Asmus Farm Supply: An Outlet Of Knowledge

Harlan and Amy Asmus, Asmus Farm Supply
Harlan and Amy Asmus, Asmus Farm Supply

Driving through the countryside of Northern Iowa, an observer is likely to see plenty of corn and soybean fields spread out among numerous gravel-covered roads that could accurately be described as “off the beaten path.” Indeed, just finding the tiny town of Rake could be a challenge for someone without the benefit of a Garmin as a guide.

Yet, amidst all this rolling farmland and wide open countryside, there is an impressive two-story structure made of glass and fine-crafted stonework. In fact, if it wasn’t for the sprawling warehouses connected to the building, this structure could be equally at home in an industrial parkway in suburban Chicago or the hills of Silicon Valley.

This is the headquarters for Asmus Farm Supply, Inc. (AFS), a 52-year-old ag retailer with satellite locations in Estherville and Manly, IA, and Okabena and Fulda, MN, and Willow Lake, SD. A member of the CropLife 100, AFS has annual sales in the $50 million range. These sales come from a range of areas, including crop protection products, plant nutrition, seed and seed treatment.

And judging by appearances, all these products have made a major impact on AFS’ fortunes over the years. Walking into the company’s main entrance, visitors enter a two-story waiting area, complete with cushioned chairs and views of many of AFS’ offices. But probing even deeper into the facility, visitors will find a few things that would be more at home not at your typical ag retailer, but in some big city hotel or Fortune 500 corporate headquarters. These include a 2,500-square-foot training center (complete with a raised stage and all the latest electronic equipment) and a store room of logoed memorabilia from the company’s manufacturer partners.

“Why do we have a training room?” says Co-Owner Amy Asmus when asked. “Because we have to help train our agronomists and partners to keep them all up-to-date on the latest production methods that are out there. Otherwise, who will?”

Of course, for anyone who has known AFS and its founding ideals, this desire to share information along with products is nothing new, says Co-Owner Harlan Asmus. “I would say that the one word that best describes our company is knowledge,” he says. “AFS is not about just selling products. To be successful, your customers have to have the knowledge to use these products correctly and in stewardship so they are not abusing the chemistries we do have.

“So when we are working with growers,” he continues, “we are not just selling them crop protection products, we are partnering in their business to make their use of these products a success.” It is for this reason, adds Harlan, that all of the company’s agronomists are required to obtain their Certified Crop Adviser status when hired.

Back To The Beginning

In essence, this information sharing approach to its business goes all the way back to AFS’ founding in 1960, says Harlan. “My father, Harvey, started the company when he was 32 years old,” he says. “Originally, he was only a representative for Monsanto and some of its herbicides and he conducted most of his business right out of his car.”

Within a few years, however, Harvey had built up enough of a reputation among existing grower-customers that a few local cooperatives began calling him to supply them with crop protection products as well. This allowed Harvey to build AFS’ first facility in Rake (which still stands today on the company’s grounds, serving as a storage shed for maintenance equipment).

According to Harlan, part of the reason for Harvey’s early success was his desire to move the crop protection business forward with grower-customers in ways beyond just the product sale. “He had a willingness to work with customers on an individual basis that didn’t always exist with other ag retailers at the time,” he says. “The customers were his friends, and he wanted to teach them as much as he could about how to best use the products he was selling them.”

As for Harlan himself, he returned to help his father run AFS once he completed college in 1987. Of course, one of his first experiences was dealing with a crisis of sorts involving an American Cyanamid soybean herbicide called Scepter (imazaquin).

“There were high hopes for Scepter when it came out, but it ended up hurting the corn crop the following years after its initial application,” says Harlan. “I got to see first-hand what it meant to our customers to have my dad sell them a product that didn’t work as advertised.”

Luckily, adds Harlan, American Cyanamid owned up to Scepter’s problems, taking full responsibility for its failure. “The company had an open checkbook and took care of all of the growers who were hurt by using Scepter, no questions asked,” he says.

