Hey Client! Don’t Be a Stranger
If you’ve ever run into trouble with a product you’ve purchased, be it a piece of equipment or computer software, the first place we now instinctively go is online. It’s what we’ve been trained to do.
Here, we expect to find answers through FAQ pages, online forums or a customer service chat function. As companies have been able to put more information online, they’ve cut back on direct customer support services. Some companies bury their customer support phone number; others require you to go through a series of steps online before they give you a number to call; and others don’t post a customer support number at all.
Why? Maybe it’s an inferior product. Maybe they don’t have sufficient resources? Maybe it was poor planning. Regardless of the reason, too many companies use the Internet to “hide” from a direct connection with clients.
I can tell you from personal experience, there’s nothing more frustrating than searching and not finding an answer, wasting valuable time for something that should be a quick fix, and not being able to get the help you need.
That’s not an experience we want our customers to have and is one of the reasons we have invested in Client Relations. If a customer has a question or needs help, we want them to call us. We enjoy and crave that personal connection with our clients. Having those support conversations with customers helps direct us when it comes to product improvements or adding information to our training courses and Learning Center.
Our support staff includes two former plant breeders, which makes us ideally suited to know what our clients want and need — our staff have literally “walked in the shoes” of our customers.
One of the things I’ve come to understand is that it’s not a product that makes a company successful, but a company’s customers. You can have a great product, but if you don’t have the customer support to keep customers happy, they likely won’t return. We value our clients and strive to serve them to the highest standards, and that means talking directly with them when they need it.
What Do Farmers Value?
At Husker Harvest Days this past September, a gentleman came through our exhibit and you would not have known that he had never treated seed before; he was a farmer. In short, he purchased seed from two different dealers (one system set up with several manual switches and dials for controlling the equipment, and another with a touch screen interface and complete PLC automation). He noted the resulting end product produced by both systems looked very similar. An in-depth conversation followed.
It wasn’t that long ago when I’d be at a farm show and the majority of attendees wouldn’t say anything to me or my colleagues about seed treatments or the equipment used to treat the seed. Today, farmers recognize the systems in place that contribute to quality seed and performance in the field, and it’s now common for farmers to come up and ask questions about our seed treating equipment. Most are not looking to buy seed treatment equipment; they’re curious about what their suppliers use and the differences in equipment.
As competition in this segment is fierce and commodity prices low, dealers have had to reinvent how they sell seed; one can no longer rely on long-standing relationships and loyalty. Farmers are looking hard at the value of your product, relationship and their input costs.
Dealers have sought to add value in ways no one else can —through equipment, seed treatment, digital platforms, agronomic advice and other services. And they’ve got to do it better than anyone else with a similar product.
First, I’d like to offer up some much deserved kudos to those suppliers and dealers who create and maintain a professional-looking business that’s attractive to customers. This is made possible, in part by the equipment’s sleek operator interface, automation and added transparency showing the customer exactly what they purchased and how much is on the seed.
This automation provides a level of transparency to farmers and consistency that can be replicated over and over again. You’re not relying on a person, who can get sick, who can get distracted or who might just be having a bad day, and no one is immune to any of those situations. In the world that we live in, product accuracy is not a target that we hope to hit or a goal that we aim to meet; it’s a must.
“With the one supplier, there’s an additional level of transparency and comfort because I get a ticket that prints out, and I know exactly what I’m getting. With the other supplier, I just have to take his word for it, which isn’t a big deal because I trust him,” said the farmer in our booth.
I have to wonder how long that “trust” will keep his business.
Remember: Farmers value transparency and automation.
Quality Versus Quantity While Processing Seed
Those words are applicable to many things; relationships with friends & family, the food we consume, communications at work or how about seed? Right… seed, that is where the topic comes up most frequently for me (note to self: check work-life balance).
Seed quality and processing capacity are two of the most fundamental parameters to measure any seed conditioning facilities or equipment. Sometimes the two functions are harder to quantify than they seem, where it is not only hard to determine true flows, but equally hard to determine vigor of seed visually. What makes things even more complex is that there is, almost without exception, an inverse relationship between quality and quantity while processing seed.
Consider the pre-cleaner and fine cleaner. Yes, capacities can be pushed to extreme levels, but as they are, particles being sized begin to override the holes providing the screening function. The seed is never presented to a screen hole to determine if it should pass as accept or reject. The good operator knows this is why he has good seed losses in the cleaner scalpings, or still fines in the good seed sample. Why do manufacturers state different capacities for the same machine? Why does the same model have different stated capacities for fine cleaning, rough cleaning and pre-cleaning? Because those terms reflect different quality levels of “clean.”
