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.
Why you Should get Rid of Every “Veteran” in Your Company
If you’ve been reading the handwriting on the wall, you know that every ag company is under attack — not by their competitors, but by their own customers. Never in the history of agriculture have so many farmers been encouraged to turn against their suppliers and take more control of what they buy.
Farmers are being told that everything they need for growing a crop is a commodity — from the seed to the sales rep who calls on them. If they’re allowed to continue this path of insanity, the only difference between brands in the future will be price.
That entire attitude is a result of having too many veteran sales reps calling on farmers. When I say veterans, I’m not talking about the few, highly successful reps who’ve been selling for a number of years. I’m talking about the many field sellers who’ve been mentally dead since the day they graduated high school or college. These veterans, regardless of how long they’ve been on the job — one day or 20 years — decided to stop learning and changing since graduation. Veterans are a huge liability to their company, not an appreciating asset. No wonder customers see them as irrelevant to their businesses.
Rookies, on the other hand, never lost their desire to learn. Whether they’re in their first day on the job or have been selling for years, they know they need to constantly challenge themselves if they expect to be successful. Rookies deliver so much value that customers would never even think they were smart enough or forward thinking enough to take the leadership role when buying inputs. Rookies have their customers so focused on maximizing yields that cutting costs is not their first priority. Rookies would never allow their own value to drop so low that customers would want to push them away and stop seeking their help in growing their business.
How many veteran sellers do you have? You can’t afford to have any. Make sure ALL of your salespeople are being trained as if it’s their first day on the job. Make sure ALL of your salespeople believe they’re the “weakest sales rep in the training room” so their only focus is getting better.
And finally, ask yourself the only question that matters to your company’s success: are my salespeople 10-year veterans, or are they simply reliving their rookie year the 10th time?
Preparing for Crunch Time
It’s mid-September, and we are well past the summer solstice and the season continues to progress. In some areas, harvest is in full swing as we push into another cycle of seed conditioning. Consider your seed conditioning facility. Is it ready to go or are you waiting on the first loads of seed to force your troubleshooting efforts?
Here are a few low-hanging fruit to help prepare your seed conditioning facility for a busy schedule:
Preventative Maintenance, Review and Preview. Professional facilities practice preventative maintenance. A great starting point is to review last year’s shutdown records. Did your staff address all noted issues from late last season and resolve them? This may catch an item that fell through the cracks. Use your most important asset in this review, your staff. Engage them to identify and prioritize issues regarding safety, budgetary or other categories. This will help determine how to best tackle the tasks at hand.
Operator Training. Skilled operators working in a safe environment will make or break a successful season. Training is an ongoing task, and it is never too late even heading into the busiest of times. Reputable manufacturers know their equipment is only as good as those operating it. With that in mind, be proactive about doing on-site training visits. Several manufacturers operate test facilities with the purpose of both sample testing and operator training. If timing seems too desperate for staff travel, ask your manufacturing reps to assist with online or video training.
Spare Parts. One of most valuable tricks to limit downtime is to maintain an inventory of suggested stocking parts. These parts should be recommended by equipment manufacturers to minimize costly “machine down” issues. Items should include things like drive belts, critical bearings and electrical parts for control cabinets like breakers or switches. Include staff members to make sure they are aware of the inventory and know which items are applicable to which machines.
Mock Startup. A mock startup is a good practice for both basic mechanical equipment and more complex control systems. Even without seed in the system, most simple problems can be avoided if you run through a startup scenario. This also gives operators a chance to check machine settings before critical seed runs.
These items shouldn’t consume much time and will hopefully reduce stress, increase efficiency and improve safety in your facilities.
EU Court’s Gene Editing Decision Could Limit Seed Licensing Options for U.S. Companies
The Court of Justice of the European Union on July 25 decided that organisms obtained by mutagenesis including CRISPR and other gene editing techniques are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and are, in principle, subject to the same EU regulatory burdens as transgenic crops.
The effects of this EU court decision will likely not be limited to Europe, but may be felt by farmers and independent seed companies here in the United States. Independent seed companies have long searched for sources of genetics and traits beyond the few multinational companies that out-license today. The U.S. market has mainly been driven to this consolidated state because of the high regulatory costs and burdens for GMO approval around the world. These approvals are required to keep key export markets open for grain produced from GMO seed.
There’s a lot of promise with gene-edited products and technologies because they are non-GMO techniques. Gene editing does not incorporate foreign DNA into the final product, which means one can get to the same point with traditional plant breeding as one can with gene editing. The cost to develop traits and genetics with gene editing is also much less expensive than GMO techniques and thus more accessible to more companies.
