Accelerating Sunflower Breeding with Genotyping by Sequencing
Advancing breeding programs for sunflowers has been challenging because the genome is very large (slightly larger than the human genome) with little historical genotyping information available. Since 2010, Eurofins BioDiagnostics has worked together with the National Sunflower Association (NSA) and the USDA to create a high-density marker panel applicable for modern breeding programs. To this end, the vast majority of USDA sunflower lines were genotyped and an Illumina 10K sunflower bead array was developed. Based on this genotyping platform sunflower breeders were able to advance their breeding programs using marker assisted selection, QTL mapping and association mapping projects.
Unfortunately, the number of markers and the cost of the genotyping using the arrays were prohibitive and many breeders were unable to use the technology in their day to day breeding selections. More recently, the power of sequencing has made genotyping much more affordable. Now genotyping by sequencing with medium size panels of 500 to 1000 SNPs has been used extensively by breeders in other crops like corn and soybean for genomic selection and acceleration of breeding programs.
To fill this gap in sunflower, Eurofins BioDiagnostics partnered with Applied Biosciences (Thermo Fisher) to develop AgriSeqTM, a genotyping by sequencing (GBS) panel for sunflower which can help sunflower breeders with their QTL mapping, marker assisted backcrossing and genomic selection projects. With access to a large database with genotypes of public materials, we were able to select the most informative markers that cover the whole sunflower genome to provide breeders with the advanced technology and the most informative SNP panels. Hopefully, this will help accelerate sunflower breeding programs and reverse the decline of sunflower production acreage in the United States.
This panel is available to any public or private breeder in any size program anywhere in the world. This SNP panel is a diverse panel which means the information will work on most sunflower varieties.
Hiring New Employees In An Upside-down World
The process of hiring a new employee has turned upside-down compared to what it was in the past. Being able to expect to find a new hire with the right skills and experience turns out to have been a luxury. Now we look for someone willing to work and show up on time as minimum standards. Bring me willing workers and I will teach them the job. Economists say, “the job market continues to be strong.” Strong for whom? It is not so darn strong for those of us who need help and want to expand our business.
When I needed money, I scooped snow. I mowed yards, delivered newspapers and washed dishes. Somehow, I found out I liked money and what it could bring. When I was 15, I begged Gary, the local grocery store’s assistant manager to hire me, which he couldn’t do until I turned 16 (he did hire me, by the way). I must have gotten a work ethic from my hardworking, heavy equipment mechanic dad. We tore down houses to build our garage. We poured our own concrete. We worked on our own cars and I got my ass whipped when I needed it (and surely deserved it). Maybe I wanted to show my dad that I could work hard or please him. Dad is not around today and was never really able to see if I would become successful. I think I am still trying to please him today. That is how work and a job are supposed to work from my perspective.
Everything is changing. Interviewing a candidate has changed. Years ago, we would ask someone about experience and job skills. We would want to know about their work record. Now it seems I just want to know IF they will work. Asking about job expectations used to focus on extended career goals. An older applicant with a family to support may still have long-term aspirations, but for many younger applicants “future aspirations” is a foreign concept. It may only be a slight exaggeration that they are more interested in when they will get their first promotion.
The building trades industry presents vivid evidence of the lack of workers willing to do the job. Home builders are lagging on new construction as they can’t find enough worker bees. Outdoor jobs like home building and seed plant building don’t always happen in the most comfortable environments. Hot. Cold. No air conditioning. Long days. Tiring work. Anything the weather can bring. This used to be the definition of “work” but not anymore.
We still need good help and new employees, but maybe we have to adjust how we go after them. Traditional incentives may not be as appealing to today’s job seekers. A good benefit program is a necessity, not a perk. The quality of life that a position offers may be as important as the monies it provides. Be creative with your perks. Talk to your neighbors, your suppliers and your distributors to see how they attract and retain their employees.
There are qualified people who can do what you need done – you just need to attract them to the position in a way that is meaningful to them. It is an upside-down world compared to what it used to be.
How We Integrate Safety Culture Into Our Entire Community
Our top priority is zero safety incidents for all our colleagues. We want everyone in the Nufarm family to go home safely every day. We implement risk identification processes and reduction measures and strive to engrain the safety-first mentality into our everyday culture. We have seen the results of this in the metrics we track. An example is our plant in Chicago Heights, Illinois, which has gone more than six years without a lost time injury.
