thanks to the development of Golden Rice. Yet, society chooses not to allow its introduction out of fear from “what if” scenarios … and human lives are lost.
Anyone who has traveled to less fortunate countries knows the needs that exist. But the key to solving world hunger and helping farmers rise above subsistence is so incredibly complex — intermingling cultural practices, societal beliefs and government politics. There are government programs and NGOs that have dedicated billions of dollars and countless hours to helping lift people out of poverty through agricultural development.
But maybe it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Maybe there’s an answer. A product. A natural microbe. Something that’s easy to handle. Something that doesn’t require special equipment to use. It might not be the end all, be all, but it can certainly be a powerful tool in our toolbox to help increase farmers’ yields.
What exactly am I referencing? Our unique, highly-selected strains of Trichoderma. You see we’ve been testing our products all around the world and quite honestly, we’ve been amazed at the results.
For example, we sent some to go on rice with a gentleman who was vacationing in Thailand. The farmer that used it reported that he normally collects five 50-60 lb. bags of rice at harvest. After using our product in that initial year, he harvested 25 bags. He continued to request the product and has since averaged 2.5 times the normal yield.
In fact, his neighbors wanted to know what he did differently, and he didn’t want to tell them. He wanted to keep it for himself.
This is not an anomaly. We are seeing similar results time after time, and on a variety of crops. In the Philippines. In Vietnam. In South Korea. In African countries.
I’ve been working to register our products in these countries because we’ve seen such tremendous results. There is so much untapped potential.
In Vietnam, a gentleman who worked in the government told ABM they want the country to be an economically-based country, driven by market demands. He said: “If we can increase the yields of farmers and they have enough to sell on the market, then they can become businessmen and women, and we can literally change our economy.”
Over the past ten years, I have visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Africa, Panama, Peru, Guatemala, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and South Korea. I’ve seen firsthand the challenges subsistence farmers face. This is something I’m passionate about, and I’m looking for potential partners to help raise farmers out of subsistence living. Help eliminate malnutrition. And help rid the world of unnecessary hunger. If you’re interested in learning more about what we’re doing, please email me at Dan@abm1st.com.
Redder, It’s Not Always Better
As equipment advances have allowed us to apply miniscule amounts of a crop protectant to the seed with great precision, it’s important that we recognize “redder is not better.” And that’s a message we should be sharing with our customers.
As the industry changed how it sells seed (by the seed vs. by the pound for corn, cotton and soybeans), it must also change how it perceives a high quality seed treatment application. It’s common knowledge that seed size varies from year to year. For example, the 2016 soybean-growing season yielded larger seeds for planting in 2017.
It use to be that farmers preferred smaller seed when it was sold by weight because it meant they got more seed for the same price. Now regardless of seed size, they get the same amount. The same holds true for the seed treatment applied to the seed.
If the size of the seed increases, the amount of chemical applied to that seed does not need to increase; it remains the same. Even when you have a larger seed, the same amount of treatment should be applied. I admit, visually, it might not look like the seed is getting the coverage it needs, but that’s not necessarily true.
This was my natural thought tendency, until as an equipment manufacturer, we researched and studied what was happening and what needed to happen. If you read the seed treatment label, it’s X ounces per seed. Once you adopt that thought process, it’s easy to understand why redder is not necessarily better.
It’s important to note that there are colorants, polymers and powders an applicator can use to appeal to customers and help make the product visually aesthetic, but these products and this process doesn’t necessarily add value to the end product. They are not providing the seed with added nutrients or better protecting it, once it’s in the ground.
Don’t get me wrong, you still want consistent coverage of the seed. It’s not to say that coverage shouldn’t be good. Coverage should be true from the first seed put through the seed treater to the last seed that comes out. But it’s this false perception of redder is better that we’ve got to be willing to break.
Remember: When treating seed on a per seed basis, the technical accuracy may leave the seed looking less red. Redder does not mean better. Be willing to ask for records of product used and the accuracy of the application.
Your Most Important Client is Your Next One
I was recently evaluating bank account options. At just one bank, I could easily choose between standard, advanced, premier or private accounts. The options were seemingly endless, which as a consumer means I get more of what I need and less of what I don’t.
This has not always been the case. The wide array of choices now available (from banking when, where and how you want to ordering food online, by phone or on site) is in part due to millennials. This generation is driving change, from which we all benefit. We all want to be “valued” and feel “unique” — millennials more so than any previous generation.