There was a lot of hope that these products would be regulated the same way as traditionally bred plants and would lower the barriers to commercialization around the world. Unfortunately, the Court of Justice decision puts gene-edited products in the same regulatory bucket as their GMO counterparts.
The disappointment for independent companies is that this decision will continue to constrict the market of companies that can bring gene-edited technologies to a commercial state. Without those regulatory burdens, hundreds of seed companies around the world could continue the work they’re doing with gene editing crops and have a predictable path to commercialization. The way GMO products are approved for import approval around the world makes it very complicated and cumbersome. Smaller companies just don’t have the resources to overcome those obstacles. GMO traits, such as Enlist and Duracade, have been waiting commercialization for a number of years because of these regulations. Gene-edited products may face this same fate. In this case, a decision made in Europe affects not only European farmers’ access to technology but could limit the competitive licensing environment for independent U.S. seed companies.
Great Seedsmen Know Their Plants
Great seedsmanship demands a lot from those who practice it. It demands an intimate familiarity with one’s plant. It demands knowledge and experience to design an equipment line capable of filtering product as efficiently as possible. And it demands creativity. When I host an Oliver training session, or I visit a plant to troubleshoot inefficiencies, I ask for one thing from my audiences and one thing only: to listen with an open mind.
I remember a plant I worked in. Everyday I’d walk in, talk with the shift foreman, and listen to the sounds coming from the entanglement of machines around us. On one particular day, he said, “We’ve got a cup ticking.” And sure as you-know-it, we followed the sound and discovered a leg where a cup was loose. It sat there, ticking against the guarding. It hadn’t hurt anything at the time. But if we’d ignored it and figured that it wasn’t bothering anything, eventually it’d rip right off. It’d get bailed up and we’d be left with a ton of down time. This could have easily been the squall of an auger, growl of a bearing, or belt noise.
When you are in a plant and trying to find the source of a problem, you have to listen to your machines. The plant will talk to you if you are willing to listen. It’ll give you the big picture — it always does. But it is up to you to hear it.
We as seedsmen and as operators have to look at that big picture, and to neglect to do so is to sell ourselves short. I believe a plant works for us, the seedsmen. We are not working for it. But in that regard, a production plant is only capable of doing the work that we allow it to do. If we aren’t getting the separation expected from a machine, then that machine is either malfunctioning, not being applied correctly, or something else within the production line is not in harmony with the rest of the plant. Only after identifying the true source of a problem within the plant system can we then begin to correct it.
I’ve learned that an Oliver gravity table — and really any machine — has its own tells, like that ticking cup. If you pay attention, you can tell if you’re pushing your eccentric speed too far, or if you’re getting too extreme with your side tilt, or whatever the case may be. This requires a lot of skill, patience and practice on manual machines. Just the physical act of cranking an air adjustment, moving the side tilt, recording the positions, and then repeating that process until you finally get the separation that you need can be real time consuming.
Considering that, automation can take us a long way. Why are there less manual transmission cars on the roads these days? That’s too much work. People don’t want to drive them. It’s the same thing with machines.
We make machines that are highly automated because they’re efficient. In my opinion, the best part about automation isn’t that it makes your job easier. It’s that it makes the newest generation of the workforce more inclined to use it. Because it produces results more reliably while consuming less time and energy. And when we succeed, the efficiency of the entire plant improves. But I want to stress that more efficient tools do not negate the seedsman’s need to be in tune with their facility.
5 Tips to Help Others Embrace Technology
Not everyone likes technology. Some are fearful of what it might mean for their job. Some are afraid they might break it and not be able to fix it. Some like the way things are now and don’t see a need to change. However, change is the only thing that’s certain, and technology not only increases efficiency but can also help us better serve our customers.
If I’m working with a customer and they are apprehensive about adopting new technologies, it’s important to listen and to try and understand the source of their concerns. As one who is encouraging people to embrace technology, I’ve found five common fears that must be overcome.
Fear of not being in control.
With automation sometimes comes uncertainty. Because the operator is not physically controlling the process, he or she may not know exactly what is happening. In our world, this is a big issue. An intelligent control system takes the human element out of the operator’s treating system. When you go fully automated, you are limited in the input you can give.
Fear of not being able to troubleshoot or fix it on my own.
As the equipment manufacturer, we recognize that we are the only one who can fix it. The systems are advanced beyond general maintenance. We stand behind our equipment and work to service our customers in a way that is timely and effective. If we didn’t do that, we couldn’t sell automation technology like we do today.