We encourage everyone within the Nufarm family to be safety conscious. We challenge them to look for ways that they can take safety home with them. During our fire safety awareness month we encouraged our employees and colleagues to have a fire evacuation plan for their workplace as well as for their home. When you go home to your loved ones, do you have a safety plan for them in the event of a fire? If they complete and submit a safety plan they receive a free carbon monoxide detector for their homes. We strive to have everyone take this safety narrative to our entire Nufarm family to encourage safety first in their home life as well as in their work lives. Safety is engrained into our culture.
At the beginning of every business meeting, we have a Sustainability Share for safety. We present brief tips to help everyone be aware of how their surroundings are changing from day to day and throughout the year whether at work, while traveling, making a sales call or at home. We have safety goals that are more than top down, they are in our culture throughout our entire organization.
In our manufacturing facilities we go beyond the standard OSHA procedures – these are certainly critical and crucially important – but they are present everywhere. We go one step farther in our safety culture. For example, at the beginning of every shift, our manufacturing team starts their day with a Tool Box meeting to discuss specific safety risks and how they plan to ensure each other’s well-being during the day. It makes sense to take this level of safety-mindedness beyond manufacturing roles and into all our functional roles including sales, marketing, customer service and finance.
For our field sales people we require driver safety/defensive driving courses. We also stress other activities that are not always thought of as safety – ergonomics while sitting at your desk, the risks of a sedentary lifestyle of not getting up and moving around during the day, exercise at home and sleeping habits to promote a healthy lifestyle. We want Nufarm to be successful not just today, but for many years to come. We believe an integral part of this is to work safely and sustainably with our stakeholders and our environment as we continue to build on our foundation as a socially responsibly business.
5% Makes all the Difference
My wife, Jen, and I love to play Scrabble. We played quite a bit before we were married and I was sure that I was the superior player. She thought she was, so I started keeping track of our game results. More than 15 years later, we’ve logged 1,798 game scores! I’ve learned two things by tracking our individual game results. 1) Jen is better than me at Scrabble by five percent and 2) being five percent worse over 1,798 games means I am way behind!
Here are a couple stats. Over 1,798 games, Jen has a running average of 323.3 points per game and mine is 306.7. Being behind by 5.4 percent doesn’t sound like much, but in context of total points behind, however, it’s huge. I trail by 16.6 points per game over 1,798 games, which puts me 29,846.8 points in the hole. At my current average of 306.7 points per game, I’d have to shut Jen out in 98 consecutive games just to get back to even. I’m going to have to get a lot better and live a long time to catch her!
Think about this in business terms. What business processes does your company repeat hundreds or thousands of times each year? What if you could improve them by just five percent? How much could that help your business over in the long-term?
Let’s look at the reduction of overtime for one hourly employee with a wage of $15 per hour and 500 hours of overtime per year. Those 500 overtime hours have an annual of $11,250. If you eliminate just five percent of those hours, the annual savings is $562.50. That might not sound like much, but take that over 15 years (like our Scrabble game log) and that total savings are $8,437.50. Make the five percent improvement to more than just one employee’s time and the benefit really starts to add up.
It’s common to think about big ways to transform a company activity or process, but major strides can be made just by improving your most frequent activities by small amounts. I encourage you to look at your company’s most common activities and brainstorm ways to improve them by just five percent. Track the improvement as frequently as possible and report the improvements to the team. Making small improvements to your most common activities can be the long-term “game changer” your company is missing!
Practical Solutions to Seed Treatment Difficulties
You know things need attention when there is enough material to split into two separate articles. Seed enhancement is a relatively tricky process to start. Seed enhancement could include: film coating, encrustation, pelleting, build up coating and even practices like priming. Consider the rapid growth and development in these practices and it makes sense there are some inherent growing pains. Previously I wrote about issues involving wet treatment, dust off and clean out of equipment. This article will handle some additional topics that go hand in hand with those just mentioned.
Clumps in the Bag: For soybeans, these issues can be mistaken for peanut brittle (especially around Xmas). Clumps typically consist of seed and treatment components. They can be caused by several issues including: over dosing of components or components applied outside of the recipe ratio; curing of components like polymers prematurely where proper mixing time is not achieved; poor “action” in the treater allowing seed and components to group and stick; chip off of buildup not properly managed; frozen incoming seed; and surely several other reasons! If you have tried everything and still have issues, consider a simple scalping screen immediately downstream from your treater.
Frozen Seed: I mention this only because it is so interesting and commonly overlooked. If you produce seed in cold regions (think soybeans in North Dakota) and pre-treatment storage is outdoors, there will be some issues when your seed mass is below freezing temps. Consider the process of seed treatment, one of the most important factors is that the moisture (water) used to enhance the application has to be removed through drying which is evaporation. Essentially one of the time components of the process is the fact you are pushing water through a change of state to accomplish this: from liquid to gas. Now consider seed coming into the process at 15 degrees F. The first thing that happens is your treatment freezes as it is applied to the seed. Now, the necessary removal of water must transfer through 2 changes of state: solid to liquid to gas, to be removed. Do you suppose this will slow the process? You bet. If it doesn’t, you will have a sizeable downstream issue. This issue has to be addressed either by bringing seed up in temperature, or by including additional drying functionality in your treatment process.