Who doesn’t want to feel valued? Who doesn’t expect the best? And who doesn’t want answers to their questions, or solutions to their problems? Nobody. But what does this mean for suppliers?
As a supplier, I believe it means we have to be prepared to offer more personalized choices, choices that suit every consumer. At Agronomix, this is nothing new to us. Our personal approach starts during our first call to a potential client. We want to know exactly what that person is looking for from plant breeding software, so we can tailor our solution, giving them exactly what they need.
This personalized approach doesn’t stop once we’ve closed the sale. Throughout implementation, helping the new client get started with AGROBASE is crucial to the successful and continued use of the software. One such example of our customization is that we offer scheduled on-site training, online learning modules and phone support to help meet our clients’ needs when, where and how they want.
However, it’s important to note that as you look to offer more choice, it’s imperative to be able to help guide a potential client in the right direction so they don’t feel overwhelmed by the customizations or choices available. This means you need to understand the client you are talking with and their unique needs. Do your research and listen. I mean really listen — listen with an open mind and that “potential” client will be your next client.
Polymers: More than Just a Surface Dressing
Polymers come from a wide class of chemistries, from sugars and waxes to synthetics and oil. While they are designed to hold active ingredients on the seed, they play a much bigger role when it comes time for farmers to set their planters in the ground.
A good polymer ensures that seeds won’t clump or stick in the planter box, which in turn improves plantability and singulation. Both are increasingly important with the adoption of precision planting and faster planting speeds. With precision planting, farmers depend on the seed to be dropped every few inches. If there are skips or doubles, it negatively impacts yield. Now, that planters are traversing the land at 10-plus miles per hour, it’s even more critical for everything to flow without interruption.
So what does all this mean as we head into this next generation with high-tech seed and genetics? With newer chemistries we treat in parts per million (ppm) compared to the old way of measuring by the hundredweight. Everything, and I mean everything, is much more precise. This means more testing goes on behind the scenes to make sure we’ve got the right polymer, and that the polymer is compatible with the actives, solvents, carriers and formulation as a whole.
For example, a polymer might be friendly with actives in the formulation but not biologicals. There is a great deal of work that goes into making sure a polymer does what it should, and we have to find just the right balance. It can’t take up too much space in the slurry. Once, it’s put on the seed, it can’t have any resistance. It has to work just as good on a warm day as a cold day and the same on a dry day as a humid one.
To help safeguard farmers’ investment, we’ve tested our products in planters, in working conditions.
Aside from plantability, one of the most important tests in today’s environment is the dust test. It can’t rub off. We know we cannot eliminate dust, but we can certainly minimize it. Then, once you get all of this figured out, it must be stable and have a good shelf-life.
In our quest to meet all these demands, we spent several years in identifying the best candidate that performed under both the stringent use and storage conditions these polymers are subjected to. Through this rigorous testing we found that FC Polymer held up to all the standards. Some came close, but only this one delivered the complete package and, while we continue to evaluate new potentials materials, we have found none that surpasses its performance.
While polymers have never been more important when it comes time for planting, we’ve made it so farmers don’t even have to think about it — they’ve got enough on their mind.
Are you Forgetting to Have a Relationship with your Customers?
General George S. Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking.”
I’ve been in the seed business for 45 years and continue to love it, but I’ve discovered many companies in this industry think alike. So, someone is not thinking. How do I know that? According to the October 2017 edition of AgriMarketing, a 2017 Large Commercial Producer Project conducted by Purdue University found that farmers now consider product performance and price more important than relationships. If we, as an industry, recognize that kind of thinking exists and do nothing to change it, we’re not thinking.
The Purdue project really tells us that farmers aren’t being offered profit solutions outside of products and price, so what good are supplier relationships? It also indicates that ag suppliers are out of solutions for truly helping growers, except by way of product and program offerings. But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that product parity is too high to act as the sole factor for increasing yield and profit enough to keep farmers in business. Farmers can’t use reducing input costs as an income stream because saving money to gain profitability is a one-way trip.
