Is Your Business a Change Agent in Agriculture?

In an evolving industry that’s being challenged in many ways, it’s critical that we help farmers embrace change through example.

By Jim Hedges, Vice President of Seed Marketing, WinField United.

Jim Hedges headshot
“Like other consumers, sometimes farmers want to make online purchases at 2 a.m” – Jim Hedges, WinField United

The profession of farming has been around for thousands of years. But I can’t think of many more lines of work — or, perhaps more accurately, many more ways of life — where inertia can be as costly as it is in farming.

As a farmer myself, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard farmers signal their reluctance to change with what I call the seven most expensive words in farming: “It’s the way we’ve always done it.” We all know change can be difficult, especially in times of uncertainty.

So, what about us as business leaders? Are we any more eager to change? To explore new ways of working with farmers that will spur us all to do better and be more future focused? Or are we just preaching to farmers to change without following through ourselves?

Just as change is non-negotiable for farmers, it’s also an imperative for the businesses that serve them. At WinField United, we continue to change our business model to meet farmers where they are on the road to comprehensive change. Do we have all the answers? No. But we work closely with our national network of locally owned retail partners to challenge the status quo and discover, test and refine new solutions for farmers.

Farmers have always had skin in the game. As ag businesses, we should too. Here are a few of the ways WinField United is helping advance the conversation between our company, our retail partners and the farmers they serve to help all of us keep up with and even drive industry change.

1. Introduce profitability into the yield equation

For years, farmers have been urged to do anything humanly possible to attain the highest number of bushels per acre. That may have made sense back in 2012 when corn was selling for $7 a bushel. Not so with today’s commodity prices.

I suggest that as an industry, we stop obsessing over maximizing yield and start emphasizing profitability. Yes, yield is important, but a yield goal isn’t worth much if farmers spend more than the bushels they’re harvesting will return. We must empower farmers to optimize yield, lowering the per-bushel cost of what it takes to raise a crop.

Effective technology that generates quality data can help farmers determine when and where to apply nutrients or crop protection products and at what rates. It can also tell them where and how much seed to plant. The days of doing broadcast applications that cover an entire field are over. Today’s farmers literally cannot afford to apply the same amount of product everywhere. Making targeted, variable-rate applications of seed, nutrients and crop protection products can save farmers time and let them reallocate resources to areas of the field more likely to produce a positive return.

As farmers face more uncertainty than ever before, it’s up to us to bring confidence back to farming. We need to offer new programs and services that help farmers increase their profit potential, not just yield. We should embrace solutions that help mitigate risk when things go wrong and reject those that rob farmers of potential profits when things go right.

This year, we launched the WinField® United Advanced Acre™ Prescription Program, a total-acre solution that provides farmers with customized, season-long agronomic prescriptions through select local WinField United-affiliated retailers. These customized prescriptions are designed to help farmers achieve a predictable and probable return on investment by catering to individual farm needs and agronomic challenges. We are so confident in the program that if a prescription is executed and participating farmers don’t achieve at least 95% of their APH (Actual Production History) of crop yield, they’ll get money back.

2. Exceed farmers’ expectations for online accessibility

Like other consumers, sometimes farmers want to make online purchases at 2 a.m. And when it comes to having access to channels for researching, buying and using agricultural products, farmers don’t want either/or. They want both/and. If businesses don’t offer these types of comprehensive services, they will hamstring their customers and farmers may seek other options.

But building a shopping cart-only experience isn’t enough. Farmers need to be equipped with quality data and insights to help them make profitable purchase and management decisions for their operations. At the end of the day, no matter how slick the interface is, an e-business platform is only as powerful as the data that feeds it and as valuable as the customized recommendations it produces.

At WinField United, we offer our retail partners an omni-channel approach that gives their farmers the flexibility to purchase products and services through brick-and-mortar stores, through their trusted local advisor and digitally. We have more than 80 retailers that have already joined us in our omni-channel efforts, and we’re adding more all the time. Our e-business platform leverages more than 6 million data points that are generated annually from the WinField United Answer Plot® program, empowering farmers to purchase the right products for their operations by delivering actionable insights and ROI-driven recommendations.

3. Realize the profit potential of sustainability

Extreme weather events and a changing climate have made uncertainty a bigger concern for farmers and the preservation of natural resources more important than ever before. But conservation efforts and profitability are still often seen as being at odds by many. Using data and technology, it is our responsibility to challenge this notion and demonstrate how sustainability and business objectives can work hand-in-hand.

Consumers, and by extension food companies, are demanding more sustainably sourced ingredients and increased transparency throughout the supply chain. By establishing clear metrics and a common language for sustainability, we can all work together to drive meaningful and scalable impact. And to help farmers thrive in this era of increased scrutiny, we must offer data and tools that empower them to decrease their environmental impact and tell their stewardship story.

One platform that we are proud to offer at WinField United is the Truterra™ Insights Engine. It’s the first-ever interactive on-farm digital platform that provides profitability, stewardship and cost-share opportunities on a field-by-field basis through insights and tools that identify practices to help improve performance.

By analyzing a variety of on-farm practices using field-level data, the Truterra Insights Engine generates an Insights Score, indicating a basic, moderate, high or advanced level of stewardship on a given field. Farmers can then use the tool to model how adopting new or updating existing on-farm conservation practices can impact their nitrogen use efficiency, sheet and rill erosion, wind erosion, soil quality and net greenhouse gas emissions. As an industry, we’re realizing that being more sustainable pays — literally — through more judicious use of inputs. And through positive change, farmers not only save money; they preserve the integrity of their land, protect their right to farm and succeed in the ever-changing agriculture and food industry.

Which brings us back to that stubborn word, change. As I mentioned, change isn’t an option for farmers, for retailers or for WinField United. It’s an imperative. And those who ignore the inevitability of change do so at their own detriment.

WinField United has established close ties to local communities, so we feel a deep responsibility to support farmers through these challenging times. By offering them access to premier products, tech tools, expertise and services through our extensive locally owned and operated retail network, we help them deal effectively with change — even embrace it. We encourage farmers to focus on what’s ahead so they can make proactive course corrections fuelled by data, digital tools, the agronomic expertise of their local retailers and their own deep knowledge of their operations. That combination of science, data, agronomy and heart is critical to their profitability and their future.

The possibilities are endless for farmers and for our businesses. Let’s all be agents of change so we can look forward with confidence and anticipation.

Jim will speak on “A Framework For Regenerative Agriculture” at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in San Francisco on March 18, 2020. Joel Wipperfurth, Director of E-Business at  WinField United will also speak at the summit on the panel “Channel Disruption: What Will Happen When the Channel Becomes Digitised?” on March 17, 2020.

© 2020 WinField United. Advanced Acre™, Answer Plot® and WinField® are trademarks of WinField United. Truterra™ is a trademark of Land O’Lakes, Inc.