Build Up in Equipment: The root cause for clean out of any of our equipment in seed conditioning is of course cross contamination of a product. What makes it especially tricky with seed enhancement is the build up of treatment components. Polymers required to stick and hold actives to the seed can exacerbate the situation and create quite a mess. Also additive powders that facilitate drying and plantability will cause additional issues. Because of the type and use of treatment components, every piece of mechanical application equipment on the market that will need some type of cleanout process…period (so of course look for features that minimize this). That said, what to do about it? Good aspiration prior to and during treatment can help immensely. Products that liberate from the seed (think leftover bees wings in corn) pick up treatment components and because of their light nature, end up adhered to parts of the treater that doesn’t get scoured by seed. Create good practices around scheduled cleanup that keep the equipment running efficiently. Inevitably the PETKUS approach includes a hot water, high pressure wash down in our entirely enclosed system. This solves the problem entirely and as a bonus keeps the operator from dangerous chemical exposure.
The Influence of the Phytobiome on Biological Performance
An organism’s environment is another important element scientists developing biologicals must consider.
Furthermore, because microbes have evolved with plants, the two interact in many different ways. For instance, microbes influence the phytobiome and may change the microbial makeup surrounding plant roots and leaf surfaces. Microbes can also directly signal the plant to change its gene expression, or how the plant recovers from environmental stress.
These are systems involving many genes, and because biologicals can activate or influence these large systems, they introduce another set of variables into agriculture.
We already know the biggest influence on agricultural performance is environment. Now we’re adding another biological system, which further changes that environment. Those of us creating biological products try to control environmental variability. We can’t control the weather, but we really must ensure when we put a product out there it’s not introducing more variability. We work hard to shrink that variability while still adding value in terms of yield and quality.
Fortunately, our industry is changing: it is getting better for biological seed treatments. For example, companies like ABM are providing application guidance—these products can be tank-mixed, but the time they are efficacious has limits. Also, we’re seeing more innovations in the field for biologicals application. For instance, many seed treaters now have a separate port for biological products.
We now have the science to support the benefits of biological products, end-users are experiencing enhanced performance first-hand, and companies are able to provide consistent product quality. Biologicals can do an enormous amount of good, and this sector is growing rapidly as the agriculture industry recognizes that value.
The Hidden Costs of Buying Cheap
Have you ever tried to save a buck and it ended up costing you $10? We’re located a few miles out of town in rural Kansas where there is no access to fiber cable. We beam our internet connection from town and, in an effort to save a few dollars, decided to purchase radios that were cheaper than what was recommended. Shortly after installation, we realized that the radios we purchased were cheaper for a reason and we realized that we will end up spending more money on support / troubleshooting, than if we would have just purchased the more expensive, recommended radios.
Have you had a similar experience? There’s a reason why things cost more: quality! I’ve been thinking about this as it relates to our business. I know we don’t have the cheapest prices when it comes to our equipment and systems, but there’s a reason for that. We use quality materials and choose components that are durable and that will maximize the longevity of our products.
It’s the difference between buying something made for industrial use compared to residential or consumer use. Think of the printer that’s in your home compared to the one in the office. Both print, but one performs far better than the other and will undoubtedly last longer — and there’s a cost to that.
We know it’s important to be good stewards of money and there are times when it’s OK to sacrifice on quality: the lamp next to your desk, the coffee maker, paperback versus hardback books and the list can go on and on.
We continue to look for ways to lower the cost of our products for customers, but it always comes back to quality, longevity and performance. As an example, early on, we used consumer network switches as part of our automation solution. They were less expensive than industrial switches and checked all the boxes of what we needed them to do. We soon realized that the support and product life cycle behind these consumer switches was not what we needed to be able to provide the best solutions to our customers. The models constantly change and what was originally installed would be obsolete in two years. We made the decision to go back with the industrial switches — they’re dependable and we know that model will be available 10 years from now.
We are forward thinking and consider how the decisions we make impact our customers and how we serve customer. It’s not just about what we purchase, but what we choose not to purchase or use. Sometimes KSi may not offer a product, feature or part because we don’t think we can properly service it, or we think it might be obsolete in two years.