What farmers want is someone to help them tap into the yield potential of the varieties they’re already planting. Farmers produce only half of what most modern-day varieties are capable of producing. What they need is a trusting relationship with someone who already knows how to produce 500-bushel corn, 200-bushel soybeans, 100-bushel canola, and is capable of helping them employ strategies to significantly raise their yields. I developed those kinds of strategies for farmers 18 years ago—and it works. Farmers who employ them today have seen yield and profit increases they never thought possible.
When is the last time a sales rep asked a customer where he wanted to take his yields next year and what his plan was to get there? Reps don’t ask or talk about the only questions that matter to farmers because they don’t have anything to offer except products and programs. Farmers don’t know what to do and they need a relationship with someone who thinks differently and who can help them stay in business. Companies have let relationships be replaced with products and price because they’re all thinking alike—someone isn’t thinking.
How to Take Advantage of the High-Purity, Non-GMO Corn Market
According to the Non-GMO Project’s website, more than 3,000 brands have labeled more than 43,000 products with its non-GMO label. Additional products are labeled with generic non-GMO statements in product categories ranging from food to pet products.
Across the Corn Belt, millers, dairies and grain buyers are looking for Non-GMO corn to meet consumer demand. This growing non-GMO market has many seed companies wondering how they can take advantage it. Below are three steps to ensure your company can supply seed corn for non-GMO opportunities.
1. Determine the Allowable GMO Presence.
Not all non-GMO corn buyers have the same allowance for GMO presence. I’ve seen a wide range from 0.1 to 3 percent. The allowable percentage in grain impacts the allowable percentage in the seed a farmer will buy. If a farmer needs to meet a 2 percent GMO allowance, he or she will likely want seed with even less GMO presence, for example 1 percent. Knowing the GMO presence level the farmer will accept helps inform the rest of your seed supply chain.
2. Communicate the Allowance to Genetic Suppliers.
There is no practical way to produce hybrid seed corn that has a lower GMO presence than the parent seed, so this is a critical step. To meet the 1 percent allowance in seed referenced above, the parent seed should be 0.5 percent or lower. Before you select hybrids for a high-purity, non-GMO market, make sure the genetic supplier has parent seed with the proper GMO presence.
3. Communicate the Allowance to Seed Producer.
Once you’ve determined the allowance for GMO presence and have confirmed the proper parent seed is available, make sure your producer knows the targeted allowance. At Gro Alliance, we produce seed from 0.1 percent GMO and up. High-purity, non-GMO seed requires isolation distances of up to 1,320 feet from GMO corn. This takes significant planning and coordination with neighboring farmers. Furthermore, we condition and package all the high-purity, non-GMO seed (0.1 – 0.5 percent) at our dedicated non-GMO/organic seed conditioning facility in Cuba City, Wisconsin. The combination of well isolated field production and dedicated non-GMO seed conditioning and packaging requires advanced planning, so knowing the GMO allowance at production planning is critical for success.
The non-GMO market is growing and can provide higher margins. However, there is risk of non-acceptance if the steps above aren’t followed. To give your company the best chance at success, make sure your entire supply chain understands, and can meet, the GMO presence allowance. This transparent communication will ensure your company can take advantage of this growing market
Good Artists Copy. Great Artists Steal!
Steve Jobs once proudly said in an interview: “Picasso had a saying – ‘good artists copy; great artists steal’ and we [at Apple] have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”
Apple doesn’t just ‘steal’ great ideas, they understand what makes an idea great and take that idea even further. They use a ‘stolen’ idea to create something greater. The results? Apple has become one of the world’s most valuable companies, known for their user-friendly products, and for cultivating recurring revenue.
This concept of ‘stealing’ an idea to make something better is the backbone of content marketing.
One of the biggest challenges in content marketing is coming up with new ideas or content that will engage and resonate with the target audience. When challenged to find a fresh idea, look at what others are doing.
I’m not saying directly copy or plagiarize. Instead, look to others as inspiration. Look at others within and outside of your industry. What content of theirs do you like, or dislike, and why? Is the content or how they are presenting that content something that can be adapted to your organization?
Most of us want to be the first; the visionary. However, being first can mean learning on the fly and making mistakes. By studying and learning from others, you can avoid their mistakes and really amplify your content.
Be careful, though, when ‘stealing’ ideas. Are you really originating, or delivering, something different? You need to be honest with yourself, and honest about your team’s strengths. You don’t want to ‘steal’ an idea only to fall short on its development and delivery.
