37 Years of Managing Materials at Oliver Manufacturing
I recently announced my retirement from Oliver Manufacturing, set to take effect this December, and I thought this was an opportunity to reflect on my career. As material control manager for 37 years, my duties included all the purchasing and management of inventory adjustments as needed. I’ve been responsible for inventory adjustments during our annual physical count and logistics for scheduling shipments, whether it’s parts or machines, going domestically and internationally.
In 1981, I started at Oliver as a temporary contractor. I was fresh out of college and ready to start a career. At the time, Geoff Burney was the CEO and he didn’t actually have any fulltime positions available. However, he needed work done on creating part numbers, something that I still manage to this day. The parts system in place needed to be refined. Around the end of October, a permanent position opened up and Geoff offered it to me. I’ve been here ever since!
Effective communication in my role as material control manager is vital. It’s important to have a good rapport with other departments as we rely on a lot of back-and-forth information from each other. I have to understand that we use an awful lot of those items, so we don’t want to buy just five or 10 at a time, we need to buy 100 at a time. Or, we don’t go through that many, and we only need five or 10 or if we are trying something new.
Thirty or 40 years ago, the expertise and knowledge I’d developed on thousands and thousands of parts would be painstaking to record and communicate. I’d end up writing a book or manual about it all! But because of natural technological developments, a lot of that knowledge is ready to be passed along with the mantel.
I’ve witnessed a great deal of change and a tremendous amount of growth. In 1981, I never dreamed that I’d be here in 2018. I sure am lucky to have been here for as long as I have, and I’ve had many meaningful relationships with different people at Oliver through the years. It’s been very rewarding. It’s been a pleasure to raise my family in the Rocky Ford and Arkansas Valley area. I’m finishing up in December – hopefully, I’ll be on vacation by the actual deadline. It’s been a wonderful journey!
Why Must Your Customer Always Be Right?
Your customers can be, and frequently are, wrong. Either way, you should always afford them the right to be heard. Listening to customer complaints is part of doing business. It is also a way to gain valuable insight into issues surrounding your business. But listening does not dictate that you must acquiesce to unreasonable demands. Most customers who feel they have been wronged started with unreasonable demands or expectations. If refusing an unreasonable demand means you lose a customer – good for you.
When responding to customer complaints, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
1. Support employees. Responding favorably to unreasonable demands tests your employees’ loyalty to you, your business and your policies. Your employees are your most valuable asset and your first line of defense against adversarial customers. Don’t discourage your employees by overriding their judgement when you show partiality to one customer over another simply because of an unreasonable complaint. Likewise, don’t train your customers to expect exceptional results from unreasonable complaints.
2. Be consistent. Making inconsistent responses to a common problem will undermine your business credibility. When unreasonable demands are based on false information, determine where the misinformation came from. If the misinformation is wide spread, decide how your business will react and keep your employees informed. Be consistent.
3. Recognize social media. The internet and social media have changed everything. When you resolve a customer’s legitimate or rightful complaint, few will ever know. But let someone out-finesse you into yielding to an unreasonable demand and your gullibility will be broadcast throughout social media before you return to your desk.
4. Focus on vital customers. Time is too valuable for you to afford to keep habitual complainers. According to the Pareto Principle (the 80:20 rule of the Law of the Vital Few), you can expect that 80 percent of customer complaints will come from 20 percent of your customers. You can also expect 80 percent of the time spent dealing with customer complaints will be spent on the 20 percent of complaints that were unreasonable in the first place.
Perhaps it was appropriate for Marshall Field in Chicago and Harry Selfridge in London to claim their customers were always right as they established their retail businesses in the early 1900s. However, it was soon pointed out to both men that this view ignores the reality that customers can be dishonest and have unrealistic expectations. That observation has never changed.
Niche Markets: The Cure for Low Commodity Prices
Since 2013, U.S. row crop farmers have experienced big yields and low commodity prices. This has put significant profit pressure on those in the Corn Belt. This pressure is also being felt by seed companies selling to these farmers. How can companies break out of this complex? Here are two ways your company can extend its current infrastructure and expertise to pursue better margin opportunities and get a leg up on the competition.