Fear of additional transparency into my job.
New technology not only brings better automated control, but it also provides increased tracking and recordkeeping. There’s more data available to your boss and management about what you’re doing. Accountability is not a bad thing and it helps organizations to be more sustainable. This means doing the best you can with the tools given to you. Automation helps to minimize mistakes.
Fear of losing my job, or dumbing it down.
There’s an art to the seed treatment process that the operator lives and breathes. New technology makes it less of an art and more of a science. Technology brings repeatability. If we are giving a new system to operators, it comes with training and support. We will walk beside you as you go through that learning curve.
Fear of having to learn something new.
It can be a steep learning curve to take on a new system. However, the more readily someone adapts to technology and learning, the more it advances their skillset and improves their marketability. They learn how to work through the challenges of working with more sophisticated control systems.
It’s important for us to remember that the end user needs to see value in the system. If the operator doesn’t want to use it, it impacts everything from how the treatment goes to servicing and support. We work with operators to help them see and understand the value of automation and the power of embracing new technology.
We truly take into account the operator. We try to make their day easier and their job better. We want the operator to like using our product; it’s not just about the bottom line for the purchasing company. Embracing technology better positions us for future opportunities.
Remember: Part of our world is being able and willing to adapt to change and technologies. The pressures continue to increase, and the competition continually changes. We work to deliver the best end product and to do that, we must adopt new technologies.
Seed Sampling: The First Step in Seed Testing Success
Occasionally, after I send a results report out to one of our customers, I will receive a response back indicating that the recipient doesn’t feel our test results accurately reflect the quality of the seed lot that they produced. Routinely my first response is, “How was the sample that you submitted obtained?” If proper sampling techniques were not followed and the seed sample does not reflect the bulk or bagged seed lot, then the QA test results are meaningless!
When you do not accurately sample your seed, you are potentially misrepresenting the quality of the lot and could be violating your customers’ trust. By only grabbing seed from the top of the bag, you are not getting a representative sample of what is in the entire bag. It is crucially important for seed samplers to make sure they collect a sample that accurately represents the entire seed lot.
Both the AOSA Rules and the AOSCA Handbook specify how many subsamples are needed for various crops and container sizes. Every seed sampler should be following these guidelines when taking samples.
When a 2-pound sample is tested to represent several thousand pounds of seed, even small sampling errors can seriously distort the validity of test results. There are established guidelines to indicate how many samples are needed.
If you just reach in and take a handful of seed from the top of each container, you are not getting a representative sample. You may have sampled the right number of containers, but the samples are still not representative of the entire seed lot. A phenomenon can occur during storage or movement of seed where lightweight seed, oddly shaped seed or seeds with differences in moisture content can cause differential settling of seed in bags or bulk containers. Grass seed mixtures are especially prone to segregation during handling. Heavier and larger seeds can segregate from lighter and smaller seeds. Thus, it is important that seed samplers draw from the full width of the seed storage container.
So, to gain a true picture of your seed quality, remember that proper seed sampling is the first step in an accurate estimate of your seed quality.
Down Time is Wasted Time
In one of our ad messages we used the phrase “Down time is the worst time.” Nothing gets done when equipment unexpectedly fails or breaks down.
In Aesop’s Fables – a collection of fictional stories with an ethical or educational message that is credited to Aesop, an ancient Greek slave and storyteller – there is a meaningful story that concerns an arrogant hare who ridicules a slow moving tortoise. Tired of the hare’s cocky attitude, the tortoise challenges a faster hare to a race. In the fable, the tortoise wins because the hare quickly gets tired and must stop to rest. The story still has meaning for us 2,500 years later.
In today’s competitive business economy, neither the tortoise nor the hare has all that it takes to win the race. Being slow and steady will not necessarily win the race, nor speed without dependability. A winning combination combines the tortoise’s steadiness and reliability with the hare’s speed and quickness.
Think about a machine’s speed and capacity. They are simple to measure and easy to compare. With a snippet of time and a stopwatch, capacity can be measured. There is always an intermediate leader. Midway through every auto race, someone sits atop the leaderboard, but the prize money will be awarded to the one who completes the entire race and finishes first. An unexpected pit stop in a late lap is wasted time – or down time when a breakdown occurs during the busy season. Down time can determine a race’s winner. It can also determine whether a customer is pleased or frustrated with your performance. Speed and capacity without reliability are less than a winning combination.