With the Scepter event behind them, Harvey and Harlan continued to work together building AFS’ business throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, with Harlan gradually taking on more responsibility as the years rolled by. “My father kind of retired from the business in 2002 as his health declined,” says Harlan. “He passed away a few years later, in 2006.”

In between these years, Amy (who had married Harlan in 1987) joined AFS in 2001. “At first, I would come in on a part-time basis to help out with the company’s order-taking and product tracking,” she says. “Of course, this was before computers were widely used in the marketplace, so all of this information had to be entered and tracked by hand.”

Within a year, however, Amy found a software program from Software Solutions Inc. that allowed her to computerize all of AFS’ records. This allowed her the opportunity to become fully integrated into all aspects of the company’s business operations, especially once Harvey had stepped aside. “A lot of these early years for me were spent helping set up and run our satellite offices,” says Amy.

It was at this time in the mid-2000s, she says, that both Harlan and she realized that for AFS to keep growing, it needed to have an expanded headquarters location. So AFS began construction on its current facility. The warehouse was completed first, in 2010, with the main office building being finished in 2011.

Customer Types

“It was very important for us to have a large, modern warehouse to store all of our crop protection products and have someplace where our grower-customers and partners could come to learn whatever they needed to,” says Amy of the company’s new facility. “And you have to have this in today’s world when you consider what kinds of customers you are sometimes dealing with.”

As Amy explains, although AFS counts “several thousand” growers among its customer base, all are not created equally. And she isn’t dividing them up based upon their acreage size, either.

“In my mind, you can divide our grower-customers into three distinct categories based upon their attitudes and ways of conducting their businesses,” she says. “The first are what I call progressive farmers. These are willing to listen to what you have to say and do it because it will make their operations better in the long run.” By her rough estimate, progressive farmers make up approximately 15% to 20% of AFS’ total customer base.

Then there are the “middle-of-the-road” customers. “These growers will listen to what we have to tell them and understand that it’s probably what’s best for their operations to increase yields, but they aren’t willing to jump into that area just yet,” says Amy. “This group wants the progressive farmers to make the first moves and then will follow a few years down the line.” By her estimate, this customer group is the largest, between 50% and 55%.

Finally, there are the 20% to 25% of customers that could be called “deniers,” she says. “These are the guys, usually 60-plus years old, who deny that there is even a problem for them to address or that the problem will ever touch them directly,” says Amy. “All they are looking to do is get by for a few more years before they can sell their farms or retire. This group doesn’t want to do anything extra, even if it means keeping a small problem from becoming bigger in the near future.”

Ultimately, says Amy, it is this group of grower-customers that has helped make one of the agricultural market’s emerging issues — the spread of herbicide-resistant weeds — worse. By rough estimates, herbicide-resistant weeds exist in virtually every state of the country, with new types of resistant weed appearing almost on a monthly basis.

According to Harlan, this is the kind of problem that AFS has tried to address throughout its 52-year history. “There are a lot of people out there that only know the glyphosate era of weed control,” he says. “This group has absolutely no experience with some of the older chemistries that are starting to come back into use. But here at AFS, we’ve worked with these chemistries for decades because of our partnering with every major crop protection manufacturer and can share this information with our customers, on how these products perform best. That’s an advantage we have over almost anyone else in the ag industry.”

Still, not everyone in agriculture sees it that way. According to Harlan and Amy, they’ve noticed a disturbing trend among a few crop protection manufacturers recently when it comes to their perception of ag retail’s ability to address the weed resistance problem. “There are some companies out there that don’t seem to believe that the ag retailers are smart enough to deal with this weed resistance issue on their own,” says Harlan. “Instead, they are looking to put company-owned staff out there and do the ag retailer’s job for them.”

In a few cases, crop protection manufacturer partners of AFS have asked the company for a list of its top grower-customers, “to help call on them as your partner,” says Harlan. “We’ve resisted this request. I look at it this way — if a manufacturer representative makes a recommendation or sells a certain product to one of my customers and it doesn’t work, it’s not the representative that’s going to get yelled at. It’s us.”