Sell Something New
Resistance to change is the biggest barrier to doing something new. Despite the challenging market conditions, most seed companies are doing OK. If that’s good enough, then the status quo works. But if you believe it can be better, you’ll need to push your team and company beyond their comfort zone. In almost every corner of the country, farmers are experimenting with some type of niche market: organic, food grade, alternative crops, plant-based proteins, etc. Many of these may be competitive to what your company sells, and the natural tendency is to resist supporting an opportunity that could cannibalize existing sales. But what if you embraced it? Your company could combine its local knowledge of farming practices, weather and soil to partner with farmers in their new ventures. Non-ag companies are aggressively investing in these markets and I believe seed companies can be value-added partners.
Explore Public Partnerships
Universities and technical colleges are incubating new ag and food companies than ever before. These academic institutions provide a wealth of skilled students and overhead support for startups, but they often lack the ability to execute and expand beyond the testing phase. You can gain insight into what new opportunities may be coming next and position your company to benefit by creating relationships with public researchers.
Further, if you have an idea that could give farmers an additional source of revenue or cost savings, reach out to these institutions. You might be able to tap into public funding, genetics or scientific expertise to support exploration of your concept.
Success in niche markets requires you to widen your scope of possible partners and brainstorm new ideas. Preparing for and pursuing new opportunities can diversify your business and set it up for long-term success. Selling seed to commodity farmers may always be your largest source of revenue and profit, but dedicating time to pursue new markets ensures you’ll have opportunities beyond the commodity corn and soybean complex.
Is There Any Way to Deal with Sudden Death Syndrome in Soybeans?
Sudden death syndrome (SDS) in soybeans is a tough critter to control. Getting a handle on this disease takes a full management approach.
SDS occurs in a disease complex with soybean cyst nematode. It is second only to cyst nematode as the most devastating soilborne problem of soybean in the United States. When this disease occurs in the presence of cyst nematode, symptoms occur earlier and are more severe. SDS is typically not detectable on the foliage of plants until after they begin flowering. The fungus infects seedling roots soon after planting. Above ground symptoms rarely appear before mid-July when the fungus penetrates the plant’s vascular tissue. The fungus produces toxins in the roots that are translocated to the leaves and cause foliar symptoms. The fungus itself does not invade the stems more than a few centimeters above the soil line.
Early planting predisposes soybean to SDS infection. In cool, wet soils, young soybean plants are vulnerable to infection by the SDS causal fungus. Avoid early spring planting in soils not favorable for rapid soybean growth. Fields with no history of SDS should be planted first; fields where SDS has been a problem should be planted later.
Cyst nematode injures seedling plants, which makes them more vulnerable to SDS. Begin SDS management with nematicides active against cyst nematode and/or resistant varieties. Nematicides, including some biological products, should be used before you consider using an additional seed treatment fungicide directed at SDS. Fungicides in-furrow or foliar-applied are not effective on SDS.
Resistance management options to control SDS are limited. Although soybean cultivars less susceptible to SDS have been developed, no highly-resistant varieties are available. Nonetheless, you may get the biggest bang for your buck by starting with a nematicide in combination with a variety that has some level of SDS resistance.
A few technologies are available for SDS fungal control. ILeVO seems to be the most effective against the SDS causal agent and has activity on cyst nematode as well. Thiabendazole (TBZ) may help at high application rates. While it is too early to know how well Heads Up will perform, limited results have been promising.
The bottom line: Plant later to manage SDS. When that is not an option, use a nematicide alone or in combination with a variety that has some SDS resistance. If the problem is severe, add a fungicide directed at SDS.
Pelleting: How to Increase Efficiency and Capacity by 800%
From vegetable and sugar beet seed to grass and tree seed, there is a growing interest in pelleting, which improves seed size, shape and uniformity. I’ve even noticed an increasing trend for pelleting canola and sunflower seed.
The benefits of using pelleted seed are many, including optimally-spaced, uniform plant stands, especially with the use of precision planters, and a larger surface area to apply nutrition and protection products, thus increasing the seed’s value. Additionally, when precision planting pelleted seed, the number of seeds required per acre is often reduced by 50 to 80 percent. When pelleting seed, there are a number of important advantages to using a rotostat seed treater (also known as a batch seed treater) over other types of treaters.
Quality control is a critical element to treating seed. You want to deliver the same high-quality pelleted seed every year, every batch and every seed lot, all year long. A rotostat seed treater’s PLC-based, closed system provides precise dosing rates and correct applications in every batch; thus, the consumer’s investment ends up on the seed.