An adept operator will tell you that pushing capacity will also negatively affect quality on your density separation equipment. On a gravity separator, capacity adjustments typically include feed rate and end raise. Inevitably to create increased capacity you have to create more and faster flow across the deck. As the seed is exposed to the forces of the machine for less time, quality begins to diminish.
Optical sorters too can be affected by pushing capacity too high. As product flows increase through the optical array, if blemishes are covered up by other seed, the optics don’t detect them. If optics do pick up blemishes in heavy flows, typically the ejectors will push additional residual losses of good seed into rejects.
With any of these machines there is always a sweet spot or range to operate. My inverse theory only fails in very light capacities where the machines won’t operate at all. Consistent flows where particles react against one another to stabilize the mass will always create reliable qualities.
Testing for Bacterial Fruit Blight in Cucurbit Seed
Bacterial fruit blotch, Acidovorax avenae subsp. citrulli (BFB), is an infectious seed borne disease that can cause up to 90 percent loss of marketable yield in some cucurbit (watermelon, melon, squash varieties, etc.) fields. Even low levels of infection can cause significant crop loss. There are no effective eradication treatments, which means exclusion is the best method of disease control. Since there are also no resistant commercial varieties, BFB management depends on growers using pathogen-free seeds and seedlings.
It is paramount for seed companies to test their seed for BFB before sale, and most governments require inspection for import/export. All levels of seed should be tested: foundation, stock and commercial seed. Phytosanitary field inspections are not enough to detect infected plants as the symptoms that form can be indistinguishable from other foliar disease. At the end of the day it is important to know that lawsuits filed by growers who received infected seed can run into the millions
Multiple methods are available to test for BFB. At Eurofins BDI we use both the grow-out and seed wash PCR methods. Both of these methods are validated by the National Seed Health System and we are ISO17025 accredited to perform them.
The seed wash PCR test is an indirect method to detect the presence of Acidovorax, but it gives no information on pathogens virulence or viability. Therefore seed wash results must be validated by a greenhouse grow-out to determine the biological state of the pathogen.
Greenhouse grow-outs are the most reliable method for detection with the lowest risk for false-positives. A representative sample of seeds per production lot is visually inspected after 18 days of growth in high humidity for BFB symptoms. Eurofins BDI has 13,000-sq.ft. of greenhouse space in Longmont, Colorado, plus 5,000-sq-ft. in Gilroy, California. Positive controls of each crop species are planted in every greenhouse. This includes a melon control, a watermelon control and a squash control. Seeds inoculated with A-016 – our proprietary strain – are planted in every greenhouse to ensure proper disease expression conditions, as well as ensure that contamination cannot occur
Symptomatic tissue is collected and small pieces are placed into a micro tube for immunostrip testing. Sample DNA will then be extracted and run through a qPCR reaction for detection of bacterial presence. Suspect tissue will then be plated on selective media to isolate the bacteria into pure culture. We finalize testing by reintroducing the cultured suspect bacteria into a healthy host plant. To confirm a positive finding we must see symptoms concurrent with BFB, and be able to isolate Acidiovorax citrulli from the artificially infected host.
With over 20 years’ experience in detecting BFB, Eurofins BDI is confident that the grow-out test with rigorous conformational steps is the best method of prevention of BFB. Combined with the additional seed-wash/qPCR method we aim to ensure that seed sold to growers is free from this destructive pathogen, and seed producers can rest easy knowing they are selling quality seed.
Using Biologicals to Remodel a Plant’s Microbiome
Most ABM’s biologicals are formulated as seed treatments that contain a few strains of Trichoderma that we know work symbiotically with the plant to improve plant performance. Several mechanisms enable these changes in plant performance including induced changes in the host plant’s gene expression and a remodeling of the rhizosphere microbiome (phytobiome) or root-associated microbial community. Remarkably, this remodeling results in changes in how this microbial community functions, all due to the introduction of the endophytic seed treatment.
The plant reacts to everything in the soil, including the microbes already present. The plant, the microbes, the available nutrients and a multitude of other factors all make up the local environment. The ability to survive in this environment is called fitness, and is exactly what the evolutionary tenant “survival of the fittest” refers to. Microbes work together as communities to survive and plants growing in the soil must be capable of also working with these microbes to thrive. The introduction of our biological seed treatments has the effect of remodeling that community to enable the best resource utilization and the best survival within that environment is the goal. Like the conductor of an orchestra.
To take this analogy further, a good conductor will be able to lead any orchestra and produce beautiful music. Introducing a small number of robust strains as seed treatments can aid in reduction of agricultural variability because, even across environments, those strains can promote the good actors and suppress the bad actors for the very selfish goal of forming a better niche or environment in which to grow and acquire nutrients.