In his mind, AFS is better suited to deal with all grower-customer problems, including weed resistance. “We represent all the major crop protection manufacturers and will make the best recommendations to our customers based upon what they need, regardless of which company makes that product,” says Harlan. “But an individual company representative has a vested interest in selling the customer one of his company’s products. That’s one of the main reasons ag retailers are important to this market.”

Future Trends

In the coming years, Harlan believes this ability to balance product need and knowledge will only grow in importance. “I can see a day when there are only four major crop protection manufacturers left and retailer consolidation isn’t going away, either,” he says. “Given these facts, there will definitely be a need for companies such as AFS that provides both products and good information on how to properly use them to growers.”

He also foresees a time when how this information is transferred from teacher and student will change as well. “The way our company and others will communicate with our customers will be very technology-based in the not-too-distant future,” says Harlan. “A lot of it will be done via smartphones and other smart devices. Given that, our business will have to become something that works 24/7. Daily or weekly communication won’t be good enough anymore.”

Amy agrees with Harlan, adding that this is one of the big reasons AFS has continued to embrace its knowledge heritage with its new facility and training center. “How do you continue to get good industry information to not only the new people coming into agriculture, but the people who are trying to keep up with all the changes that are happening at the speed of light?” she asks. “That’s what we are here for.”

Topics:

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Asmus Farm Supply: An Outlet Of Knowledge

  1. I was on the other side of the "grower call" program. I was a sales rep for Stauffer Chem, ICI, and Zeneca for 32 years. My last years we were pointed toward grower calls. I too took a stand, I retired… Grower calls with the dealer were fine, but I hated to go behind my best customers back.