Most seed tenders can quickly fill planters and seeders to minimize filling and waiting time. Augers and conveyors have capacity to move product quickly and safely. However, the race is a multiyear marathon, not a one season sprint. Time will test a machine’s design and the integrity of its components, measured by down time.
Down time is wasted time. It is most costly when time is of the essence at the height of planting or harvest. Being slow and steady will not win the race. Neither will speed without dependability. Meridian equipment is designed to include the best of both the hare and the tortoise.
Content Marketing and the Power of Reciprocity
Content marketing’s goal is to create and distribute valuable, relevant, and consistent content. Content that triggers a response to drive action. The notion of reciprocity — trying to repay, in kind, what another has provided for us — is a deeply ingrained human behavior. Providing content that the audience finds entertaining, insightful, or informative, means they may feel ‘indebted’ to support the brand in some way.
Content marketing is inherently reciprocal. You put in the work to create and distribute impactful content. The audience shows appreciation through engagement.
Engagement, as we know, leads to action and opens the door to the start of the sales cycle. Audience engagement comes in many forms. There’s those who will advocate and help market your efforts. There’s those who will contribute and participate. And there’s those who will show support in other ways, like contacting you.
Engagement is not a guarantee. Here are some tips to help foster reciprocity through engagement:
- Create content with your audience in mind. It is only natural to develop a biased opinion or get too close to our own brand. Develop a persona for your audience. KNOW your audience. Listen to them. Ask questions. Monitor their online comments and behaviour. Take the audience’s perspective to better understand what information, style and type of content will be appealing.
- Humanize your brand. Find a person within your company who’s relatable and a natural communicator. Feature this person in videos or develop an ongoing column. If no one volunteers to be a spokesperson, no problem. Create a fictional character.
- Tap into basic psychological needs. Try to develop content that plays into basic psychological needs like competence, relatedness/belonging or usefulness. Connecting to the audience’s psychological needs is more likely to trigger a strong response and lead to engagement.
- Monitor and quickly respond to audience/customer engagement. Engagement is a two-way street. Say you posted something on social media and someone comments. Respond to that comment. You received an email referring to a blog or web content, immediately respond. Treat audience engagement similar to a customer transaction — give engagement attention and priority. Engagement from brands breeds further engagement from the audience/customer.
- Focus on quality. Less content is better than bad content. Not every content piece needs to be a masterpiece. However, there should be quality benchmarks. Producing and distributing low-quality content just to fill space is a waste of time and does a disservice to your brand.
Think of the power of reciprocity. What will you get back by distributing low-quality content that is not tailored to your audience? What value are you providing your audience with your content marketing?
Putting Seedsmanship Into Seed Handling Equipment
In my first Insiders column, I introduced our seedsmanship approach to designing equipment for the seed industry. Our concept of “seedsmanship” starts with trust. Don’t get me wrong, we need paperwork, drawings and approvals, but so much of our business is sealed with the trust of a handshake or phone call. For me, this is the very best part of the seed industry.
On the technical side, seedsmanship involves designing seed handling equipment that does not degrade, contaminate or throw away your good seed. Being a design/build contractor and manufacturer lets us “bake it in” and eliminate a middleman. Flow angles are carefully considered as are hopper and valley angles. This gives the equipment operator easy ability to inspect and clean out to prevent any contamination. Drops are minimized both in distance and frequency. Product on product is a great way to absorb and counteract the energy created by falling seed. These features are not specifically considered when engineers design equipment to rapidly move large volumes of commodity grains. Their focus is on capacity.
Solidworks modeling is a computer program we use to simplify the process of designing and building our products as we transform our seedsmanship ideas into your products. This helps us design and manufacture all the components that go into making a properly fitted machine or conveyor. We apply the same principles to our design of the edible food products we work with. Using our practical farm experience along with our basic senses of sight, sound and touch helps guide our direction as we evaluate and test our equipment. “If it sounds like you are making meal, you probably are,” is something I say a lot. Many of our products are manufactured right outside of my office door. We design and build the seedsmanship that goes into our products in our Des Moines, Iowa, facility.
Our value proposition is that our products and solutions are better by design. They fit the realities of our market and save you money on both the products and the installation. While sales are what support our business, we also do a whole lot of advising clients on how to make their situations better. Advice, effort, energy, attitude and passion “don’t cost extra,” but they pay off for us and our customers in the long run as we strive to bring seedsmanship to our products.