For example, videos are tremendously popular in content marketing. Video is a fantastic tool. However, is video the best way to tell a particular story? How visual is the subject(s)? Will your spokesperson appear relaxed and confident on-camera? If there is any doubt, you may want to consider a podcast episode, photo series or text article instead of a video interview.
Deliver stories in their best format!
Be honest with yourself, too, in terms of your own capabilities to deliver and develop content. It is okay, it’s even considered a strength, to recognize that you need help delivering or developing impactful content.
Helping Put a Stop to Our Aging Rural Communities
It’s no secret: Our rural communities are getting older. Last year, “The Atlantic” reported that between 2010 and 2014, rural areas lost an average of 33,000 people a year. Younger generations are leaving for higher-paying jobs in and near big cities. Part of that is due to the luxuries and opportunities cities offer young people, but part of that is because rural communities don’t do a good job showcasing the opportunities right in their own back yard.
As part of the Southeast Colorado Manufacturing Partnership, we are working to change that. Since 2015, we’ve hosted annual school tours. As part of the partnership, we are one of six companies that participate. To date, more than 850 seventh-grade students have come through our facilities. The program pulls in local and regional students from all over the Arkansas Valley.
It’s a great way to showcase that opportunities do exist in rural areas and to break the notion that you have to go to a big city for an excellent career. One of our goals is to show students that no matter their interest, there are opportunities in their hometown. If they are interested in marketing, there’s a place for them. If they are interested in engineering, there’s a career for them. If they are interested in accounting, we’ve got opportunities.
Just last month, we hosted students from six schools. It’s not only an opportunity for students to learn about manufacturing, but it’s also an opportunity for us to showcase our business — that we are an international equipment supplier.
They get to see our entire business, from the metal being cut to the finished product fully assembled. This also demonstrates that hands-on skills are still very much needed in today’s workforce. Welders are in high demand and it’s a trade, not just a job.
Furthermore, these tours are great for staff moral because our team members get a chance to share what they do, how long they’ve been with the company and how science or math is involved. Students are never too young to be exposed to what we do and how we do it. We strive to give them an amazing experience, so they will want to come back and work here after college or technical training.
It might take years for our efforts to pay off, but these actions are important to us as a business and for the livelihood of our community. I encourage you to pause and ask yourself: “Are there steps my business can or should be taking that would help put a stop America’s aging rural communities?” If so, why not act on it? All of agriculture would benefit.
Who is the Most Important Person in Your Company?
Have you ever met a CEO or company president that feels he or she is of celebrity status? Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon these days. We live in a celebrity-centric world, where emphasis is put on what and how many events you attend, how many hands you shake, and the number of followers one has accumulated on social media.
While this celebrity-centric culture might be good for one’s ego, it’s not at all good for businesses and organizations that operate under them. I recognize the importance of finding the right leaders to set policy and provide direction and vision, but as a president I do not believe I’m the most important person in our company.
Without our software engineers and the product development team, we would not have a product to offer our clients. Without our support team, we could not offer the amazing service that receives so many compliments. Without our sales team, we could not engage with potential clients who are so desperately trying to gain an advantage in the development of their next royalty-paying hybrid or variety. And without our administrators, we could not keep the company running.
Providing we surround ourselves with the best managers and leaders, then we get the best and wisest council possible, resulting in a stronger company more in-tune with our clients’ needs.
So, what do I do? I tie it all together, I help it run and I empower the employees to do the best job they can. It’s an important job, but it’s not the most important. One of the ways I try to empower employees is by encouraging them to think beyond a problem, to think toward a solution. From there, it’s the job of the leadership team to determine if the solution is appropriate or if it needs adjusting.
One of the best pieces of advice ever given to me was when I was working in England at a vegetable processing factory. My boss, Steve Higgins, said: “Don’t come to me with a problem; come to me with a solution.” And we worked side-by-side as a team.
That’s the same culture that we have here at Agronomix. It’s not a top down company, but rather a side-by-side. By encouraging employees to think about solutions, it brings them to a leadership mindset, compared to “just an employee” mindset.
I believe that by empowering others, our team will feel they work for a company that encourages both personal and professional growth, and as a result Agronomix will continue to push the envelope in delivering solutions.
Use these Strategies to Deal with Market Instability
The stock market is making headlines after the Dow plunged hundreds of points in its worst drop since June of 2016.