An alternate approach also being tested is the introduction of reconstituted microbiomes, ostensibly containing all microbial members required for a productive plant. This strategy will rely on all of these microbes being robust in all environments and does not necessarily provide a functional “conductor” for the microbial “orchestra.”
We need the microbes to be smarter than we are. At this time, no one knows the details of the whole picture. What these biologicals do when they get in the soil is what they need to do to survive.
Christmas in St. Croix and a Lesson in Attitude
I took away a lot more than a suntan after spending Christmas 2017 in St Croix, US Virgin Islands.
We booked the trip well before Hurricanes Irma and Maria took aim at the Caribbean. In the months following, I stayed in touch with the property owner of our rental house. Power restoration was progressing, but only 50 percent of the island had power and our rental house still didn’t. I confirmed that the house had a generator and figured that would be fine for a few days and stuck with the reservation.
At 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve, our generator blew a gasket or seal and oil was pumped into the engine. Smoke billowed and the generator was done. We had just lost all power.
On Christmas Eve night and Christmas Day, we experienced what many Crucians have lived with for nearly four months; no showers, no lights, no cellphone, no TV and using ice to keep food from spoiling. A day or two without power wasn’t going to ruin what was an amazing Christmas vacation. We had already spent a few days in St. Croix and learned from the Crucians that a positive attitude could carry us through. That night, we had one of the best Christmas Eves ever!
Despite the slow recovery, the Crucians we met were excited to see tourists coming back and were optimistic they would get power soon. After more than 110 days without a hot shower or air conditioning, how could so many people be in such good spirits? In short, they were choosing to have a positive attitude. Homes were being repaired, grocery stores were stocked, roads were open… they had survived. Sure, they were without the modern conveniences we rely on, but Crucians had come together to help and support each other.
This experience reinforced how important attitude is to the perception of an event or circumstance. In business and life, we will all suffer set-backs, disappointments and even devastating tragedies. During those times, if you choose to have a positive attitude about what you still have, over time, you’ll recover and come back stronger than ever. You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude and response.
A positive attitude can allow you to overcome everything, while a negative attitude can allow you to be overcome by anything. In the New Year, make the choice to have a positive attitude and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish!
6 Ways Spreadsheets Could be Hurting Your Business
It never fails to amaze me how many seed businesses are reliant on spreadsheets to run their seed production and processing operations. Spreadsheets are great, flexible and certainly have a place in the world for doing the things spreadsheets are good at doing — like formatting charts and graphs, ad-hoc analysis, and creating simple models — but using them for things they are not intended for could be damaging.
Spreadsheets fall short in the following areas:
Reporting: Sorting through multiple spreadsheets and countless numbers and transactions to compile the data can be confusing and very, very time consuming. To run a business successfully you need to have full control of your data.
Accuracy: Spreadsheets do not standardize processes across the business, so everyone does their own thing in their own way. This means that the data is inaccurate, out of date and not uniform with other data in other spreadsheets.
Accessibility: Different people need access to reports and data at any given moment. Having quick, easy access to data is the only way to keep the business running smoothly. If that data is in disparate spreadsheets in different places, this can be disruptive to processes and ultimately cost money.
Productivity: How much time do the people using these spreadsheets spend tracking and fixing issues? A study recently showed that regular ‘spreadsheet’ users were spending up to 18 hours per month doing just that. That’s 18 hours per month spent doing non-productive activity.
Security & data integrity: Where are these companies keeping their spreadsheets? On a server? On someone’s laptop? What if you lose the spreadsheet and don’t have a back-up system in place? And how do you know you are updating the latest version of the spreadsheet? Which version of the spreadsheet do you look in to get a single version of the truth?
Regulatory requirements: Seed companies are audited regularly to ensure that they are recording the information adequately. If the spreadsheets cannot be relied on for accuracy, this is a major risk and should be of huge concern to a seed business.
The only real way to have accurate and reliable data for reporting and running efficient processes in a business is to invest in a centralized and integrated system. An integrated system enables you to free people from the drudgery of wrestling with spreadsheets and allow them to focus on the important and productive things that would help to grow the business profitably.
This is the Only Way to Get Sales Increases
How many ways are there to get sales increases?
Every field seller knows there are just two: get new buyers and sell more to current ones. As simple as that sounds, many companies continue to struggle to get the increases they need. Why? Because they stop selling. Instead, they spend time listening to problems that exist in the marketplace which could ultimately do only one thing—put them out of business. With the proper training, sales increases are always possible.