Software Solutions Provide Tools to Carve Diamonds Hidden in Rocks
People live, breath and die for their work. Many spend years developing expertise and each in their own way, contribute to the world. Most of us don’t get worldwide recognition or big rewards, it is our passion that drives us to continue doing what we are good at and what we like. For plant breeders, new varieties are their diamonds. They need good tools to carve them from stone.
Have you ever thought of a person’s title and how little it tells about what they know or what is the life experience that led them to this specific point in the present? What if our titles were like a pedigree that the breeder keeps for each line? I guess mine was something like: (school teacher/school principle) art school-> social work BA-> computer programmer-> senior business analyst-> VP of sales and business development.
I was not always VP of sales and business development. I have been working side by side with breeders since 2006. I learned their business, and I learned how to provide them with information management solutions to support their work. My interest in breeding has deepened with time. Like them, I’ve developed my own passion for breeding, although mine was from a software perspective and how to help breeders create food in the form of best varieties in their crop – how to carve diamonds.
The need for software solutions is never-ending. Many processes need coverage: germplasm management, trial workflows, parents and lines, traits, observations, inventory tracking, reports, label analyses and on and on. Breeders work in many levels: with management, with trial officers and sales, with labs, with colleagues, technicians and others. Despite all these interfaces and team work, the hard-core breeding is ultimately done alone. No one tells them what to do. The success of the breeding program is entirely dependent on the breeder and his or her skills to make good decisions.
Seed companies invest millions of dollars in trials with a single purpose: to make decisions. Huge amounts of data are collected but when it is time to make a decision, there is a pain point. If data are not presented the right way to support good decisions, results will not always be the best they could be, and the breeding program may not fulfill its potential. This risks the whole company. In fact, it can take years to realize that the program is not successful. Breeders know that and seek ways to avoid this from happening — a lot of responsibility.
Breeders cannot produce quality results out of thin air. Like in any field these days, technology can support them and assure they stay focused and make the best decisions. A friend and owner of a respected seed company once told me, “Your software provides the tools I supply my team with when I send them to find diamonds hidden in rocks. My varieties are my diamonds. My breeders need good tools to carve them from stone. Not just a pen and a paper.”
A Family’s Momentous Falling Out Propels Company’s Global Growth
I was conversing with my grandfather Geoff Burney about Oliver Manufacturing’s founder and my great, great-grandfather Oliver Steele. I knew that the company was originally established in St. Louis, Missouri, in the 1930s. I also knew that Oliver had repurposed the gravity separator from mining to agricultural use. What I didn’t know – and what surprised me when my grandfather said it – is that Oliver Steele had a momentous falling out with his mother, owner of Sutton and Steele.
She didn’t see the merit of using gravity separation in agriculture and Steele lacked the patience to help her understand. So strong were his convictions that he kept right on developing and selling machines to seed producers after she forbid him from doing so. She ultimately sued him for infringing on her gravity separator patent. For about 10 years Steele continued to sell gravity separators in Colombia and throughout South America where his mother’s patent had no legal jurisdiction. And he continued to see success. At this early stage, Oliver built many of his machines by himself.
When Oliver Manufacturing was a young, emerging company, it relied heavily on international customers. Today the company is not much different in that regard. Through the course of its 88 years, Oliver Manufacturing has built and shipped machines to more than 40 countries all over the globe. We are a company born of foreign trade, and we live and breathe it every single day.
We are proud to have American customers, but we absolutely live in a global market and serve a greater community that transcends U.S. borders. Our attitude toward foreign trade has changed little – if any – from my great, great-grandfather Oliver Steele’s attitude. But America’s attitudes have changed.
In 1970, Oliver Steele was presented the “E” Award by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Maurice H. Stans for the company’s substantial increase in overseas sales. Steele received countless letters from business partners, university professors and seedsmen, all congratulating him on his upstanding character and the company’s hard work. It is difficult to imagine reaching this sort of achievement under current American trade policies. We hope that people take note of how harshly current tariffs can affect U.S. manufacturers and how retaliatory tariffs threaten our customers and their communities.
Why I’m Glad I’ll Never Get Old
At what age are you old? At what point do you become obsolete? I’m 68 years old and a 46-year member of the seed industry. When you’re that long in the tooth, I suppose it’s easy to be perceived as being past your prime and out of touch with the modern world. But I’m not. I have a strategy that keeps me far ahead of people in this industry who are years my junior.
It’s not my 46 years of experience that gives me an advantage. Experience alone decreases relevancy; it doesn’t increase it. What does keep me relevant is combining my 46 years of experiences with my strategy of hanging around with people half my age.