CropLife 100 Stories

CropLife 100Pinnacle Agriculture Agrees To Credit Agreement Amendment
February 9, 2017
Pinnacle Operating Corp. has entered into an amendment (the “Amendment”) to its First Lien Credit Agreement that will provide for, Read More
Greystone Construction built the tension membrane fertilizer storage building (left) and steel seed treater building (right)
CropLife 100Pinnacle Agriculture Reaches Agreement With Major Shareholders And Creditors
January 31, 2017
Pinnacle Operating Corp. has reached agreement with the majority of the holders of its First-Lien Term Loan and Second-Priority Notes Read More
Andersons Retail Store
CropLife 100The Andersons To Close All Retail Stores; Shutdown Doesn’t Affect Plant Nutrient Group
January 16, 2017
In a stunning announcement to the Toledo area, The Andersons Inc. said on Sunday that it would close its two Read More
Olson Ag Enterprise
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Acquires Nebraska Seed Retailer
January 13, 2017
Wilbur-Ellis’ Agribusiness, a recognized leader in precision agriculture technology and the distribution and marketing of plant protection, seed and nutritional Read More
Trending Articles
Farmer and aptop
Matt Hopkins10 Warning Signs Your Website Is Grossly Outdated
February 8, 2017
Your Website is often a visitor’s first impression of your ag retail business. A positive first impression can set the Read More
AgriSync
Matt Hopkins17 Agriculture Apps That Will Help You Farm Smarter In 2017
December 9, 2016
Ag professionals are working smarter, not harder, than ever before. Smart farming technologies have enabled them to reduce costs, maximize Read More
R4023 Sprayer, John Deere
CropLife 100Ag Retail Equipment Report: The Green Party Continues
December 7, 2016
In the annual race for sales in the ag retail equipment marketplace, the color schemes for participants are a little Read More
Mike Stern
Precision AgClimate Corp. CEO Talks Retailer Support For Digital Ag
December 1, 2016
CropLife Magazine’s sister publication, AgriBusiness Global, recently sat down with Mike Stern, CEO of The Climate Corp., following the Monsanto subsidiary’s Read More
Precision AgTrimble Debuts End-to-End FMIS Platform
November 28, 2016
October’s inaugural PrecisionAg Vision Conference left this author with many thoughts and things to ponder in the coming months. Probably Read More
CHS Primeland
CropLife 100The 2016 CropLife 100 Report: Reviewing The Many Bulls And Bears Impacting This Year’s Marketplace
November 28, 2016
For virtually all of 2016, the nation was wholly focused on the big Presidential election. Some folks aligned themselves with Read More
Latest News
Roy Blunt
LegislationARA Recognizes Blunt, Heitkamp For Legislative Efforts …
February 17, 2017
Agricultural industry continues to face federal regulatory challenges. Thankfully, agriculture’s allies in the U.S. Senate stepped forward. The Agricultural Retailers Read More
LegislationThe Fertilizer Institute Commends Senate On Confirmatio…
February 17, 2017
The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) President Chris Jahn issued the following statement on the Senate confirmation of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Read More
Trump, Senate, Cabinet
LegislationBREAKING: Trump EPA Nominee Scott Pruitt Confirmed by S…
February 17, 2017
Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma’s attorney general spent years suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its efforts to regulate various Read More
ManagementFebruary Road Trip Edition
February 17, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss their recent visits to Indiana and Kentucky. Read More
Heritage Cooperative Finished Building Aerial
ManagementHeritage Cooperative, Agland Co-op Approve Merger
February 17, 2017
Agland Co-op and Heritage Cooperative stockholders have both approved the merger agreement between Agland Co-op and Heritage Cooperative. Now begins Read More
LegislationARA Fly-In: Ag Retail Descends on Capitol Hill, Lawmake…
February 15, 2017
More than 100 agricultural retailers, distributors and suppliers headed to Capitol Hill Tuesday morning for the Agribusiness Congressional Fly-in, according to a Read More
Untreated soybean seed Heartland Coop
Seed/BiotechMarrone Bio Innovations, Groundwork BioAg Bio-stacked M…
February 13, 2017
Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. and Groundwork BioAg, Ltd have announced successful seed treatment field trials of the world’s first all-biological Read More
NL5000 With G5 Technology
SpreadersNew Leader Introduces NL5000 Dry Nutrient Applicator Wi…
February 13, 2017
New Leader, a division of Highway Equipment Company (HECO), has announced the next generation of spreading technology with the NL5000 Read More
Fertilizer Storage
Crop InputsThe State Of The Fertilizer Industry
February 9, 2017
He’s all hat, no horse.” It’s a humorous way of describing a person who tells a good story, but is Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Agriculture Agrees To Credit Agreement Amendme…
February 9, 2017
Pinnacle Operating Corp. has entered into an amendment (the “Amendment”) to its First Lien Credit Agreement that will provide for, Read More
ManagementUpdates on Upcoming Trips, Dow-DuPont, and the Des Moin…
February 9, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj review a few future travels, along with the latest on big company mergers and Read More
Championship Tractor Pull
EquipmentNational Farm Machinery Show Highlighted By Championshi…
February 9, 2017
The scream of monster engines, the stench of burning rubber and the ground-pounding vibrations of the country’s largest, loudest and Read More
Farmer and aptop
Matt Hopkins10 Warning Signs Your Website Is Grossly Outdated
February 8, 2017
Your Website is often a visitor’s first impression of your ag retail business. A positive first impression can set the Read More
Corn Field
InsecticidesArysta LifeScience, DuPont Collaborate On Rynaxpyr Prem…
February 8, 2017
Arysta LifeScience recently announced that it has entered into a global collaboration with DuPont Crop Protection for the development of Read More
Industry NewsThe Fertilizer Institute Board Elects New Chairman, Vic…
February 8, 2017
The Fertilizer Institute’s (TFI) Board of Directors has elected Chuck Magro, President and CEO of Agrium, and Tony Will, President Read More
Sonny Perdue
ManagementARA Joins More Than 600 Organizations In Support Of Per…
February 8, 2017
The Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) recently joined with more than 600 agricultural groups on a letter of support for Governor Read More
World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit Panel 2016
Crop InputsWorld Agri-Tech Innovation Summit To Be Held In San Fra…
February 8, 2017
“Breakthrough Applications and Business Models for Sustainable Farming” is the theme of the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit to be held Read More
Cedar Country Cooperative
Eric SfiligojConsolidation In Agriculture: More Middle Movement
February 7, 2017
If you’ve regularly followed my column, you know I’m something of a movie junkie. Like many, one of my favorite Read More