Over the past few months I’ve asked field sellers how many new customers they’ve gotten this year and how many current buyers have made an increase since last year. I hear plenty of excuses why neither one has happened, but I don’t get any real reasons. They say uncooperative weather delayed decision making all summer and into harvest. They tell me low market prices have made farmers grumpy and unsure of their ability to get credit. And they claim a badly damaged crop slowed harvest, negatively affecting farmer attitudes. That kind of thinking does one thing—it gets salespeople to avoid selling.
The problem is not the weather, the markets, the farmer’s ability to get credit, or the harvest season. The problem is that companies are allowing their salespeople to stop selling before sales goals are met. When the talk in the marketplace is about farmers struggling to get financing, do you actually listen? When Mother Nature is not cooperating, do you actually believe it’s not a good time to call on farmers? When farmers say they’re not ready to talk about buying seed for next year, do you allow your salespeople to stop trying to make sales? I hope not, because you can never stop selling.
In a business like ours, laden with variables, you must avoid thinking like everyone else and do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. Call sales strategy meetings with your sales force. Make sure they’re riding harvesters with all growers, especially when your products aren’t performing the best. Ask your salespeople to be with growers when farmers say they don’t want them there. Never stop selling. Armed with over 40 years in the business, I teach salespeople how to sell regardless of 1,000-plus factors.
Weather, market prices, crop conditions, and attitudes are facts. But when you have goal and a mission, facts don’t matter.
5 Content Marketing Resolutions You Should Make Today
As the New Year looms, take time to look back over the past and evaluate your content marketing efforts.
A recent study with Buzzfeed and Curata revealed that content gets more impactful and effective the longer it is. Blog posts over 1,000 words are far more effective than shorter posts. Over 2,000 words, effectiveness leaps up again.
What’s the reason for this? When you have a longer article you are able to cover related topics and reference relevant issues. This means a single article will rank for multiple keywords and phrases in search engines. That means your content will appear more often, boosting your “expert” status.
Use More Visuals
Adding eye-catching images to your content can make your content click-bait and increase engagement. People engage with digital devices differently than a magazine and need more context to understand and immerse themselves in written text. It’s easy to get lost in a screen full of copy, but basic additions like pictures, custom graphics and pull quotes can break up text to make it easier to read and understand.
Write a “Bestseller”
No one wants to read boring content – even if it’s about a technical subject. Readers expect us to bring the topic to life and convey the information they want in a way that’s useful and enjoyable. There are lots of ways to improve the quality of your content, from writing more clearly and concisely, to making sure it provides lots of useful information, to displaying it in a visually engaging way.
Harness the Power of Your Employees
An often underestimated and overlooked source of sharing is your staff. Research from LinkedIn has shown that only 3% of employees share company content but this generates 30% of content engagement for a typical business.
While that stat alone is powerful it also shows how much potential is being left unused. Advocate with your team a shared understanding of what you’re trying to achieve and the benefits different partners get and build a strategy that makes it easy for your employees to share your content.
When you create great content think about all the different ways you can use it. When you invest huge amounts of effort into creating an eBook or white paper, make the plan of how to repurpose and repackage it to get the most mileage from it. For every one piece of truly high-impact content that you create, it should be able to translate into at least five other smaller pieces.
Focusing on Storage Can Establish You as a Leader
We live in a technological world that seems to be changing faster than we can keep up with. Despite humanity’s tendency to become nostalgic about “the good old days,” technological change is a wonderful thing, and agriculture has always been at the forefront of harnessing the power of human ingenuity.
Seed/grain storage is a great example.
Over the past 30 years we have seen bins change from small, square, wooden flat-bottomed structures holding 1,200 bushels in the early 1960s to galvanized flat storage bins, where a large bin held anywhere from 2,000-25,000 bushels by the 1980s.
In the 1990s, aerated hopper-bottom bins with sizes growing to 4,000 bushels became very popular, but were looked upon as a luxury.
The hopper bottom is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for a number of reasons. Storage control, labor savings and return on investment (in most cases hopper-bottom bins increase in value over time) are all major reasons for this. We are also moving to bigger sizes in both hopper and flat storage because storage capacities and requirements are becoming larger all the time.
All of these changes, however, simply allow us to satisfy our age-old need for storage faster and more effectively. The concept of on-farm storage has remained mostly the same for decades because, typically, market prices are at their lowest in the fall, so for the best profitability it is important to have control of seed/grain so that the market and time of sale can be chosen.
Shifting weather patterns/climate change also require us to think of new ways to store product. We are seeing a shift in producers wanting to set up grain handling systems with high capacity grain dryers so that the producer can start his harvest earlier in order to overcome the challenges of a wet fall and early frost. Grain drying and aeration including temperature control is also vital because of this.
