Shake Off Your Tech Skepticism

03:14PM Dec 10, 2019
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For the past 30 years, ag retailers have been the conduit for farmers adopting new technologies such as GPS soil sam-pling, variable-rate application, biotech crops and more. But new seeds of change are being planted, and there’s no better time to embrace emerging technologies relevant in your business. 

“By staying on top of these developments and being able to offer information and seasoned advice on specific chal-lenges, ag retailers become an even more important partner to their farmer-customers,” says Agricultural Retailers Association president and CEO Daren Coppock. 

Here are five insights from leaders in ag retail. 

1. Apply a customer-centric focus. “When Monsanto announced RoundUp Ready, some in retail were fighting the technology as it was displacing other inputs they were selling,” says Troy Johnson, vice president of innovation at Wilbur-Ellis. “But that was only thinking short-term of how a technology affected their business versus considering the long-term view of how it affects their customers’ business. One has got to think big and think long-term.”

Johnson draws on his 30 years in the ag industry in sharing sometimes you can’t think big enough. In his current role at Wilbur-Ellis, he is helping source technologies and form partnerships with companies offering new products and services. 

Johnson says, “Retailers should be engaged in placing emerging technology with the growers who want to be on the front end. These are the growers who won’t fire you if it doesn’t fully deliver.” 

2. Think of tech as advancements, not disruptors. “In 20 years, we will not recognize parts of this business because there will be big advancements in every area,” says Scott Addy, vice president of branded technology and biological solutions at Wilbur-Ellis. “To remain the trusted adviser to farmers and stay in that position, we are going to have to change and adopt new technologies and bring those to the farmers.” 

One example he gives is in apple production where 40% of the market is organic. “We had to be a leader in that space with crop nutrition, pest control and all the tools growers needed,” he says. 
Today, Wilbur-Ellis has a business group dedicated to organic production and supplies. 

3. Form partnerships that play to your strengths. In 2019, Agtegra had a unique opportunity. It was the only farmer cooperative that could offer its grower-customers the option to grow Calyxt soybeans, a high-oleic variety, which is the first gene-edited soybean in the U.S.

“To have a partner with Agtegra with their boots on the ground and having great relationships with their customers to offer our soybeans—it’s a great relationship,” says Tom Stoddard with Calyxt.  

4. The advantage is what you learn. Three years ago, Wilbur-Ellis formed Cavallo Ventures, an early-stage venture capital group. 

“We want to participate in these early companies because at the very least we are going to learn a lot,” Johnson says. “The real challenge is there are so many shiny objects.”

5. Get comfortable with data-driven decisions. Retailers have helped farmers apply layers of data in analyzing their crop production. But in 2019, another layer has been added—agronomic performance tied to costs of the inputs or services sold. 

Bayer has started to unveil details of its outcome-based pricing. 

Partnering with Growers Edge, Growmark announced a yield guarantee for its AgValidity program. “We are trying to make it as easy of a decision as possible for farmers to use new technologies and try new products,” says Lance Rup-pert, director of agronomy marketing and technology, Growmark.

With limited availability in 2020, WinField United is launching the data-driven Advanced Acre Prescription Program. 

 “If a farmer uses a combination of prescribed products, coupled with tissue sampling and our ag tech capabilities, WinField United will back the prescription up to 95% of the grower’s actual production history. If they don’t achieve that, then a portion of the farmer’s program fees will be refunded,” says Leah Anderson, vice president of crop protection marketing for WinField United.