Young people are truth tellers. They’re bold enough to tell you the truth when people your own age won’t. If you don’t think that’s true, just smile at a youngster when you have broccoli stuck in your teeth. They tell you about it right away, when 99 percent of adults wouldn’t save you from that embarrassment.
I find that young people aren’t afraid to speak up when they think I’m wrong. When I need the help most, they give it to me straight. Young people are far less worried about hurting my feelings than they are of me not getting it right.
Young people do some very important things for me. They motivate me to keep my body young by pushing my workouts in the gym. They keep my mind young by pushing me to learn and try new things. And they keep my spirit young by helping me to always maintain a great attitude, so I can positively influence the attitude of one person or an entire room full of people.
But the biggest reason I hang out with young people is that it keeps me relevant. People my age focus on the past, decreasing their relevancy for both today and for the future. Many veterans of this industry say they’re glad to be out of the seed business. I say, I’m glad I’m still in it.
I can’t wait to get together with my young circle of influencers each day and play this 21st century game of agricultural chess. Young people are the primary motivating force in my life. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the “old people” my age — I’m just glad I’m not one of them.
You Don’t Need Flood Insurance If You Live on a Hill
Deciding whether or not to apply seed treatment to cover crop seed is no different from deciding to treat any seed. In every situation, the answer is the same: it depends.
Investing in crop protection products is similar to deciding what insurance to buy. Use critical thinking and be aware of what is needed. Compare the cost of protection to the value of potential losses. Also, consider how pest pressures may be changing. Some growers may simply decide that they need it all and apply as much product as possible just to be safe. This is like buying insurance simply because it is available. If you live on a hill, you don’t need flood insurance.
Others will look at yield data, indicating that seed treatments provide a 3 to 5 percent average yield increase, and decide there is not enough benefit to justify the cost. This approach ignores that averages hide the extremes. Assume seed treatments result in a 3.5 percent yield increases for four consecutive years. Then in the fifth year, crops suffer a 12 percent pest-related yield loss. Taken together, the total five-year yield advantage averages only 0.5 percent. For most farmers and their bankers, the cost of seed treatment to avoid a 12 percent yield loss is a worthwhile expense.
Evaluate local conditions. We know different geographies have different risks. Don’t buy more insurance than you need to protect your yield. If wireworms, for example, are not a problem in your area, you need not apply wireworm protection. Work with your chemical supplier to select those products that are effective against your known risks. When local history indicates an emerging problem, five-year averages may not account for the new threat. Be a good steward of both your resources and the environment when making crop protection decisions. Over-applying chemicals just to be safe is not a sustainable, long-term decision.
So how does this all relate to cover crops? You plant a cover crop because it will bring value by enhancing your soil and generally benefiting the environment. Protect your cover crop investment the same way you protect your investment in any other crop. Be a steward of your resources and protect your seed against the risks present in your local environment
Lessons from My First Visit to China
After traveling nearly 7,000 miles, my plane had finally touched down in Beijing, China. This was my first time in the country and the start of a 10-day adventure. While I was there to speak at two international conferences on biologicals, I also made time to soak up the culture and get outside the conference hotels. For other first-time visitors, here are a few tips.
Take public transportation. Unlike in the United States, public transportation is efficient and well orchestrated. For example, I took the train, which traveled at speeds of 180 miles per hour, to Nanjing to introduce ABM to potential public collaborators at Nanjing Agricultural University. That wasn’t even the express! China has the world’s largest high-speed rail (HSR) system, with more than 11,000 miles of railway connecting 28 of China’s 33 provinces. According to one article I read about the Chinese transportation system, “The Shanghai Maglev line is the first commercial HSR to use ‘magnetic levitation,’ reaching speeds of more than 400 km/h (248 miles per hour).”
Eat with chopsticks. Chinese dining can be a novel experience for Westerners. I did not use a fork the entire time I was there. Much to my surprise, I was complimented on my chopstick skills by Chinese colleagues. “Try to do as the locals do,” was my motto, even if it makes you uncomfortable — by the way I was uncomfortable the entire 10 days I was away.
Use a translation app. Outside of the conferences I participated in, there was little-to-no English spoken, on signs or anywhere I looked. It’s important to plan for this. I used the Google Translate app and found it to be very helpful. Be creative in how you communicate.
Be adventurous. With fascinating sights all around, it’s easy to do. I visit the Summer Palace in Beijing, which is said to be the best-preserved imperial garden in the world. It’s remarkably located, as the temperature on the day I visited was 100 degrees but on the palace grounds it must have been 20 degrees cooler. Keep in mind the public holidays; it’s worth knowing when the public holidays are because that’s when everyone will be there, and the crowds could be burdensome. Also, wear good walking shoes.