The news comes with ominous warnings from commentators, which always happens when the stock market takes a bit of a dive.
Every business goes through a downturn, but the question is — how will your organization come out at the other end?
Weather, the plethora of new varieties, business consolidation, the internet delivering information, customers who aren’t always loyal, product with a defined shelf life, manufacturers’ requirements, contracts, paperwork, paperwork and paperwork. Being prepared should be a part of your DNA.
But do you have the time to step back and do the analysis to understand your exposure because of the forces that shape and impact your customers?
The Harvard Business Review crafted a survival guide and suggests an approach with two objectives:
- Stabilize your business to protect it.
- Identify ways to capitalize on the downturn.
The guide describes these items in length, and four tenets stood out for me:
- Be prepared.
- Understand your exposure and quantify the impact on your business.
- Know your competitors.
- Gain an advantage for the long term by investing for the future; taking advantage of opportunistic M&A; and rethinking your business model.
Customers are critical to your survival, but when the economy takes a downturn, how do you maintain a strong relationship with them, while balancing your need for ample cash flow to run your business? Customers may ask you for special terms, extended credit or discounts. You, while wanting to maintain this business relationship, also have employees and bills to pay.
You need to have the information to make the right decision for your business: can you afford their requests? How do you determine which customer to grant special terms, while saying no to another? Can you run the models to know your risk based on a series of “gut level assumptions”?
As a business owner, you are answering to your employees, your board, your financial institution, your community, your family and your customers; there are a lot of questions to be prepared to address.
Using technology to help you manoeuvre the data and drive the “what if” analysis may provide the picture you need to make the decisions necessary to strengthen your business and protect your family when times are tough.
My Trade Show Survival Guide
As a grower, you’re probably making plans to attend at least one trade/ag show in 2018. There’s a lot of them going on right now, and they’ll continue into the summer. I’ve been attending these for years, and I’ve learned that they can be valuable events to attend — if you approach them the right way.
In my experience talking to growers at these shows, I’ve learned to distinguish which growers get the most of out of these gatherings. Growers who really get the most out of their time (and admission fee) display the following characteristics:
They ask questions. One of the great things about these events is they offer a chance to learn. Don’t be afraid to approach someone at a booth and ask questions. That’s why we’re there! There are no dumb questions, either. Ask away!
They network! You’ll be surrounded by other growers — so don’t be afraid to get to know the people around you. If the opportunity presents itself, stop and talk to them. Shake hands, ask where they’re from, what their concerns are for 2018. It’s an opportunity to meet fascinating people who have a lot in common with you. And you might even make a friend.
They fill a bag with free information. One great thing about trade shows is the amount of literature and other free materials available. Fill your bag with whatever interests you, and with whatever you think might interest someone you know who couldn’t make the show. You may not think a particular piece of literature is useful at the time, but it could come in handy when you get back home and you’ll be glad you picked it up.
They have a good attitude. These shows are crowded, busy and noisy. People are everywhere. You may have to stand in a line. It’s all part of the experience, so take a deep breath and remember that everyone is there to learn, and while you’re in for a hectic time, you’re going to gain a lot from your time there.
Finally, they wear good footwear. Walking on a concrete floor or on hard, uneven ground for several hours is hard on the lower body. Make sure you wear comfortable, supportive shoes. Trust me — it makes all the difference and you’ll enjoy your time at the show, rather than hobbling around in pain!
Why we all See Numbers Differently
Data has different functions for everyone. Yes, a number is a number, but we all place different value and importance on that number.
A prime example is how big differences occur in the way a finance manager, plant manager and president/CEO look at the importance of data.
Finance Manager: Sees data primarily as a means for generating reports, automating business processes and managing documents. Finance touches all aspects of business — executives, managers, production, growers, sales and customers. At any time, any one of them — or all of them — could need critical information. Having quick, easy access to data is the only way to keep the business cycle going smoothly, in the finance manager’s eyes.
Plant Manager: Uses data to ensure an accurate inventory can be taken, accurate planning done, accurate mixtures made and accurate orders taken. Data allows crucial information to be provided to the executive team and sales. For the plant manager, the goal is to fulfill orders quickly and accurately and avoid costly returns. Data should have integrity that allows customers to count on their orders being right. Always.