Storage is one aspect of agricultural production that has never fundamentally changed, and has always been key to financially successful farming operations. In fact, focusing on storage can establish you as a leader on your farm and in your circle of colleagues in the ag sphere. See my next column for insights.
Seed Treatments – More Than a Pretty Face
Seed treatments are more than simply insecticides and fungicides. They include sundry items like colorants, polymers, and biological enhancements and are more than just than a pretty face. They carry a premium message, provide stewardship and ultimately performance.
Color and Polymers
Color is important. With your premium seed there needs to be a premium image. Color, color intensity and shine are all important to a premium image as they allow you to go beyond the simple red, blue or green and create an image that can differentiate your products.
Beyond color are polymers. There are a number of considerations for using polymers. First, polymers help in the treating plants as well as in planting. The proper polymer helps throughput the seed treating operation by reducing bridging. With the precision planters that allow farmers to watch seed drop, there must be good flow and polymers allow seed producers to obtain smooth seed flow through farmers’ planters.
From a human and environmental standpoint, polymers reduce dust and keep it on the seed which reduces environmental and human exposure. This is especially important with neonicotinoid-treated seed and the pollinator issues.
Most responsible companies are suggesting that even if you do not use neonic insecticides but still have a lot of solids in the treating slurry that a polymer be used to keep treatments on the seed and reduce human and environmental exposure.
The category of biological enhancements includes everything from the rhizobia for root nodulation to growth regulators that accompany the seed treatment. These products are for everything from nitrogen fixation to metabolic regulation and can be biological organisms, biological extracts or chemicals, including pop-up fertilizers and micro nutrients.
Lumped in with these are products currently being developed that influence water regulation in the seed. Some of the products can improve water penetration to increase germination under dry or cool conditions.
Obviously, there is a long list of products that suggest there is more to seed treatments than just insecticides and fungicides.
The take-away from this is to consider color and shine and find the right fit that addresses your premium seed offerings. Consider polymers for several reasons. First and last, it is the responsible thing to do to reduce human and environmental exposure.
And consider which of the available seed enhancers can help you produce the best seeds for your geography and differentiate your products. Why not make your seed look its best while using seed enhancements to address customer needs, improve yield and set yourself apart from your competition?
Five Reasons to Invest In a Sophisticated Seed Coater
Back in the days, your operator was a loyal workers who oversaw the seed treatment process and knew the art as well as their own hands. Today is different. Temporary workers are more commons and people tend to change workplace frequently. Investing in fully automatic seed treatment systems provides multiple benefits and opportunities. Let me introduce you to five of them.
All NoroGard seed coaters with a PLC system are provided with a modem connection through mobile networks which allows you to control your seed treatment processes through your mobile device or computer. This type of recordings and reporting shows the amount of treated seed, the dosing rates and how much product has been used as well as controlling this data. This includes the ability to build or monitor recipes remotely. Accessing these data records provides a number of benefits including quality control, the ability to share statistics, decreased risk of human error, improved working environment and distance supervision.
An investment in quality control assures the same high level of quality from week to week, as well as from season to season. This provides a great advantage and strength for the organization since the seed treatment processes are not depending on a single person to measure, dose and control the seed treatments. Furthermore, the access to reports and recordings means that demanded production or quality statistics can be shared easily with the customer.
NoroGard seed coaters with this type of system also allow for the statistics and data to be supervised, controlled and shared from a distance which once again, proves a strength for the organization. Not only does the system run without a worker’s presence being vital for the production, it also minimizes the risk of human error. Because the seed treatment is controlled through the modem connection, it is easy to follow already set recipes and avoid mistakes from being made. The PLC system provides seed coating processes where only the required amount of coating product is used which, in turn, leads to less dust and liquid contaminating both the water system and the air you are breathing. Due to this, a seed coater with a sophisticated PLC system also provides a better work environment. The modem controlled system also means that the worker does not have to handle these types of products themselves, but measures and dosage through a touch screen.
This level of reporting results in customer confidence as you can assure customers an even level of quality throughout time as well as the ability to track seed treating processes in terms of quality guarantee. By delivering statistical data on the seed coating processes, your customers can be assured they get what they pay for based on how much treatment has been applied. This, along with the dosing rates of active ingredients, water and color, can be emailed or printed off to the customer. Knowing the precise dosing rates provides more efficient inventory management through lower costs of active ingredients, easy tracking of seed treatment production and easy supervision.