If you go cheap on your seed treatment equipment, what are the consequences to your business? You’re risking the very thing that makes you money. It’s easy to want to go cheap on seed treatment equipment because it’s only used a few months each year. But during those few months, it must perform as close to perfect as possible nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you’re trying to save a dollar when it comes to your seed treatment business, it could cost you $10.
Remember: There’s a time and place to save money, but something that’s vital to the success of your business is not the place to do that.
The Biologicals Paradox
The most remarkable aspect about biological products is that they are living organisms, and the most challenging aspect about biological products is that they are living organisms.
Handling a living organism, such as a microbe, when treating seed is much different from handling a chemical seed treatment product. Of the many factors driving biological product development, how the organism is formulated and subsequently handled are among the most significant.
In an ideal world, users would like to mix biologicals with the chemicals that are designed to kill them and have everything turn out okay. Yet, it’s not necessarily the active ingredients in chemical products that kill the microbes and wreak the most havoc, but the inactive ones, such as detergents. That soap you wash your hands with? You do that to kill germs (microbes) on your hands. A major formulation target is advanced formulations that can protect biologicals from the harsh actives as well as inactives.
Beyond survival in the jug or tank, biologicals can be subjected to massive shearing forces in seed treaters. Mechanical equipment that works well to disperse chemicals and provide for even coverage can really damage microbial cell walls and membranes. The good news is that many seed treaters now have secondary tanks and ports specifically for the application of biologicals such that they do not experience the atomizers or spinning discs that are used for other inputs.
These are just two factors ABM and other developers need to consider. I believe today’s biological products must fit into current and future seed treatment systems and agricultural practices—they must be fully integrated into both conventional and organic agriculture. The good news is that as an industry we are getting closer every day to overcoming the weaknesses of the biological organism in our pursuit of their potential for exceptional agricultural benefit.
Direct Draw vs Slurry Treating
Just as each farm is unique, so too are the retailers and seed companies that service them. I’m often asked if keg direct draw treating is better than slurry treating, but the answer isn’t cut and dry. It depends on a number of factors, including operator knowledge and expertise, resources and flexibility, or farmer choice, in services and products offered.
When slurry treating, products can be received in any type of package or container. This method requires the operator to mix different products together into a slurry tank. The slurry is then agitated to achieve product homogenization and plumbed to the treater inlet. At that point, the entire liquid product is metered and monitored from a pumping station. Here, the recipe is entered in the control panel as a total application — you’re using the entire mix.
Unlike slurry treating, products for direct draw are received in a keg and are directly withdrawn from and mixed together at the treater through a static mixer, or some continuous mixing device. The individual liquid ingredients all come into contact with each other at the point of application. In this process, the product application rate is entered in the control panel and defined on a per stand (product) basis.
Factors to consider include operator expertise, safety and stewardship, flexibility in product offering and capital costs.
Expertise/Knowledge. For slurry treating, operators must be able to calculate the proper ratios and pumping volumes for the seed to be treated. Additionally, products must be properly mixed and agitated. Direct draw treating takes human error out of the equation, as users don’t need to worry about mixing liquids on site or product compatibility.
Safety and Stewardship. Furthermore, direct draw treating employs a closed-loop system with a direct draw coupler from the keg and does not expose operators to the chemicals or ingredients being applied to the seed. If there is leftover product, it can be drawn back into the container and recirculated or agitated without having to worry about cross contamination. However, with slurry treating, operators must wear proper safety protection as they are handling and pouring ingredients. Additionally, the shelf life of a slurry is shorter than the shelf life of a single product or pre-mix.
Flexibility in Product Offering. This is where slurry treating excels. Operators have the flexibility to add in products that may not be offered in a keg, or container that allows direct draw. In general, with direct draw treating, there’s less flexibility in product offering. Also, with slurry treating micro additives can be included in the treatment; whereas, if the rates are too low to pump in by itself, direct draw treating does not allow for the inclusion of such ingredients.
Capital Costs. When compared to slurry treating, setting up your system for direct draw treating requires more capital upfront to get the proper number of pumping stations needed. A pumping station is needed for each product included in the mix.
While there is a general shift in the industry toward direct draw treating, that doesn’t make it the right decision for everyone. Evaluate your operation and your needs; there are pros and cons of both, and both can work for your operation.
Remember: In most situations, some combination of direct draw and slurry building is appropriate and desired. Some products, such as water, are good to have on their own pump stand without mixing into a slurry, as it provides the flexibility of simply adjusting the rate of water to compensate for seed size or coverage on the fly.
The Design and Engineering Stage: A Blueprint for Success
You’ve worked your way through the conceptualization stage on your journey to a new or updated seed site. The next step to turn your vision into reality is the design and engineering stage.
