Chances are, you didn't get into farming for the opportunity to lead a team. In fact, you probably never envisioned a future in which your job would require you to access a small club of confidants just to be able to grow a crop.
Yet here you are, inundated with the latest data and technologies, engulfed by new ideas.
Dr. Matt Clover, manager of Research and Alliances at The Mosaic Company and an industry veteran, has several tips that can help farmers manage their teams.
"The age of simple trial and error is certainly over," says Dr. Clover. "Technology on the farm has changed so dramatically, from the equipment used to the hybrids planted, the chemicals purchased, the fertilizer being used, and the way any of these are being put on the soil.
"That has created a need to involve more people in your operation," he continues. "All of a sudden, it's not just talking to the university extension office, it's reaching out to other people, maybe even the companies producing the products, or the salespeople within those companies, to really try and get the information that's needed to make an informed decision.
According to Clover, the advancement of agricultural innovation has resulted in a greater need for farmers to have sound, credible relationships with their retailers. Having assistance in weeding through the amount of information and new products available to institute new or adapted strategies can pay tangible dividends. And working with your retailer in this manner can also help create systematic efficiency in your decision-making process.
"Many retailers have become a one-stop shop," Clover explains. "And growers should remember that while you can buy your seed and all your inputs through them, you can also depend on them for the latest information and research. They've got certified crop advisors [CCAs] on board. If you have questions, you can go in there and ask.
If you've got all of your data from your yield monitor, your seed and rainfall, you can send it back to them, and they can crunch all those numbers for you. They've really become that one-stop shop for the grower."
The cornerstone of any successful partnership is an open line of communication. That's equally true in farming, where goals and opportunities change like the weather. And often because of it.
This situation emphasizes the importance of consistent conversations – the type that builds trust and improves efficiency.
"It's very important that growers are in regular contact with their retailer, to keep them informed of their operational goals and any changes that might affect their strategies," Clover says. "Because in the end, the grower sets what they truly want to achieve. The retailer or the CCA should understand that grower. Not just what his operational goals are, but really know his preferences and what drives him.
"Think about when you call most customer service lines," he advises. "They're trained to tell you what you need to know, or at least what they think you need to know. But in the end, how often do we feel like that company doesn't care about us? They have absolutely nothing invested in us. I don't feel like there's any help there. A partnership shouldn't feel like calling the customer service line."
Consistency of those conversations with partners, paired with history, can create an effective long-term business relationship that proves profitable for both parties.
"I think that local relationship shows you that this person knows me, they know what I want to achieve," Clover adds. "So, as a farmer, I'm going to look at the information that they're giving me. And, number one, I'm going to believe what they're telling me, because I know they want me to be successful. And also, they want my business again next year. If they're telling me the wrong thing and it doesn't work out, that might change that relationship. So I think in the end, you have that personal relationship. The grower feels like the retailer or the CCA is really looking out for their best interest – the grower's best interest. And you're going to have that relationship to go forward in years to come. "
A recent survey of more than 400 North American farmers, conducted by The Mosaic Company, revealed that they place the highest level of trust in independent crop consultants when gathering information that affects soil fertility decisions. When asked to rank the trustworthiness of the sources they use to gather info on soil fertility, farmers ranked independent crop consultants (92 percent) just ahead of their own farming experience (89 percent), then local university extension specialists (85 percent).
Clover indicates one of the ways a local retailer or CCA adds value is by weeding through the wealth of information available on new products and practices, and then providing a list they would actually recommend, along with a third-party point of view.
"When we look at all of the options that we have available to us as growers, in the end, we want to be picking the right combinations of hybrids, traits, genetics and fertilizer," Clover says. "We don't want to be planting the wrong hybrid for a specific location, using the wrong herbicide or insecticide or failing to alter our fertilizer plan based on sound data. Number one, it might just be a waste of money in the end. Number two, maybe it's going to cause irreversible injury that's going to hurt our yields."
"So having somebody who is really vetting that information for you is huge. Knowing each of the products and what differentiates them and what makes them right or wrong for a certain acre is imperative. Having that person who has gone through the products, vetted them all, and can provide the two or three best options for you on that farm, couldn't be more important than it is today."
Jeff Meyer, the general manager at MFA Northwest, considers it a top priority to keep up on trends and new products – not to mention products that have yet to make it to market.
"That helps me since I deal with farmers on a day-to-day basis as far as making fertility recommendations, crop plans, chemical recommendations and helping them devise a plan for the whole year," Meyer explains. "To do that, I try to stay relevant by reading magazines, such as CropLife, or going to extended trainings that MFA puts on," Meyer explains. "I also attend University of Missouri Extension meetings. Anything I can do to try to keep current on new and exciting products coming down the pipeline that can assist farmers is an important part of my job."