Lastly, operating your seed coating processes through a PLC system is highly beneficial for regulatory purposes. In terms of various ISO certifications, this type of supervision allows easy quality controls and trackability. In combination with the closed systems that the NoroGard seed coaters are equipped with, the operator is not exposed to treating liquids, physical safety is assured and the risk of human error is minimized.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
If you are reading this article, there is a good chance we crossed paths in Chicago at the ASTA CSS 2017 Seed Expo in December. It continues to be a premier showcase for products and services to the seed industry. Although the focus has traditionally been on larger commodity crops, I now find I am meeting with customers from other segments – even flower seed – that see value in the exhibition. I find this week is always a great pulse check on where things are headed.
Optical technologies continue to evolve and spread into additional seed plant applications. Technologies and capacities continue to improve. The most advanced machines true full color RGB machines capable of sorting on a full range of color combinations, plus infrared sorting. To be state of the art, the machine also needs complete geometric and size sorting recognition. There are also several new formats coming online for fine seed optical sorting. These will run lower capacities but diminish residual losses typical in small and fine seed optical separations. Optical sorting is also spreading into other parts of seed production. There is a big push to optically sort ear corn before drying. The use of technology early in the process stands to improve downstream issues. Again, keep an eye out for improving technology that allows for 360 degree views of the ear.
Seed treatment systems are developing quickly to meet the growing complexity of what and how we apply seed treatments. Most are finding the need to also include some form of drying post seed treatment. A true system will include drying functions to handle future rate increases. The newest advances include a single integral piece of equipment capable of treating, coating or pelletizing and then drying before discharge. We also see the batch treater becoming the standard, as they apply complex recipes with 8, 10 or even 12 independently delivered components…plus a powder or two!
Any equipment that provides additional efficiencies in your seed production processes is exciting. With markets being relatively tough and margins squeezed, operations are looking internally for more efficient production. I am seeing great interest in standard machines that have been improved with engineering: for example a gravity separator that diminishes the need for a middle fraction rerun; or a cleaner with screens that a single operator can safely and quickly remove. Exciting advances in control systems for just about anything mechanical are a great place to search for improved efficiency. A good control system can morph a mechanical piece of equipment into something easier to run, set up, start up or install.
Use the Right Tools for the Task or Lose a Million Dollars
Believe it or not, but there are seed companies where the seed multiplication, sales and marketing staff use expensive and very current software while the breeders in the same company are still primarily using spreadsheets.
Think about it – the breeders who develop the hybrids and varieties that determine the rest of the “revenue pipeline” on which the company depends for its future, use the simplest of software tools. I know – I have visited seed companies in 2017 and earlier where this is still true. Does not this picture seem a bit strange or incongruent? What causes and even perpetuates such a bottleneck for a seed company?
It is not that senior management is unappreciative of the value of data analysis. They make significant investments in sophisticated systems to help them manage logistics and distribution because they understand the complexity of the decision making process and know the cost of making an ill-advised decision. It is also quite tangible – xx bags shipped on time, yy revenue in sales and zz in inventory with profit computed to the cent. Plant breeders also collect big data that requires a comprehensive and well structured database with sophisticated analysis – but that might at first glance seem less tangible.
“Increasing the probability of developing the most superior hybrid possible in the company’s breeding program” could sound theoretical. But how about “a better hybrid was developed (with the help of a relational software system for breeders) that stayed on the market for yet another year and made the company an extra million dollars”? Not so intangible! One research director at a medium-sized seed company told me that is the difference plant breeding software makes in his company.
To transform the large amount of plant breeding data into actionable information requires advanced experimental designs, spatial analyses of yield trials plus other advanced statistical analyses and specific decision tools all in a powerful relational database – well beyond the capability of spreadsheets. But all too often, these are the tools plant breeders are expected to use because top senior administrators are unaware or unappreciative of the specific software systems available to help create and advance new more superior hybrids and varieties through the product pipeline. In one company I visited, the managing director said “Our breeders have developed hybrids for decades using Excel, why do they need special software now?”
Some plant breeders have a challenge when communicating with their senior officials. For the good of the company, they have an obligation to explain that data management and analysis are as vital to advancing new selections as other software is for increasing the company’s marketing productivity and financial efficiency. It is as necessary –maybe even more so — for a plant breeder to advance beyond using spreadsheets as it is for say a CFO to invest in a unified accounting software package. The CFO would no doubt consider that an investment, not an expense, why not the same for the breeder?
Does your company invest in the best software tools for your breeders? Do you want the best possible hybrids or varieties from your company to stay as long as possible on the market?
7 Tips to Help Small Businesses Standout from the Crowd
If I were to skim the ag news headlines from the past two years, much of the text would center on mergers, acquisitions and competition. There’s no question that the industry is maturing; big companies are getting bigger. Yet, in this fiercely competitive space, independent companies are thriving.