During this stage, a plan is created based on your vision and needs. Designers and engineers work with you to take your ideas to an even better place — or product. Over the years, these professionals have learned what works at a seed site and what doesn’t. They understand there are certain things that must be put in place, whether it’s for a current footprint or an expansion down the road. They’re also good at posing the question, “What if?”
From your vision, a designer draws a plan that illustrates what the site will look like — where the conveyors and seed treater will be, the seed house location, the flow and layout of the yard, where the office and buildings will be, the location of the weigh scale, and how customers will load product.
At this time, you may also consider:
- The number of customers moving through your site on a daily, monthly or yearly basis
- The products you’ll be handling
- How many units of seed the facility will handle on a daily, monthly or yearly basis
- The treater and hopper sizes needed
- How much you can weigh at a time
- Whether you’ll be using bulk, bags or pro boxes for seed handling
Once the design process is complete and a plan is created, the designer will present this work to an engineer, who will determine the plan’s feasibility, provide all the required dimensions and demonstrate what the site will look like when it’s completed. However, an engineer does more than put a stamp of approval on the design: a blueprint is drawn up, which illustrates how all the elements of the site fit together and where each piece will be. Designers and engineers ensure you’re getting what you need, not just what you want.
The details of the blueprint are important. For example, it will show you if your treater or weigh scale are too close to a bulk bin, or your conveyor incline is running too steep. If you don’t put things in the right place, you’ll lose capacity. As soon as you start losing capacity, the number of people you put through your site in a day decreases, which takes profits out of your business.
You must be able to manage customers in a timely and efficient manner while providing quality, not damaged, seed. In fact, one of your biggest limiting factors is the number of customers you can put through your facility in a day. For example, there are only so many planting days before that part of the growing season is over. You want to take full advantage of that window to reach your business goals.
Additionally, it’s important to consider your five- or 10-year site plans at this stage, as the site you are building must be able to facilitate expansion.
This process provides you with the best finished seed site for functionality and future expansion. This stage will determine if your site meets your vision and will work for your business. The right design, with the engineering to back it up, ensures a solid foundation for your business now and as it grows.
These stages — conceptualization and design and engineering — in the process of building or updating a seed site are very important for the success of the finished product, for the site’s longevity and for happy customers. In the next column, we’ll explore the third chapter of this process: the manufacturing stage.
A Regulated Pathogen Challenges Global Tomato Seed Shipments
Potato Spindle Tuber Viroid (PSTVd) is one of the top challenges to international tomato seed shipments due to strict phytosanitary regulations by importing countries. It reduces both the yield and marketable quality of the fruit. Seed is believed to be the source of PSTVd outbreaks in tomato and therefore, many countries impose rigid phytosanitary regulation on this pathogen. In addition to PSTVd, several other pospiviroids (CEVd, CLVd, MPVd, PCFVd, TASVD, TCDVd and TPMVd) cause disease in tomato. These are all regulated in part or in total by some countries.
Methods to precisely and quickly detect pospiviroids directly from seed would be of great help to the seed industry. However, there are challenges in detecting these pathogens from seeds. Unlike viruses, viroids do not encode any proteins. Therefore, classical ELISA methods that are regularly used to detect viruses are not useful for finding viroids. Molecular methods are the best choice for quick detection. Several molecular methods are published in the literature to detect pospiviroids from tomato. Most of the publicly available methods are useful to detect viroids from infected tissues but not from seeds. Only a few methods are currently available in the public domain to detect pospiviroids from seeds, but they are either not validated for large scale testing or are not user friendly. A phytosanitary requirement from one country requires the testing of 20,000 seeds subdivided into 50 – 400 seed subsamples. This is a very expensive and time-consuming procedure.
Scientists from the global seed industry, including Eurofins BioDiagnostics Inc., are collectively working to develop a detection method that not only meets phytosanitary requirements but also serves as an industry standard for internal quality assurance testing. The new method will be subjected to rigorous validation before it’s accepted for routine testing. Until the new protocol is available, several companies currently use their own internally developed protocols for pospiviroid testing. Eurofins BioDiagnostics Inc. has optimized a protocol for efficiently detecting pospiviroids from both tomato and pepper seeds. These molecular methods do not reveal any information on the viability and virulence of the pathogens.
Seed lots with non-viable or non-pathogenic strains could be detected as positive and thus give a false positive result. To overcome this issue, scientists from both academia and industry are doing extensive research to develop a bioassay and/or pathogenicity assay to determine the viability and virulence of these un-culturable pathogens.
Some See the Big Picture, Others See the Pieces
I’m a visual guy, I like drawings or pictures to understand things.