This rotostat treater also improves quality control over other types of seed treaters, such as the drum treater, because the recipes and methods are contained within and carried out by the equipment, and not by an operator. Not only does this mean all batches have the same quality, but a company is not dependent on a specific operator to maintain quality and skills. Furthermore, reports and statistics are easily accessible and supervised.
The rotostat’s closed system also provides a huge advantage when it comes to an operator’s working environment. The closed powder feeder and dosing system for liquids as well as the treater’s automated cleaning process, which rinses all equipment and hoses, ensures operators don’t handle toxic materials. Pelleting with a rotostat eliminates the dust issues associated with drum pelleting, where operators are often exposed to the products they are applying.
Improved efficiencies of a rotostat treater include shortened processing times — it can take anywhere from 40 minutes to four hours to produce a batch of pellets with a drum treater, whereas it takes the same procedure five to 10 minutes with a rotostat treater. In addition, the wet sieving process is eliminated. Given these efficiencies, a rotostat treater pays for itself in no time, and its sophisticated technology will also lower your labor costs.
Defining Industrial Hemp in Colorado
Hemp is a big issue in Colorado, as many of you are aware by now. With big issues come ballot items, and the Colorado state election ballot book is a big one — there are 13 items on the state ballot. Now, these cover common state issues such as funding for education, transportation and, with the census coming up, congressional and legislative redistricting.
For the most part, it’s pretty standard stuff. But Coloradans are also faced with an interesting hemp dilemma that must be solved by Nov. 6. The fourth item on the state ballot is Amendment X. The item poses the following question to voters: Should the definition of “industrial hemp” be removed from the Colorado state constitution and instead use either the federal definition or refer to state statutes?
It is an interesting question. The definition of “industrial hemp” was added to the state constitution in 2012 as part of Amendment 69, which is most famous for its legalization of recreational marijuana. The state definition currently matches the federal one:
“The term ‘industrial hemp’ includes the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part or derivative of such plant, including seeds of such plant, whether growing or not, that is used exclusively for industrial purposes (fiber and seed) with a tetrahydrocannabinols concentration of no more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis,” according to the USDA.
The definition of industrial hemp could have big consequences.
First, if the definition is removed from the state constitution, deferring to federal law, and then federal law changes out of favor (or more out of favor, as the case may be), Colorado hemp farmers could be negatively impacted. But then again, if federal law were to change in favor of the hemp industry, as some have predicted may happen with the upcoming farm bill, then this deferment wouldn’t seem like a big deal. (Of course, we would need a farm bill for that. Where is that thing?)
Leaving hemp in the state constitution comes with its own set of problems, too. The constitution is supposed to protect ideas; statutes are reserved for legislation, which is guided by the constitution. The definition of hemp seems more like a statutory issue, particularly if changing it to react to the growth and evolution of an industry is a valid strategy in the future. Leaving hemp in the constitution makes it harder to change its definition later, but also begs the question of what other commodities or specialty crops “need” to be constitutionally defined?
Add Clarity, Tell Them Why
The Preamble to the U.S. Declaration of Independence proclaims some fundamental truths and rights, including human equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — these things are self-evident. Most everything else needs a little explaining.
As an example, when you have a new assignment for your employees, it’s important to tell them more than the basics of what they are to do; tell them why. Tell them why your customer wants, or needs, it that way. People are more responsive to a message when they understand why. Give them a reason for why, or how, the task will benefit them or benefit the customer.
It’s one thing to clearly give an assignment. It becomes an entirely different assignment when you tell them why. Adding “why” gives your request purpose and meaning. Your doctor can tell you to take your medication, but a good doctor will why tell you why you need to take it and how it will benefit.
One of our goals is to design seedsmanship into the equipment we manufacture. A seedsmanship feature that I consider important may be overlooked or unappreciated by a customer unless I take the time to explain. Explaining to our customers why we make or do things the way we do adds value to their perception of our products. Features that are obvious and important to me and our engineers as they design new equipment are not always self-evident to our customers. Furthermore, explaining why adds clarity to your instructions. This is why we take the time to explain and share with customers why we make our equipment the way we do.
The same idea applies when giving instructions to employees, especially new employees who are just learning. They may be confident that they have heard the words I spoke, but as I watch them I become equally confident they did not understand what I meant. Had I taken the time to explain why, they would have had a better understanding of my intentions. Explaining why adds an end goal to your instructions and gives employees an opportunity for initiative and innovation. Instead of merely working to finish an assignment, they will be working to accomplish a purpose that will presumably benefit customers.