While we might not have the capital advantage of the multinationals, as small businesses we are more nimble. The moment we say we want to be like “X,” we lose the benefit of being small. I admit it’s a constant temptation because you look across the street and see the resources they can pour into a project. But it’s important for us to refrain from that temptation, and instead focus on our own unique roadmap to success. Below are seven “To-Do’s” that we find help us better compete.
Stay true to yourself and your values. Don’t let yourself become entitled to the business you receive. It’s critical that we keep the perspective of needing to work hard and to earn every bit of business we can. It’s also important to define company values and to ingrain them into your entire culture. Do not compromise on values; it’s what keeps customers coming back.
Create partnerships. As a small business, you can’t be an expert at everything. You need align yourself with partners on both sides of the supply chain who complement your core offering of products and services.
Be willing to kill a project. Sometimes when you’re invested in something, it’s hard to give it a critical eye. The optimist takes over. I caution you must be honest with yourself and kill a project if it’s not working. Don’t do a disservice to the company and continue to sink resources into a failing project, or a product that won’t sell.
Provide excellent service and support. This is the most important tip. Be available for customers to contact you, and then provide excellent service and support. This is what earns you repeat customers.
Don’t process yourself to death. When partnering and/or competing with larger companies, it’s easy to see the benefit of having processes, and sometimes they might request that you put processes in place that do not match your size and/or resources. While these can be helpful, they can also overextend you and paralyze the business.
Embrace technology. Identify technologies that can benefit your processes, products and services. Don’t be afraid to spend money on technology, but do your homework. This is an area that can deliver big advantages.
Value employees. If we take care of our employees, they will take care of the business. Too often, we think we value employees, but we must go a step further and make sure they feel valued. This is more than compensation and benefits; this means we must stay engaged with employees and stand behind them.
Remember: Don’t get stuck in the mindset of “bigger is better.” Small businesses are the backbone of America, and in general, people like doing business with small businesses.
Importance of Semi Quantitative Adventitious Presence (AP) Testing
It is vital that breeding and seed production programs conduct testing for adventitious presence (AP) of unwanted biotech traits. A properly timed AP test can eliminate the cost of advancing material contaminated with an unwanted biotech trait and provide tangible evidence of a quality seed product.
There are two approaches in determining AP in a seed lot based on the acceptance criteria. Qualitative testing will be used if the acceptance criteria of lot is 0 percent AP. In this case, if any lot is found positive in a qualitative test, the lot will be rejected. If the acceptance criteria of a seed lot is above 0 percent of AP, a quantitative testing is required to determine the percentage of AP in the seed lot.
Quantitative AP testing can be performed in a single bulk seed sample using real time PCR testing. In a seed lot, if the percentage of AP found is equal to or less than the acceptance limit, the lot is accepted otherwise it will be rejected. This method is not used by the industry widely as an error in sampling might reject a potential acceptable lot. EBDI offer a multiple sub-sample (pool) based qualitative testing to quantify the AP contamination in seed lot thus known as semi quantitative AP testing.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology is used in both the testing methods. In the semi quantitative approach, we divide the bulk seed sample into multiple sub samples (pools), each pool will contain the same number of individual seeds. Pools will be subjected to end point PCR analysis and results as positive or negative pools for the presence of AP. The individual results of each pool will be analyzed using a statistical tool to determine the percent of AP in the seed lot with 95% confidence level.
Seed producers wanting to know the rate of AP contamination, the semi quantitative AP test provides much greater flexibility for statistical analysis to determine the possible upper bound limit of a contamination with 95 percent of confidence level. This information will help the customer to decide on the acceptance of the seed lot. This method reduces the risk of rejecting a good lot since a range of level of AP is acceptable in the current market. By identifying seed lots with AP contamination beyond established limits, a seed producer can avoid the cost of advancing or processing seed lots that are out of tolerance.
5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Gravity Separator
When I am asked about this, I pause and ask questions myself. But I find the answers lie in the fact that, as plants evolve, we need to encourage operators to become seedsmen and not just operators: knowing how everything fits together and not just how the individual pieces work. Here are 5 ways to get the most out of your Gravity Separator.
1. Know the limitations of your gravity table: This machine is designed to separate products by pure density. Heavy products will move up the deck, while the lighter material will be floated to the top of the fluidized product and migrate to the lower side of the table. The Gravity does not know color, shape, or one product from the other. Simply weight.
2. Understand what the adjustments do: Separation happens by using air to fluidize the product, using side tilt to impede lighter material, and allowing eccentric speed to drive the better product to the high side of the deck. A combination of all these adjustments allows you to fine tune where the good portion and contaminate discharges from the gravity table.