I’m from Iowa, but maybe shoulda been from the Show Me state?
My career started on a drawing board, if you know me, I do a lot of my talking with a sketch pad, I can interpret your sketches, I have a large whiteboard in my office, I usually have to give sketches to my engineering team to better explain myself, I can win at Pictionary, getting the picture? This heavily influences how I approach things, how I understand things, and how I present things. I marvel and enjoy working with folks who see things differently, such as when I give every detail of what “I feel” needs to be presented only to have my client say “let’s go out to the plant”, so they can see it.
People see and understand things differently, some want the whole picture, some only the puzzle pieces, some want you to show them, some want you to tell them. It helps if you can do both, even more if you can do it well.
There is some research that suggests that more than 90 percent of people are either auditory (tell me) or visual (show me) learners, and a smaller group are tactile (touch). Long lectures may frustrate visual people and tactile folks might get all fidgety without something to get their hands on.
Sometimes a conversation lends clues. If a client says “show me what you’ve got”, it seems like I had better get out the drawings and pictures, graphs and charts to give the big picture. Those visual folks could be more likely to retain if there is some imagery to go with the message. If they say “tell me”, perhaps I should go into the details first, the descriptions, the manuals, the details, or perhaps just the details they are interested in.
None of this is to say that I’m going to tell you what you want, rather my job is to ask, to listen, to look, to show, to advise, to give you choices, to help you decide what you want. A balance that lets people look and listen seems to get the best results. If there are samples of things they can touch, we might be hitting on all cylinders.
Successful Seed Reps Use the Couch
Ever hear of couch selling? It’s the only method top field sellers use to sell 21st century farmers. Couch selling is a metaphor I coined years ago to describe the act of putting farmers’ brains into a so-called relaxed, reclined position before getting down to business. The term is somewhat analogous to the way psychologists used couches over the years to ultimately quiet patients’ minds. The goal was to free them from extraneous thoughts that were keeping them from achieving their goals in life. Top sellers know they need to do the same with farmers. Farmers go through periods every year with their minds out of balance, focusing on problems instead of solutions. Sellers know that as long as farmers are focused on the negatives, no one wins, including the farmer himself. What farmers need most in today’s volatile marketplace is someone to help them stay positive amid oppressive levels of negativity. After all, more than 1,000 variables negatively impact their crops’ performance in some way every year and subsistence level market prices threaten their ability to survive. As a result, input costs put them in the mood to save money, not spend money. So, the first thing couch sellers know they need to do to get a sale is clear the farmer’s mind of all thoughts blocking positive thinking. They need to get the farmer out of that mental rut they often fall into. A rut is a coffin with the ends kicked out, and farmers can’t get out of that rut on their own. They need the help of a couch seller. The greatest asset today’s farmers could have access to, is a sales rep who understands the need for couch selling. They know that farmers are in a constant battle to stay positive and focused on the future. These seed psychologists know how to work with a wide variety of growers and diagnose a wide variety of problems. Some problems are short-term and can be solved quickly, while others are chronic and more difficult to eradicate. But there is a solution to every problem. Put your customers’ brains on the selling couch and see what happens. Once they’ve freed their minds of negative thoughts, you will have given them the hope they desperately need. They will thank you for it and so will their families. And who knows, they may even buy something in return.
How to Easily Benefit From and Gain Expertise
It’s not rocket science, but it’s close. Applying today’s seed treatment technologies requires sophisticated equipment and know-how. Additionally, competition in seed processing is fierce, the products are expensive, and customers are demanding more value added to the seed with consistent quality year-round.
Seed treatment equipment operators must be up on the latest seed enhancement technologies and understand how and when to apply a number of products, such as pesticides, fungicides, nutrients, biologicals, inoculants, functional coatings and colorants. Also, budgets are shrinking, and staff turnover is increasing, so expertise is seldom found in-house.
How do you learn the skills necessary to unlock your equipment’s potential and optimize seed treatment technologies? There is a way.
Now, independent consultants can bring training and expertise to the companies that require them, anywhere in the world. These specialists can train staff, troubleshoot application issues, test products, customize recipes, methods and equipment, and provide impartial advice on all aspects of seed treating and equipment, no matter the seed treatment brand or product.
In fact, an independent consultant can examine the whole seed treatment process at your operation. Whether you’re new to seed enhancement technologies, have identified areas to improve in your existing processes, or want to build expertise in-house, a consultant is the most economical and efficient way to go about it.
These professionals are always testing new products, technologies and equipment, and they know what’s in the pipeline; they’re at the forefront of science—and they can help you get there too. You will get more value out of your equipment investment as well as gain a competitive edge in the industry.