Taking an extra moment to explain why goes a long way toward making your meaning more self-evident and more effective.
Choose the Right Growth Enhancer for Maximum ROI
There is an onslaught of growth enhancement products on the market today that would make any product manager’s head explode. Profitability should be top of the list when considering the right growth enhancement product. Your first question should be, “Does this product bring a strong return on investment (ROI) to my business and my growers?”
Yield performance may take several years of testing and product evaluation, but it is the first and most important step. After identifying the products with the best potential, you may need to consider the other criteria below to help make your final decision.
- Ease of application and slurry rate. Let’s take soybeans as an example. The industry standard for soybeans is typically 4 to 6 ounces, maybe 7 ounces per hundredweight (cwt.). If a product has a high application rate, there will not be much room left for other products. Pushing the application rate to 10 or 12 ounces makes for very wet seed and could cause seed to clump and bridge which can cause flowability problems in your seed plant and plantability problems for the grower. Adding a dryer or a dry powder applicator may be a necessary expense that needs to be calculated into the seed treatment’s price if you want your growers to have a good experience.
- Is it compatible with other seed treatments?
- Is it supplied in package sizes suitable for your seed plant operations?
- Will the product be available when you need it? Some of the growth promotors on the market are hard to produce which would require better forecasting and inventory control.
- How will you go to market? Keep your message simple but compelling.
- Pricing. Some seed companies put together one standard seed treatment package and price seed treatment and seed together as one. Others use an à la carte good-better-best price structure to offer more options and then bolt on the additional products. Don’t complicate the offer. Seed treatments are meant to enhance the seed’s genetics, and bring added value not complicate your customers’ purchasing decisions.
There are a lot of products on the market. Do your due diligence and identify the products that hold the most promise for you and your customers.
The 4-Hour Selling Season
When I ask ag leaders how much time they give salespeople to achieve their annual sales goals, most respond, “The sales season is never over. We sell all year long.” According to that line of thinking, they’re right. A full 12 months is needed to achieve sales objectives when customers are allowed to decide when they want to order, leaving companies with no control over the most important element of their business.
But what if companies did have control — the kind of control that would allow them to achieve sales objectives in a much shorter period of time, say, 12 weeks instead of twelve months? Sounds crazy? It’s not. Here’s how it works.
Let’s call it the 4-Hour Selling Season. Every sales rep spends four hours a day, three days a week, for the 12 weeks prior to harvest, calling on prospects and current customers. Each rep contacts at least two farmers a day for the purpose of taking them to their fields to start crop planning for the next year. That’s six crop planning calls per week — 72 calls in twelve weeks. Imagine your entire sales force making sales calls for four hours every day, the same three days every week for 12 weeks. The result would impact sales exponentially, while getting orders when you want them the most — prior to harvest. You would achieve your sales objective in just 12 weeks.
Most company leaders don’t realize that allowing their distribution system 12 months to achieve sales objectives not only prolongs the selling season but can eventually put them out of business. As long as customers are allowed to order on their own time schedules, ag companies will need to either hire more people or ask them to do more with less. Companies will need to buy more equipment and overestimate needed inventory. Delayed ordering increases costs, forces companies to cut operating expenses, cut services, and work more hours. Worst of all, forecasting will remain a guessing game. All of those anti-growth strategies are needed to compensate for the gross inefficiencies of an out-of-control distribution network.
When I ask field sellers if they could achieve their sales goals in 12 weeks instead of 12 months if it was a life-and-death matter, 100 percent of them say yes, they could. That’s what I thought. So, what’s keeping your company from doing it?
The 3D Nature of Pedigrees: Why Did I Choose This Plant?
Implementing breeding software is what I do. My team and I meet plant breeders from around the world, talking different languages and working with different crops. However, they all have something in common: they all have similar challenges.
When it is time to evaluate their trials, many breeders wonder why they chose specific plants over others. What traits should they have? Are they better or worse compared to last generation? When evaluating many different traits, it’s not easy to know which trait to focus on or how to select a particular plant. To add to the confusion, sometimes the differences between plants in a breeding population are small and the plants all look similar at first sight.
Displaying all the relevant data from previous seasons is a challenge. A regular tabular view provides only two-dimensional data: genotypes and their traits. Seeing also the pedigree information adds a third dimension, allowing breeders to view previous/future generations’ data. We refer to this as the “3D nature of the pedigree.” Gathering three dimensions provides a complete overview of the phenotyping. Without the ability to do this, breeders struggle to remember why they included particular plants into their breeding programs, resulting in an inconsistent and inefficient process.