3. Sample test: A quick way to know if you are truly getting density separation is to check weights. The product discharged at the low rail should be lighter than the product discharging at the high rail. You don’t know what changes to make if you don’t know what you currently have; you don’t know if the changes you made have worked unless you verify the result.
4. Routine Maintenance: Gravity separators are very mechanical machines. Proper care of bearings, air filters, deck cover, air boots, and other vital moving parts is critical. Follow your manufacturer’s instructions for greasing intervals. Properly maintained, these machines will perform for many years. Preventive maintenance will save you from having down time during the season.
5. Look at the entire process: Every machine in your process is a tool. We don’t change a tire without using multiple tools, and we cannot achieve great quality standards without using all the tools in our plant. If we are seeing more contaminate than normal on our gravity, look to see what is happening at the cleaner.
By engaging your employees in all of these practices, you will be developing operators that understand what standards you want to achieve, how to use the tools to reach them, and what adjustments it took to make it happen. Your operator is now a Seedsman.
Understanding Plants’ Microbiome, the Phytobiome
The study of the phytobiome with respect to biologicals is natural – it makes perfect sense. Since about 2000, ABM and a growing number of companies have been studying the microbiome. The phytobiome is the plant equivalent of the human microbiome. It includes the plant itself, the plant’s environment and all micro and macroorganisms living in, on or around the plant.
One reason for studying the phytobiome is so we can understand what causes plant diseases.
Beneficial and pathogenic microbes are present on and in the plant and are part of the phytobiome.
In about 2008, the cost of sequencing individual microbes came way down and people were able for the first time to look all the microbes in a biome. They had the technology to look at it and the computational ability to analyze it. These two key capabilities are important.
What are the microbes doing in the phytobiome? Pathogens are present long before a plant disease starts. There are other triggers that cause them to become pathogenic. This has been established for some time.
Other reasons for studying the phytobiome is that we know that there are beneficial microbes and we are using some of them – like Trichoderma, Bradyrhizobium, and Rhizobium, for example – for biological treatment. These organisms are either bacteria or fungi that we know are symbiotic with the plant and allow or help it to perform better.
There are a few approaches to studying the phytobiome to develop biological seed treatments. One method is to study all of the many organisms that could be in the phytobiome, characterize them bioinformatically and then assemble a consortium that could contain anywhere from two to 50 or more organisms representing the entire native population expected in a natural, productive setting.
To do this, you first have to determine bioinformatically that these are the organisms the plant needs and they will work well with the plant as part of its phytobiome to increase yield or other targeted result.
The approach used by ABM is to start with a seed treatment that contains a few strains of Trichoderma that we know improves plant performance. We have learned that these strains remodel the phytobiome and what is present in the rhizosphere – not the bulk soil – right next to the root.
We are changing it in terms of the organisms that are there and the functional profile of the phytobiome. We are changing the community function of the microbes in the local environment.
This is a very robust approach. When we add our biologicals to rhizosphere we know we are recruiting beneficial organisms and suppressing pathogens so that the plant can perform better with its own genetics as well as perform better with the microbes that are already in the soil.
We hope this is one of the answers to agricultural variability which is a thorn in every farmer’s side.
My Name is Mike and I’m a Procrastinator
I confess — I like to procrastinate. As a result, I force myself to regularly block out some time in my schedule for specific topics I need to think about — things like the general vision of our team, where we’re going as a business, our sales processes, where we’re at with new projects and current customers, and account management-type stuff.
Long-term planning requires us to focus and give serious thought to the road ahead. I don’t need to tell you that in a time when technology has us all moving at a faster and faster pace, spare time to accomplish this planning is often in short supply. But being a procrastinator isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
A Columbia University study differentiates between “active” and “passive” procrastination. Active procrastinators are a “positive” type of procrastinator. They prefer to work under pressure, and they make deliberate decisions to procrastinate, the study says. The results show that active procrastinators make purposeful use of time and control their time carefully, and this actually improves their performance and makes them effective.
Many of us, whether we realize it or not, are active procrastinators. But for active procrastination to work, it’s important to have good data so you can make operational and strategic decisions.
Quality data needs to be:
- From all areas of the business
- Standardized so that data comparisons can be made
- Complete and consistent
A good business management system should allow you to record and collate accurate and standard data from all aspects of a business, validated at the point that the operational transactions are performed. It should also provide you with a quick and easy way of accessing this data in useful formats.
Procrastinating isn’t always a bad thing. If you’re like me and identify as an “active” procrastinator, making sure you have good data is essential.