Crop scouts can serve as your grower-customers’ first line of defense against potential yield-robbers in the field. They can also help your growers’ and your business enjoy a profitable season.
A lot rides on the scout’s ability to pinpoint concerns and provide recommendations.
“Scouting and making recommendations is a big responsibility because there’s a lot of money at stake,” says Alan Sparkman, agronomy marketing manager at Tennessee Farmers Cooperative in LaVergne, TN. “There’s the business impact of your recommendations for both the farmer’s and your business. There’s also the environmental impacts of your recommendations.”
How can you use your crop scouts to your best business advantage? Several CropLife 100 retailers from across the U.S. share some key practices that have helped their operations excel at scouting with their grower-customers.
Scouting Tip No. 1: Provide Quality Service
This may seem like a gimme, but there’s more to good scouting than knowing your area’s weed, insect, and disease pests and their economic thresholds verbatim, or why a field of seed failed to germinate.
For example, the initial visit of the season often is in response to a grower’s request, but any necessary followup visits are up to your staff, and good timing is critical.
That includes knowing the current conditions in the field, which will aid your diagnosis, says Dan Armbruster, agronomy salesman at Cooperative Elevators Co., Pigeon, MI. Situated in the state’s “thumb,” the co-op provides 12 agronomy salesmen and two summer interns to scout dry beans, sugar beets, corn, and soybeans.
“Make sure you’re aware of the conditions that are out there,” he says. “If you’re scouting for diseases, make sure that you’ve got favorable conditions for the disease.”
Visiting the field too soon risks missing the disease signals or an inaccurate economic threshold estimate; too late may miss the window for prevention or control.
Take the time to check a field properly, even during the busy spring season. “Take a large sample area that you’re scouting, don’t just walk into the corner of a field and look and say ‘here’s what I got,’” says Armbruster, adding that taking notes — whether by hand on a notepad or in a handheld electronic device — is essential. “Write down what you see, put it in a file and keep it so you can go back later and see, ‘oh yeah, this is why we did this, this is why we didn’t do this.’”
Tip No. 2: You Can’t Know Everything
However, you can get answers.
“If you don’t know, ask questions,” says Sparkman, whose co-op provides scouting for cotton, corn, soybeans, and winter wheat. “Nobody knows everything. If you see something in the field that you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask a ‘dumb’ question about it.
“Many times even experienced scouts bring in a new or different weed and say, ‘I’ve never seen this weed before,” he adds.
Sources for answers include co-workers, printed and online materials, and your state’s land grant university’s laboratory/diagnostics center.
Northwest Ag Supply’s Bob Hanson, an agronomy salesman who’s been scouting for nearly 30 years, carries his insect identification guide when he heads into a grower’s corn or soybean field. “Sometimes you simply have to get the book out to diagnose what’s going on,” he says. When that isn’t enough, he heads back to the office in Hartley, IA, finds the state specialist’s answer on the Internet, and then provides advice.
When a grower has questions you can’t answer, explain that you’ll get that information, and then do it — promptly, says Armbruster. His co-op’s Advanced Agronomy Division utilizes the state’s diagnostics laboratory for the toughest questions, sending samples when needed.
Training is yet another avenue, says Hanson. Northwest Ag Supply’s four scouts try to attend a training session at least once a year.
Tip No. 3: Have A Plan; Be Dependable
And always keep the communication lines open with your grower-customers, even those that didn’t request early-season scouting. A quick chat may reveal a need for assistance mid-season.
That’s all part of making sure you’re on top of what’s going on, says Armbruster.
“Know what’s going on, know what pests are out there, and don’t miss your opportunities. Spraying can be pretty time sensitive, so you definitely have to have a plan,” he says. “In wheat, for example, when you’re spraying head scab, there’s about a week of prime spraying. If you miss that, you’re out, there’s nothing you can do to protect against head scab.” Such mistakes may cost your grower anticipated yield and your dealership potential future revenue.
Your plans should consider how you’ll complete the work. “If you have a lot of acres to scout, and all of the sudden you’re thinking, ‘boy, I can’t get to it all,’ you’d better be calling in some help or something to get it all done,” adds Armbruster. “We work together with our other branches to make sure we get it all done in a timely manner. We tag team it a lot and say, ‘hey, let’s get this done,’ and plan when and where to be to get it done.”
Tip No. 4: Earn Each Grower’s Trust
You can expect to sell more crop protection products due to recommendations — but be sure it’s for the right reasons. Customers can see through someone who’s just “selling” and someone providing what’s best for them.
Sparkman agrees. “There’s a question in every growers’ mind: ‘Is he making the recommendation because I need that product or is he just trying to sell me that product?’” he says.
Providing quality service and recommendations, obtaining and providing solid, prompt answers to questions, having a season-long plan for each field, and being dependable are all part of earning and maintaining your grower-customers’ trust, something Sparkman feels many retailers do well.
“There’s a lot of good people out there,” Sparkman says. “We’ve always kept the farmer’s best interests in mind at our co-op, and I think most people do that.”
Dan Fantazia, sales manager at Stanislaus Farm Supply, Modesto, CA, agrees. “Our scouts are the ones that have the direct contact with our customers,” says Fantazia. “They represent us out in the field.”
“It doesn’t take long to lose a good reputation,” Sparkman warns. “Don’t think you can’t lose a customer who believes he received poor service. Farmers are pretty good at finding someone else they can trust.”