In short, breeders want to see the right data in the right place at the right time. Good breeding software makes this much easier. Dedicated software will “know” how to capture and display the pedigree correctly to allow breeders to compare data from previous seasons or other locations. Moreover, good software automatically calculates inheritance rules for disease resistance in next generations to show which genotype is resistant to which trait.
Another aspect of a good breeding system is its ability to automatically provide naming conventions to new materials based on a predefined template. Here is one of many possibilities to build a template for the genotype’s unique code:
<year>-<season>-<location>-<generation>-<plot number>-<selected plant number> (i.e. 18AU-Rh-F4-350-4).
Naming conventions for other passport data columns, such as pedigree name or generation, can also be automatically and correctly updated. These little best-practice tricks make information management more effective.
After all, the main intellectual property of a breeding program is not only the seeds, but also the data associated with it. A professional breeding software program is crucial for saving intellectual property, but most of all, for utilizing it efficiently.
Can You Afford Not to Test Your Seed for Genetic Purity?
When I talk to seed producers about genetic purity testing of their corn seed lots, I occasionally get a response similar to this: “How can I afford to do all of that testing?” My response is: “Can you afford not to do this testing?”
I ask them to consider the value of the seed they have produced – it is usually worth hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars. An accurate and effective genetic purity test can be completed for a couple of hundred dollars within a few weeks. A good test can tell the producer whether or not the lot is correctly identified, if the hybrid pedigree is accurate, if selfing has occurred, if outcrossing is present within the lot and if any seed mixing has occurred during seed harvesting or plant operations.
Discovery of any problems related to the seed’s genetic quality is critical to the seed producer as it provides the information essential to knowing if the product is suitable for sale. Even if the news is not what the producer wants to hear, it will provide crucial data needed to make decisions regarding if the lot should be resized, blended, wholesaled or if it should be discarded.
Testing for genetic purity can occur when the seed is still in bulk storage or later when the seed is bagged in a finished condition. The important factor, regardless of the stage of processing, is that all seed sizes should be tested for genetic purity. Genetic quality can vary greatly based on seed size. Fertilization occurs at different positions on the ear throughout the pollination period. Even if the seed field was flooded with pollen during the early portion, pollen flow could decline or even cease at the end of the pollination period when the silks from the tips of the ears are receptive, magnifying the potential for foreign pollen contamination for small flat and small round seed sizes. Therefore, testing all of the seed sizes from a field is very important.
Saving some dollars in testing costs and not properly identifying the purity of your seed lots can end up costing you big in the end if your genetic quality is poor and your customers are unhappy with the appearance and performance of your hybrids on their farms.
Trichoderma and the Biologicals Renaissance: Creative New Ways to Think About the Usual Suspects
The biologicals industry has had to continually reinvent itself. An early history of variable performance cemented the dogmatic thinking that assumes biologicals will never be able to compete with ag chemistry. In the past 15 years, science supporting the use of microbials – and Trichoderma in particular – has moved beyond the concepts of mycoparasitism and niche replacement/competition as the dominant mechanisms acting in the field. It is now quite clear that in most cases signaling between microbes and plants plays the bigger role in biostimulation and biocontrol phenotypes.
A Vital Shift is Thinking
We are currently experiencing another scientific revelation: the importance of the phytobiome. The phytobiome is all the microbes present in, on and around a plant. These microbes impact plant performance and health in the same way the human microbiome impacts human health and well-being. Just as with the human microbiome, study of the phytobiome is moving beyond the simple description of what organisms are present. We are learning more and more about what those organisms are doing. This is a vital shift in our thinking and research.
We have historically thought of the plant as an independent organism. Seeds are planted into the soil and they produce our food and fibers. Yes, microbes can interact, but this is mostly to enable nodulation or to cause disease. And we have nutrients and chemicals that can address these issues. Today, we understand that microbes present on and in the seed, in the soil and water, and in the air, all interact with and are an essential part of the plants we raise. Without them, plants are sickly and unable to defend themselves against much of anything.
Thinking about the future of agriculture in the phytobiome context, we need to consider not only which microbes are present in a given environment but also what they are doing both individually as well as the overall functioning of their local community. Many factors come into play in this context including soil type/chemistry, host species and genotype, management practices, weather and local livestock or wildlife among a myriad of others. In the long term, these interactions will be teased apart and more thoroughly understood. ABM and many other public and private organizations are taking active roles to ensure this future and bring the results to actual practices and products in the field.