I believe if you’re only competing in the marketplace on price and product you won’t last because today’s consumers want value. Improving your processes or technologies can produce that value.
Providing a consulting service to our customers was a natural step for NoroGard. Our in-house expert, who specializes in the application of all types and brands of seed treatment technologies, methods and applied products for coating and pelletizing has been working in all areas of seed treatment for 25 years, and travels around the world helping seed processors.
After all, there’s no point selling top-of-the-line seed treating equipment if operators can’t use it to its full potential.
An independent consultant can ensure your equipment serves you, and not the other way around.
What Is the True Cost of Developing Breeding Software?
Once you recognize the need to implement new plant breeding software, the next crucial decision is to decide whether to build a proprietary program or to buy off-the-shelf software. Large organizations with big budgets and skilled IT teams frequently think they can afford the cost and can do a better job than an outside vendor to meet their breeders’ unique management requirements.
But it’s not that easy. The do-it-yourself companies soon discover that building software solutions includes long-term risks and places a potentially huge burden on other ongoing activities. The period from starting development to releasing the first version usually takes much more time and money than was initially expected.
Then, when the program is ready, the company may find its needs have changed and its breeding program has new requirements. In other words, the software has become obsolete before it is launched. This starts a never-ending development snowball that is perpetually rolling downhill as software developers try to stay ahead of breeders’ continually changing needs.
Some breeders think that their processes are so unique that no software could possibly fulfill their needs. However, good breeding software implements extensive configurations supporting all modern processes employed in commercial seeds companies. No company would consider developing their own ERP or CRM systems, so why breeding software?
We have watched very large companies with very deep pockets spend millions of dollars to develop a proprietary breeding software program and then abandon it because it did not perform as expected. Eventually the investment of time and money begins to feel heavy. Financial managers may question if such a ‘journey’ is the right way to go. After so much resources have already invested, they wonder if they have passed the point of no return?! Or worse, is this a failed ambition and who’s fault is?
Implementing a solution developed by a third-party vendor provides a totally different experience. Users receive a mature software package that covers most or all of the breeders’ needs from day one. Technology is commonly upgraded by the software developer. Improvements, maintenance, support, security and backups are all provided by the vendor. Additional development cost will be for updates to a proven working solution.
Breeding activities are complicated no matter the crop. Translating those complex processes into software requires unique expertise in both software and breeding, which only a professional provider can have. After all, the core business of breeding companies is breeding and not software development.
Connect. Conversate. Create Results
Last December, we did something entirely unexpected: we refrained from exhibiting at the largest U.S. seed industry convention. This was neither a mistake, nor a missed opportunity. Instead, we took those dollars that we would have spent on exhibiting and we visited our customers in their own backyards.
We met people in their office, drank coffee together and talked. We walked through their conditioning towers and got some dust on our shoes. We got to know them. As they showed us their facility, we listened to their stories, heard about their successes and dreamed with them about their ambitions. These conversations were intentional and meaningful.
What are we doing this year? You can expect us to be back in Chicago but with an entirely different presence, and one I’m super excited about. We are leaving our equipment at home and building out a set with small town Colorado hospitality in mind, complete with grass and refreshments. We want to start new conversations and continue building on those that we initiated last year. We want people to come into our exhibit, relax for a bit and take a break from the go-go that is the Chicago meeting, and feel like they’re in our backyard.
Have you ever noticed how coffee-pot and back-yard conversations often times lead to the best ideas. The idea of grabbing coffee with someone is so simple but the possibilities are endless. The science behind it: these are areas where people are comfortable. They’re relaxed and don’t have their guard up. They are willingly sharing information in an honest and transparent way. Connecting this way leads to creative conversations. It’s these conversations from which new insights come and from which new innovations come.
If you’re in Chicago for ASTA’s annual Seed Expo, we hope you’ll come connect with us “in our backyard.” We care about your business. We want to know what you like and what you don’t, and through these conversations, we can help you achieve improved results.
Five Tips for Event Networking (or, What I Learned in Manila)
I recently had the honour of attending the 25th annual Asia and Pacific Seed Association (APSA) Asian Seed Congress in Manila, Philippines. APSA is the world’s largest regional association, with membership from over 50 countries. Networking is a central function at events like APSA’s World Congress. Like all skills, practice makes perfect. Attending meetings and events is great practice for honing networking skills. If you are like me and trying to practice your networking skills, here are a couple of tips which recently helped me:
- Quality over quantity. ‘Working a room’ by trying to introduce yourself to as many people as possible may work for those truly memorable and charismatic people. For most people, engaging in a few longer conversations is the best approach.