President/CEO: Any business owner lives and breathes data. You use it to make countless key decisions. If that data is wrong or isn’t available at critical times, it could cost your company significantly. The operative acronym for the leader of a business is RSA — reporting, sharing and analysis. This is what data is for, in this person’s eyes. A president/CEO is always watching the bottom line and keeping an eye on the horizon. He/she needs to see how the departments are contributing to the company’s success, at the same time developing strategy for staying on the cutting edge of the seed industry.
These are all different ways of looking at data, but they all have one thing in common — a need to ensure the data is easy to access, accurate and can be shared with others in a convenient way that doesn’t require guesswork or create opportunities for error. A good business management system will do that.
We all might see things differently, but good software helps to ensure everyone is on the same page and working from the same playbook at all times.
Consider Your Constant Content
Your website is open for business 24-7. It doesn’t take a day off when you do and customers can access it at any time. So, what is your website saying when you’re not around?
Websites are too often thought of like a fact sheet or brochure. You made the investment, wrote the content for it once, it’s done and that’s it. The reality however is that your website should be thought of like a living entity. It’s is the number one place all your content marketing efforts will live, and the anchor to every social media post you share. So, when people navigate away from your latest blog post, will the rest of your site content reflect the expert persona you’re working so hard to build?
To make sure that your website stays optimized it’s best to think about a few key points.
1. User Experience:
a. What are the primary goals of your website – product awareness, lead capture, brand education? Is the content and tools you offer on your site reflecting your goals?
b. Ease of use – Is the navigation clear? Are widgets and tools intuitive for users?
2. Reporting: Having good analytics set up on your site can help you unlock some very powerful information. If you don’t know where your leads are coming from, how can you tell what content or marketing initiatives are moving the needle? Newer tools like heat maps can also be a powerful way to help you decide what changes should be made to your website.
3. What are Your Competitors Doing?: By picking three to five competitors and reviewing their websites you should be able to get a sense of what they are doing differently from you. Sometimes there will be things you do better, and sometimes there will be things they do better – spending this time reviewing can help create internal benchmarks and determine future website goals.
4. Behind the Scenes: If your site isn’t up to spec from a technical perspective, you might be getting a bad rap before your customers even finds your page. Things like having a mobile friendly site, good site speed (think page load times) and search engine optimization can have an impact on where your site appears in searches and the amount of time users will spend on your site.
With an optimized site as the solid foundation of your communications efforts, you need to ensure your site content is current, compelling and in line with your brand persona. This will make it easy for consumers of your content to not only connect with you, but feel right at home exploring your website.
7 Reasons Focusing on Storage Makes You a Good Leader
As I mentioned last time, storage is one aspect of agricultural production that has never fundamentally changed, and has always been key to financially successful farming operations. Good storage is a necessary component of any operation, as is good leadership. The two go hand-in-hand.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by the late Stephen Covey is one of the best books to ever outline the qualities possessed by great leaders. It just so happens that storage fits perfectly into the seven categories Covey outlines as necessary to display good leadership in business.
Be Proactive. According to Covey, don’t sit and wait in a reactive mode, waiting for problems to happen. Plan for the future. That’s what good storage offers — a way to protect valuable product.
Begin with the End in Mind. Envision what you want in the future so you can work and plan towards it, Covey tells us. Do you see your business growing in the future? Most of us do. That’s the point of business, is it not? And any growing seed or farming business has increased need for storage.
Put First Things First. Any successful businessperson needs to know what needs looking after now and what can wait until tomorrow. Storage is crucial. Are your bins outdated, thereby increasing the chance for spoiled product? Do you need bigger ones? A fundamental concern like storage simply can’t wait. It’s a priority.
Think Win-Win. Covey notes that a good leader wants what’s best for everyone. Improving storage benefits the whole business, from the owners right down to the employees and customers.
Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. Knowing what you need in terms of storage requires really understanding your business, and that requires listening to others who may have key feedback for you. This brings us to…
Synergize. Coveys tells us that good leaders combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork. Focusing on a fundamental like storage is a team effort, not a one-person show. You need to involve everyone and get their input. Finally…
Sharpen the Saw. Balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle (business), Covey emphasizes. This means keeping your ear to the ground, and knowing when you might have to look at your storage capacity again. Good leadership and business management is a practice in ensuring you always keep your business top-of-mind.