Laugh at your mistakes. When you’re in a new place and everything is unfamiliar, you’re going to make mistakes. I mistakenly ate a piece of paper, thinking it was a very thin pancake. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself because, inevitably, you’ll get something confused and make a mistake. By the way, once I got to the actual pancake, it was delicious. And my biggest chopstick challenge, a bowl of noodles in Shanghai, turned out to be the best meal of my trip and the best noodles I’ve ever eaten.
I’m so glad I took the opportunity to go, and I was so glad to get back home. When you travel, embrace the adventure and make yourself uncomfortable.
Are You Making A Hybrid Breeder’s Worst Mistake?
Although plant breeders are experts in evaluating and understanding their crop, the worst mistake many breeders make is selecting parents without considering their impact on the hybrid. Excellent parents often produce unsuccessful hybrids; on the other hand, successful varieties can result from parents that performed poorly.
What you observe in the parents is not what you observe in the hybrids.
Neglecting Phenotypic Data
When planning new hybrids, many breeders filter parents based on phenotypic data to create new hybrid combinations. The problem with that is that it neglects the effect of these parents on hybrids. This mysterious effect is called “combining ability.” Instead of searching parents that “perform well in trait X and in trait Y,” you should search for parents where their hybrids “perform well in trait X and trait Y.” The criteria for selecting parents should be based on how they affect their hybrids, and not on their own performance. For this, we need to use all existing data. Each hybrid previously observed has something to teach us about its corresponding parents.
The tricky part is that parents’ impact on hybrids across a range of traits is not easy to deduce and requires cross referencing to previous generations and past observations. The inability to do this not only means losing data that you already spent time and effort collecting, but more importantly, leads you to making the wrong decisions. This is equivalent to selecting based on a gut-feeling and trial-and-error instead of data-driven, educated decisions.
At any point in your breeding program, you should ask: What have I learned about the parents from my past hybrid observations? What is the combining ability of a given parent for a specific trait? What did each parent contribute and to which phenotypes? If you can’t answer these questions, how will you develop better hybrids in the next season? If you cannot learn from your existing data, you are less likely to make a genetic gain and release market breakthrough varieties.
But don’t despair. Specialized plant breeding software, which is designed to capture the true breeding values of your lines, can be a game changer in the success of your breeding program.
I have enjoyed taking in the stories from the Seed World Insiders since it started, and I’m pleased to be a contributor. It seems like my first obligation is to introduce myself and my company, O’Mara Ag Services now in its 20th year. In the1980s, I landed at Corn States Hybrid Service and worked through their purchase by Monsanto. I then founded this company in 1998. We are a design-build-construction company to the seed industry. We manufacture just about anything in a seed plant, and are agents for such companies as Buhler, Oliver Mfg. and Hamer-Fischbein.
Twenty years ago does seem like yesterday and holy crap, the changes (and opportunities) we’ve seen! Consolidation, technology to optimize processes, safety becoming way more than a second thought, our workforce, the economy, healthcare, prices, tariffs and the world for gosh sakes. The time it now takes between imagining, designing, testing and building things is shorter than ever.
We have been lucky enough to share in the success stories of many seed companies. Some of my favorite things are seeing how much better people’s lives are when they make improvements, squeeze more into less space, get more capacity, dry seed better and faster, experience fewer breakdowns, create less seed damage, throw away less good seed and when they thank me sincerely for providing them good dust control, or help them enjoy more profit.
I have a bunch of really smart folks working here that help make me look smarter. They are real people who put your needs first. We take a “build in the seedsmanship at manufacturing” approach to design plus a “pre-build all we can” approach to construction. This helps overcome what seems to be a diminishing skillset among installers and ultimately rewards our customers with more value and less cost. Being more seed friendly, more user-friendly, more installer-friendly, more engineer-friendly, more service-friendly and more pocketbook friendly are our sincere goals. We count personal responsibility and integrity as some of our basic core values. While it seems like we charge plenty for what we do, what we charge says a great deal about what we deliver. We do deliver extra value.
Like the rest of business owners, and managers and – quite honestly – most men, I’m still 35 in my head, in spite of what the calendar says. I don’t know when to stop. I spend, I borrow, and I’ve learned to live at the edge of my comfort zone. I’ve learned that I have more gears than I thought.