- Target smaller groups. Networking is about relationships and making a personal connection. Instead of trying to break into a large group, join a table with only one or two people.
- Focus on being the best you. An introvert trying to be an extrovert is going to seem forced or awkward. Sometimes just listening intently leaves a lasting impression.
- Do your research. Study the conference’s attendee list. Identify who you want to connect with — and why. Do your research on those people. LinkedIn is a fantastic tool for putting a face to a name and/or learning about a contact’s background. The more you know, the easier it will be to start up a conversation with them.
- Prepare a few ‘go-to’ questions. Have a couple of questions in mind that you could ask anyone. For example, something as simple as ‘where are you from,’ or ‘how was your trip in?’ If you really want to get remembered, try asking something unexpected but easily answered. Something like, ‘What did you have for breakfast today?’ It’s not a standard question so will often grab attention and create a reaction.
My golden rule with networking is to find a commonality. Where may interests overlay? Delegates at the APSA Congress may have spoken different languages and came from many different countries but were all there for similar reasons – to advance the seed industry. Don’t forgot to follow up after a networking event. A simple email or note can go a long way. You’ve made a contact, now the work begins to develop a relationship.
Throw Out the Seed Treatment Paper Trail
In the world where we have an endless array of gadgets and gizmos at our fingertips, making communication and data analysis easier than ever, paper is a sign of inefficiency.
Think about your paper trail as it relates to treating seed. A customer orders a batch of seed to be treated, which is typically initiated through accounting procedures. That order then must be transferred to the seed treatment facility/operator. Once complete, it must be passed back to accounting for billing. Then there’s the inventory component. That’s a lot of paper — and probably a lot of manual and/or double-entry of data. Without thinking about it, you might not consider how much time is spent tracking, reporting and sharing information as it relates to a seed treatment order.
That’s where application programming interface (API) comes in. This is the next step in seed treatment and seed delivery systems, and it’s a huge gain when it comes to organizational efficiency. Basically, it’s the ability to take a data set and automatically plug it in across multiple departments. The best part: the equipment does the work.
Here’s how it works: seed treatment orders are pushed out to treatment facilities. Simultaneously, recipes are pushed down to treatment facilities from an inhouse team or third party, allowing operators to select the proper recipe that corresponds with an order, without having to manually enter the data. During the actual treatment process, inventory of liquids and seed is automatically tracked, and alerts can be set for thresholds indicating low levels. Finally, when the order is complete, that inventory tracking data is automatically pushed back to the billing software for invoicing, noting the amounts of seed delivered and liquid delivered.
It’s all about improving efficiency and accuracy!
Remember: Data alone is not valuable, it’s what you do with the data that is valuable. This next-step with seed treatment systems will ensure that the data doesn’t get lost on paper and that it makes it into the hands of decision-makers.
Good Business Practices Beat Great Marketing Every Time
Competition in the seed business is fierce. The market share battles are creating more urgency for companies to strike now. This pressure can lead to overextending resources, making unsustainable business decisions or setting unrealistic expectations.
Here are two business practices to create long-term business opportunities without putting your company at risk.
Over Promise and Over Deliver
If you under promise in today’s competitive environment, you are leaving the door open for a competitor to offer a more attractive solution. Business decisions are being made at a faster pace every year. You don’t often have the luxury of having two to three “trial” years to earn new business. You need to make sure each perspective client or customer knows exactly what your business can do for them. Do not to sell yourself short.
You absolutely cannot under deliver on the expectations you create. The moment you don’t meet those expectations the client or customer could be lost. Setting expectations you can’t deliver on will quickly erode your reputation and negatively impact your business. Doing what you say you can do will build trust and give your clients and customers confidence in your performance and lead to future opportunities.
Fix Any Mistakes Quickly and Fairly
There is no such thing as perfect seed or perfect performance, but your clients or customers can still have a perfect experience. The moment something doesn’t go well is when your business integrity and reputation are tested. Treating your clients and customers fairly and resolving issues quickly proves you stand behind your company’s and/or products’ performance. When faced with performance issues, take immediate ownership and offer solutions.
Also, you cannot wait to alert your client or customer. Almost every issue has a resolution, but if you wait too long to communicate the problem, options may no longer be available. Quickly assess the situation, communicate the problem, take ownership and offer an immediate resolution. You’ll demonstrate your integrity and built trust with your client or customer.
The old adage to “Treat others as you want to be treated.” really does apply to business. I believe it’s even more important now than ever. The fight for every acre, every bag and every dollar is intense. Getting too caught up in the moment could lead to decisions that produce short-term results but damage your reputation in the future.