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

CHS Primeland
CropLife 100CHS Businesses In Washington, Idaho Combining For Greater Efficiencies
July 27, 2016
As full-service ag retailers, CHS Primeland and CHS Farmers Co-op collectively serve farmers and other customers in 15 counties in Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK’s Manito Transit Joins SmartWay Transport Partnership
July 7, 2016
Manito Transit, a subsidiary of GROWMARK, has been recognized by the U.S. EPA as a registered SmartWay Transport Partner. The Read More
Crop Production Services (CPS)
CropLife 100Agrium To Acquire Cargill’s U.S. Ag Retail Business
July 7, 2016
Agrium Inc. has announced a binding purchase agreement between its Crop Production Services (CPS) and Cargill AgHorizons for the acquisition of Read More
Grower Truck at retailer
CropLife 100ARA Seeks Comment on Ag Driver Sleep Apnea Issue
July 5, 2016
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) are seeking public Read More
Trending Articles
Southeast Farmers Coop - Finished Building
Retail FacilitiesNew Stueve Facilities Offer Ag Retailers Speed, Accuracy
July 9, 2016
Leading the industry in planning and constructing dry fertilizer storage and chemical warehouse solutions, Stueve Construction helped three ag retailers Read More
Heritage Cooperative
Retail FacilitiesKahler Automation Designs State-Of-The-Art Facility For Heritage Cooperative
July 4, 2016
Heritage Cooperative in Marysville, OH, needed an efficient liquid, dry and grain facility to serve the many needs of their Read More
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To Explore IT Solutions
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Eric SfiligojWhat’s Next For Monsanto?
May 31, 2016
For the folks at Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis, MO, it has been an eventful few weeks. Back on May Read More
Soybean Plant closeup
Industry NewsMonsanto Rejects Bayer Bid; Open To More Talks
May 25, 2016
Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, turned down Bayer AG’s $62 billion acquisition bid as “incomplete and financially inadequate” Read More
Latest News
FertilizerGypsum Added To List Of Conservation Practices
July 28, 2016
Crop farmers in a growing number of states may be eligible for financial assistance from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Read More
Management2016 CTIC Cover Crop Survey: 33% Report ROI From Cover …
July 28, 2016
Insight from 2,020 farmers from across the country reflected enthusiasm for cover crops and—for the fourth year in a row—found Read More
Palmer pigweed seedhead in cotton
HerbicidesStudy: Fall Weed Controls Can Make Significant Impact O…
July 28, 2016
An article published in the latest issue of the journal Weed Science shows that adopting harvest-time and post-harvest weed controls Read More
InsecticidesSyngenta: Beware Of Early Stinkbug Threat To Soybeans
July 28, 2016
With the record warm temperatures this past winter and confirmations from early entomologist reports, Syngenta encourages growers to monitor stinkbug Read More
Peanut field
Crop InputsVerdesian Introduces New Inoculant For Peanuts
July 28, 2016
As planning begins for the next growing season, Verdesian Life Sciences adds Primo Power CL, a new liquid inoculant, to Read More
Soil Young Corn
Crop InputsSmithsonian: 5 Things to Know About New GMO Labeling Bi…
July 27, 2016
On July 14, the House of Representatives passed a bill requiring large food companies to label products containing genetically modified Read More
Palmer pigweed in soybean stubble
HerbicidesSpecial Issue Of Weed Science Explores Human Aspects Of…
July 27, 2016
Weeds that evolve resistance to herbicides are a serious threat to global agricultural production. In this Special Issue of Weed Science, Read More
CHS Primeland
CropLife 100CHS Businesses In Washington, Idaho Combining For Great…
July 27, 2016
As full-service ag retailers, CHS Primeland and CHS Farmers Co-op collectively serve farmers and other customers in 15 counties in Read More
Storage Tanks at Nachurs
Crop InputsNACHURS Joins Field to Market
July 27, 2016
NACHURS announced today that it has joined Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, a leading multi-stakeholder initiative working Read More
Illinois Researchers
FertilizerMeasure Of Age In Soil Nitrogen Could Help Precision Ag…
July 26, 2016
What’s good for crops is not always good for the environment. Nitrogen, a key nutrient for plants, can cause problems Read More
Kochia
Crop InputsNufarm Launches New Herbicide for Resistant Kochia
July 25, 2016
Nufarm introduces Scorch herbicide for U.S. farmers and ranchers combating a broad range of troublesome broadleaf weeds. A unique premix Read More
ManagementNew Rabobank Report Calls for Farmer ROI Focus
July 25, 2016
As U.S. row crop farmers brace themselves for a third year of negative margins, Rabobank believes farmers must lower the Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsBloomberg: Syngenta-Chem China Deal on Track for Regula…
July 25, 2016
Syngenta AG, which has agreed to be taken over by China National Chemical Corp. for $43 billion, said talks with Read More
ManagementGROWMARK Meeting Visit, Company Takeover Updates, and R…
July 22, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss their recent speaking engagement at GROWMARK’s eastern event, crop protection company merger rumors, Read More
Crop InputsMonsanto: EU Approves Roundup Ready 2 Xtend Imports
July 22, 2016
Monsanto Co. announced today that the European Commission has granted import approval for Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans. This milestone Read More
Syngenta headquarters in Basel, Switzerland
Crop InputsSyngenta Announces Alfalfa Seed Split Off
July 22, 2016
On September 1, 2016, Syngenta will transfer sales and distribution of alfalfa seed to the NEXGROW branded business that is Read More
Dow DuPont
Crop InputsDuPont, Dow Shareholders Approve Merger
July 21, 2016
DuPont and The Dow Chemical Company announced that, at their respective special meetings of stockholders held today, stockholders of both Read More
ManagementLand O’Lakes Announces SUSTAIN Business Unit, Oth…
July 20, 2016
Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced the formal organization of a new business unit, SUSTAIN, and its leadership. SUSTAIN will focus Read More