2018 Proved Most Intense Seed Treating Season Ever
Each year after the conclusion of the seed treatment season, the whole team here at KSi sits down for a season in review discussion to highlight what went right and areas that need improvement. There’s no doubt in my mind that 2018 shaped up to be the most intense seed treatment season ever.
We thought the seed treatment season went fairly rapidly in 2017, but it was even more so this year. Facilities usually kick-off their season in mid-April, but this year we had cold temperatures hang around much longer. Then, when it did warm up, it went straight to being hot and dry. The majority of seed treating in North America was done in a four-week window. We started later and ended earlier. Many facilities ran from mid-April to mid-May and then were done — that’s really rare.
Unlike previous years, companies didn’t have a ramping up time where they were able to calibrate their equipment and make any necessary tweaks to it. When the time came to begin treating seed, our call volume was high and there was a lot of urgency.
Regarding call volume, last year’s peak week was exceeded this year six weeks in a row. With 3,000 more calls this year than last, our 2018 call volume mounted to 8,300 calls of which only 115 required a service dispatch.
Why were there so many more calls?
From January to March, we upgraded more systems this year than any year prior. From my perspective, even though we did have 3,000 more calls, the type of calls were very different in nature. They weren’t long, drawn out calls over six hours. They were much less technical. I believe that because our phone support has gotten so quick and responsive, more people are using it just to request verification, and that’s OK. There’s comfort in knowing our team can look on the backend and confirm that everything looks good.
Other observations included an increased need for filtering seed, the impact of company buyouts or mergers, and the importance of being able to immediately support customers.
Sometimes, you might not know there’s a problem until you have a solution for it, and that is what we are seeing with our seed filtration system. It removes split seed and dirty seed. The more people have it, the more they want it. As such, we’ve increased our focus on seed filtration and applying dry product.
Additionally, the mergers and acquisitions from equipment providers had a trickle effect as we were called in to help bring consistency to operational protocols. For two companies, we helped provide equipment training, and shared what’s important when treating seed and best practices.
In February and March, we spent more time in front of customers and operators than before, much of which has to do with the changing of names on storefronts.
Again, this year our commitment to providing good support and service was put to the test. Modern technology allows us to provide support over the phone and by internet. Our average call time this year was 11 minutes and 10 seconds. By taking this approach, we are able to minimize customer downtime, and we will continue working to improve and build on that service and support.
Everyone we’ve talked to has said this year felt much better than last year.
Remember: Even though the season is done, there’s still work to be done. It’s time to properly clean your equipment and do preventative maintenance. If you haven’t already, you too should do a year in review so that when next season comes around you’ll remember what areas need improvement.
Managing Dual-purpose Wheat: A Crop Planted “Out of Season”
Cattle ranchers in the Texas-Oklahoma region intentionally set themselves up for a management challenge when they plant dual-purpose wheat for both grazing and grain. The idea is to plant hard red winter wheat early enough in August for it to grow and provide early-winter forage for grazing. Then the ranchers remove the cattle to allow the wheat to grow and produce a grain crop later in the spring.
In other words, they plant wheat out of season, ahead of the Hessian fly-free date when wheat seed will be a sitting target for the full onslaught of early fall soilborne pests and diseases.
For this to be a profitable proposition, the weather needs to cooperate and the rancher must make correct management decisions. There are good reasons why farmers in this region wait until late September and October to plant wheat. Early planted wheat invites greenbugs, Hessian flies, disease and other pests, which declare open season on seed and the emerging crop. With effective management decisions, dual-purpose wheat can usually beat the odds.
Beating the Odds
Know the source of your seed. Plant breeders at Oklahoma State University and elsewhere are developing varieties adapted for dual-purpose production. These varieties tend to recover faster from grazing and have more abundant tillers for grain production. Planting certified seed reduces the risk of introducing seedborne diseases, which could flourish in warmer August weather.
Seed treatment offers the only available protection for early-planted seed against seedling diseases and pests. Matching the seed treatment to the pest pressure is critical, as there is only one opportunity to apply an effective treatment for early-season insect and disease control and the prevention of seed decay caused by aspergillus and penicillium. A premixed seed treatment product, such as Nufarm’s Sativa IMF Sembolite Max protects seed/seedlings against diseases, including Rhizoctonia, Fusarium and Pythium in addition to controlling aphids, Hessian fly and wireworms. Including a biological booster in the seed treatment can help promote root development and faster plant growth.
Finally, double the planting rate for wheat intended for grazing before it matures for grain production. With careful attention to making the proper management decisions, dual-purpose wheat can be a profitable option in the Texas-Oklahoma region even when it is planted early in the season.