The “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” Mentality Will Destroy Your Business
We’ve all heard the common phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” For the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone would subscribe to this way of thinking. It implies that you should always wait for something to completely fail before doing anything to improve or fix it.
If you apply it to running your business, it will eventually lead to your business’ downfall. It won’t happen overnight, but without improving your company, division, process or basic business practices, you will start a slow decline into irrelevance and failure.
That sounds harsh, but it’s reality. Human nature is to focus on only improving things that are broken or the squeaking wheel. But before the process is recognized as broken or an issue lingers long enough to start “squeaking,” it’s likely the business has already been negatively impacted and may have been suffering for quite a while.
Below are two quick tips to help you create a culture of proactive process and procedure evaluation to adjust or fix issues before they impact your business.
Red Teaming – This common military practice involves viewing your position from your competitors’ perspective and developing strategies and tactics to win against your own company. Red teaming can be applied on a whole-company basis or to analyze basic company processes and assumptions. For example, what could another company offer your employees to entice them to leave? Viewing this scenario from an adversarial position can help you brainstorm new and creative ways to retain and reward employees.
Stress Tests – Most business processes and procedures are built for the normal or average way a business activity happens. Stress testing those processes and procedures means pushing the assumptions that created them to the limit. Say a company requires the site manager to document all field activities. This may work if the company only has a few fields with short distances between them, but how does this hold up as the company expands? Can the one person oversee double the fields, or triple? Keeping this process in place during expansion will mean either the manager will visit fields less often or take shortcuts in field evaluation just to complete the paperwork.
Every business process or management assumption must be constantly challenged. Red teaming and regular stress testing will help you see potential weaknesses before they damage your business.
10 Great Ways to Repurpose Content
Content is the backbone of any effort to interact with customers. Content speaks directly to the audience and encourages dialogue. Content remains the best way to connect with your customers. But not all content is equal.
Quality over quantity: Quality content educates and triggers a response to engage. Quality content fosters loyalty and trust. Quality content helps your audience/customers solve their problems. Sharing content that doesn’t add value, or that’s poorly produced, does a disservice to your content marketing efforts and to your brand.
Producing quality content may seem daunting. Creating quality content takes time and skill. It takes insight, patience, and a bit of luck. To help, there’s a simple ‘life hack’ – REPURPOSE. Find new ways to ‘recycle’ your content.
Repurposing content has numerous benefits. People have their own personal preferences in how they digest information. Some prefer visual, whereas others like text. By repurposing your content for different mediums, you are increasing the content’s appeal to more audiences and extending your reach.
When you put in the time and effort to produce a piece, chances are you are incredibly proud of it and want to leverage it as much as possible. Repurposing content gives you the opportunity for additional sharing and promotion of the piece. Repurposing maximizes your efforts.
Here are 10 genius ways to repurpose content:
- Repurpose a successful webinar into video tutorials
- Turn blogs into guides or a whitepaper
- Take internal data and turn it into a case study
- Transcribe an interview into an advice eBook or print piece like a ‘Top 10 lessons learned’ list
- Share visual content like pictures from presentations over social media
- Create an infographic out of a slide show (or vice versa)
- Post interesting statistics over Twitter
- Transform field tour information into ‘guides’ (print or digital)
- Record a product demonstration into a video ‘show and tell’
- Remodel weekly check-in calls with remote staff to a podcast discussing topical issues
Got anymore ideas? Comment on this post and let us know!
When is the Right Time to Upgrade?
I’m often asked, “when is the right time to upgrade?” The answer is “it depends,” because each business is unique in their setup, talent pool and philosophy. Some business owners prefer to be on the bleeding edge, while others are late adopters, and there’s a whole spectrum in between.
If you’re asking this question, there are a few variables to consider: turnover of seed treatment operators, experience of seed treatment operators, age of equipment, cost of down time, quantity of seed treated and brand image or customer perception.
You might be wondering how brand image or customer perception figures into this calculation. That might be the easiest consideration to address. If you want customers to associate your company brand to words such as “modern,” “precision,” and “advanced,” then upgrading your system and going fully automated can help make your brand vision a reality.
The other factors may require some small calculations. What is the turnover rate of your seed treatment operator, and what is the skill of operators you’re hiring? If you have a high turnover rate or struggle to find someone with the experience and credentials you’re looking for, then it might be time to upgrade your equipment. Fully automated, or even partially automated, systems remove the “art” of treating seed and minimize the potential for operator error.
A fully automated system requires fewer people to operate the seed treater, potentially reducing your labor costs and the skill needed. It can also reduce the costly mistake of over- or under-treating seed. Thousands of dollars here and there can add up fast.
What about the age of your equipment and the cost of down time? As equipment ages, the chances of a costly breakdown increase. Did you have any breakdowns or major repairs last year, or the year prior? Today’s automated systems help catch problems early and alert an operator to potential problems in ways that a manual system could never do.
Even more importantly, you don’t necessarily have to wait for a support technician to show up on site. Some estimates show that down time during peak season can cost businesses as much as $7,500 per hour. Many repairs can be done through remote support, minimizing your down time and increasing efficiency.
Then there’s the final factor, quantity of seed treated. Do you want to treat more seed in less time? Increasing efficiency by going automated can help you achieve this goal. Recipe formulations can be preset in the system, and the operator can change formulations with the push of a few buttons. The rest is done automatically. For manual systems, just the calibration can take some time, not to mention the wasted seed done in the process.
As you think about your seed treatment operation, evaluate where you are and where you want to be. What changes need to be in place?
Remember: Technology is never going to stop progressing or improving. Upgrading every three to five years is less money at one time than waiting until your system is completely obsolete and then having to invest in an entirely new system.
Registered Premixes Simplify Customized Seed Treatment
One challenge of distributing seed-applied pesticides is having a strategy to deliver products that meet the market’s desire for customized, prescriptive solutions without being encumbered by EPA regulatory requirements and logistical realities. Most seed treatments contain a mix or blend of various fungicides and insecticides because no single chemistry is effective across the broad spectrum of seed-borne and soil-borne insects and diseases. Treatments also contain colorants and polymers because the look and flowability of seed is crucially important.
The ideal seed treatment would be a custom blended formula for each grower’s specific environment. Making and marketing any blended product comes with mandatory compliance of EPA regulations, which includes user signatures of prescriptions. Without these signatures products with custom blended formulas cannot be inventoried, making it difficult to precisely manage product needs in season. Our experience is that marketing custom blended services absolutely has a fit with some customers, but not all customers want or need to deal with a “customized” blend.
Nufarm’s goal is to provide customers with a broad array of options to conveniently meet their seed treatment needs. In addition to our existing custom blend service, we have developed a portfolio of registered, branded premixed products that simplify seed treatment. Customers can select from Nufarm EPA registered brands that provide a level of customized protection from basic to premium based on their specific environments.
Nufarm’s Sativa line-up of cereal seed treatments, and Spirato line-up of soybean treatments deliver stable formulations designed with a “good-better-best” approach that allows customers to select the appropriate product for their specific circumstances. Specialized chemists formulate these products with performance, flowability, seed aesthetics and long-term stability in mind. These products can be inventoried and redistributed as is commonly done with other EPA registered products.
We believe that this very logical approach simplifies seed treatment for those that believe it is sometimes over complicated.
There Is Still Room at the Top for Seed Processing Innovation
How much better can we get in how we process seeds? We already sort and sift seed by weight, density, length, width, shape and color. How much better can we get? Where is there room for improvement? The opportunity for innovation is not in what we do, but in how we do it. Petkus Innovation Manager Dr. Khaled Raed says machines in the total process have to get much smarter and collect data that can be used to inform management decisions.
Except for minor, incremental enhancements, most seed processing equipment operating today is little changed from what it was 50 years ago. We don’t know anything more about the seed coming out of a conditioning tower until a sample has been examined in a seed testing lab. Then it is too late to find out that something needs to be changed. Smarter equipment will provide transparency with real time data to make changes and improve quality as the seed goes through the conditioning process.
Smarter machines will provide real time data that can be collected, analyzed, reformed and sent to stakeholders so that they know with transparency what needs to be done. The most immediate opportunity for enhanced equipment is smart color sorters. Sensing technology exists to collect data that can be processed to enable managers to make downstream decisions. For example, a smart color sorter could examine seed corn and determine the ratio of flats versus rounds in each seed lot, perhaps even before the seed goes into the dryer. Having this information early in the selling season would be extremely valuable to sales and marketing managers.
To enhance the development of smart machines, Petkus has created a joint venture and formed a software company called Petkus Process Automation. With this technology, data can be collected, analyzed, reformed and sent to the stakeholders so that they know with transparency what is being done with their seed as it moves through the conditioning process.
Who Invests in Mediocre?
Many companies’ customer service policy includes a reference to “underpromise and over-deliver.” At a time when businesses were just beginning to understand the value of customer service, such a strategy suddenly had a place.
Those days are long gone, as this phrase has become a tired, wornout cliché. Customers know better. Consistently over-delivering on lowered customer expectations suggests you are sandbagging your promises. In time, your weak promises will hurt your credibility. A better strategy is to honestly make reasonable promises and expand your efforts to follow through.
Under-promising deliberately undersells your capabilities. It promises only a fraction of what you know you and your products can reasonably do. In reality, it is deliberately selling yourself short — just to be safe. In a sales situation, under-promising can leave your bid vulnerable to a less qualified competitor, who makes a stronger promise even if that promise does no more than meet your reasonable albeit undervalued capabilities. Under-promising can also open the door to below-par follow through.
Under promising eventually leads to performance that tolerates accepting “good enough” when you are capable of being good. When quality control says a product is “good enough,” it is an admission that it is not good. When “good enough” products and services are judged acceptable because they meet the customer’s under-promised expectations, a lowered expectation becomes the new, lower standard of acceptable quality. Not only to the customer, but also prevents your employees to thrive for excellence.
Lowering expectations reduces incentives to make the extra effort needed to reach the top. Every front-line employee who has any customer contact becomes the standard bearer for your business. When anyone knows your performance or product could be improved, but they also know that it already exceeds your underpromised standards, there is less incentive for improvement.
People respect people who do what they say they are going to do. People also understand that some events are beyond your control and affect performance. You cannot afford to under-promise just because something unknown might happen. If a labor dispute disrupts normal truck shipments, follow through with extraordinary efforts to arrange shipment and perhaps absorb some of any added costs.
A more productive alternative to underpromising is to promise reasonably and focus on extraordinary follow-through to bring out the best from your team, your products and your service.
How Can a Fungus Survive Seed-Applied Fungicides?
If we use a fungus as a beneficial biological seed treatment, how can it coexist and thrive when used in combination with other seed-applied fungicides? A fungicide should kill a fungus, right?
Trichoderma is a soil-borne fungus and occurs naturally all over the world. As of 2015, at least 250 species had been identified and classified, and this list continues to grow as new species are discovered.
A main focus for all companies producing biological products is the challenge of delivering living organisms into a production agriculture environment. The seed coat, phyllosphere, furrow, tank mix, etc are all harsh environments with their own hazards, and great care must be taken to ensure biological survivability. Different companies take different approaches to making this happen with a mixture of results. When evaluating a biological product, be sure to ask: What steps have been taken to ensure product viability and efficacy – Specialized use instructions? Encapsulation? Over-formulation?
When it comes to Trichoderma, ABM’s approach is threefold, but all stem from natural properties of the fungus. First, our Trichoderma-containing products are applied to the seed as dormant spores. Spores are highly resistant survival structures used by Trichoderma and other fungi to survive harsh environmental conditions over time. We specifically formulate our products using these naturally-occurring spores with the aim of delivering longer shelf-life products that are compatible with a wide range of seed-applied chemicals.
Second, Trichoderma is a fungus that is resistant to most agricultural fungicides. This property is unique to Trichoderma and one of many reasons that ABM has chosen to develop products with it. The result is that even though we apply Trichoderma to seeds in combination with, or over the top of, chemical fungicides, these chemicals do not affect our strains.
Finally, the strains of Trichoderma ABM uses in its products grow aggressively once they are put into the soil. They establish their niche in the rhizosphere surrounding the seed and inside the plant’s roots. They rapidly grow out of other seed-applied fungicide’s immediate zones of efficacy. ABM’s seed-applied Trichoderma organisms are not intended to be free-living in the soil or to remain on the seed. Rather, they colonize along the root hairs and inside a plant’s internal compartments. This leaves little opportunity for the Trichoderma to be damaged by seed-applied fungicides.
That’s the beauty of Trichoderma: it’s broadly resistant to chemistry-based fungicides and quickly colonizes a plant’s root system. These basic properties of the genus allow ABM to provide functional biological products, giving growers maximum flexibility in their input choices.