Effingham-Clay: Rethinking Everything

Terry Thomas, Effingham-Clay FS

If you’ve given consideration to the idea that the traditional approach to retail management is something that is broken and needs to be fixed, you’re certainly not alone. But if you are among those who have actually done something dramatic about it, you’re in an elite class of managers.

Terry Thomas, area business manager at Effingham-Clay FS in Effingham, IL, along with his management staff, recognized that the existing ag retail business model was not sustainable in the long term. Everywhere he looked, he saw efficiency drain, from fertilizer distribution to personnel management to equipment logistics, and nothing short of an internal business revolution was going to make things better. Management’s lofty goal was to tear down every aspect of the business and rebuild it for the way they plan to do business over the next two to three decades.

Looking For Efficiency

“There were absolutely no sacred cows throughout the process,” says Thomas. They dug into everything and analyzed it, he says, setting new baseline expectations for efficiency across the board. From equipment to people to a nifty new software program, the cooperative managers now feel that the business is set for the long haul and has established a significant competitive advantage in their service area.

Effingham-Clay FS is a seven-county cooperative in south-central Illinois, serving a traditional row crop customer base. Not surprisingly, it was an early adopter of precision agriculture practices, and has much internal experience in working with mapping and georeferenced fields.

Over the past year, Effingham-Clay followed the evolutionary path of centralizing fertilizer storage — in its case, the plan was to make the Sullivan location serve as the main fertilizer hub for the northern three counties of its trade area. “It was becoming increasingly challenging to get the fertilizer materials from suppliers when we needed it, so establishing more storage became a priority,” says Thomas.

This new priority led to a greater discussion about cooperative-wide efficiency, and launched Effingham-Clay into its drive to improve on this front. In the case of fertilizer, there were really divergent priorities — centralizing fertilizer would increase capacity, but at the same time put fertilizer at a greater distance from its most far-flung customers.

Compensating for the distance would require faster mixing and loading at the plant, and improved logistical control from the plant to the field. At the plant, Effingham-Clay worked on increasing blending capacity substantially.

“We replaced three 10-ton blenders with a volumetric blender that can blend 120 tons per hour,” says Thomas. “We wanted to be able to fill a tender in five minutes or less.” Combined with two, 30-ton overhead bins above the loading platform, the Sullivan-based outlet can load 24 tons on a tender in less than three minutes.

Enter Field Equipment

Another aspect of the company’s efficiency analysis related to fertilizer was field equipment. The cooperative studied and earmarked underperforming field equipment to be retired to improve the movement and application of product, “in some cases trading three machines for one,” says Thomas.

The third aspect of fertilizer efficiency, logistics management, is the proverbial “elephant in the room” for retailers. Most fertilizer managers are good men in a storm, ably adjusting to the slings and arrows of the busy season. But few have been able to reinvent the way they handle fertilizer to address the ever-increasing seasonal mayhem.

This season, Thomas and his crew at Effingham-Clay decided to try out a new logistics offering from Software Solutions Integrated (SSI). The cooperative was already using SSI’s Agvance software to manage the agronomy side of their business, so adding an integrated dispatching tool was an easy decision and a key component to its plan to centralize fertilizer blending.

In the field, Agvance Dispatch provides a system that employs a Web-enabled computer program and GPS-equipped cell phones to provide real-time tracking of tender and equipment operators. And because it ties into the business management software, the system can handle the customer transaction from order to application to billing without a hitch.

Effingham-Clay management has declared the first season a success, but it wasn’t as simple as plopping a new software program into place. Dispatch had to be implemented in the context of the company’s overall efficiency analysis, which included some significant changes in the sales and logistics staffing.

The sales staff experienced the most significant changes in the cooperative, as management chose to take a completely new tack moving forward. “We eliminated sales territories and opted instead to work toward matching the personalities of our sales people with the personalities of our growers,” says Thomas. “We did personality profiles on our sales staff. We also eliminated commissions, and our sales goal is structured so that everyone on the team must perform well to succeed.”

Then, implementing the dispatch program itself presented challenges to the sales staff. Salespeople who were used to being able to personally influence the dispatcher now had to trust an automated program to keep the work in order.

“Transparency of information was an important idea in developing and adopting the logistics program,” says Thomas. “The field sales people need to understand how the program works, and how to access the information, and be able to trust that orders will be filled. They also need to realize that the program allows them to better communicate the status of orders with customers.”

When the sales staff sells a plan for a grower and enters the order into Agvance, the fields are set and ready to go. Once it is time for an order to be filled, the salesperson changes the order status to “ready” so that it appears in the dispatch grid. Its location can then be viewed on the map, giving the dispatcher a view of everything that’s needed to set up the day’s work without reentering data.

Inside The System

With the new dispatch system, each applicator carries an Internet-ready phone with a data plan. The dispatcher at the home base is able to communicate wirelessly from computer to cell phone with a complete schedule, up to the minute schedule changes, and turn-by-turn navigation from site to site. The system monitors the driver’s location and activity, allowing the dispatcher to track tenders and applicators and make real-time decisions about how and where to move materials across the service area. The software also collects route data and records it for later analysis, allowing the dispatcher to unearth inefficiencies and improve logistics management.

The program is designed to work on a large flat panel screen, which displays the location of every cellular device, and therefore every machine, in the field. Numerous details are available about what the operator is doing, including direction headed, speed, and work completed so far. The dispatcher can communicate changes in orders or order priority by sending updates through the dispatch module, directly to the operator.

Making individual equipment operators more efficient is key, but being able to see the bigger picture is also a big benefit. The dispatch program is being used to coordinate logistics for the northern three Effingham-Clay counties, so it is possible to make better decisions for the cooperative organization as a whole that a local outlet couldn’t make by itself.

One example Thomas cited this past spring was during the region’s bout with rain. As one particular area near one outlet began to dry out enough to get into the field, the central dispatcher was able to coordinate all the available application equipment across all the outlets to descend upon the area and fill orders before the next weather event.

The dispatch module has been a great tool for the cooperative, but in the grand scheme of things is merely frosting on a pretty substantial business reengineering cake. Thomas has no regrets.

“We needed to change to address the needs of agribusiness today — there was a much larger risk by not doing anything,” says Thomas. “With the price instability of fertilizer and inputs and the need to work better with our customers, we need to be as efficient as possible.”

Leave a Reply

CropLife 100 Stories

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
Jeff Troike Ceres Solutions
CropLife 100Troike Named CEO Of Newly Formed Ceres Solutions Cooperative
January 6, 2017
Jeff Troike has been named President and CEO of the newly formed agribusiness known as Ceres Solutions Cooperative. Ceres Solutions Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK Acquires L.T. & E., Inc.
January 6, 2017
GROWMARK acquired the assets of L.T. & E., Inc., a family owned and operated tank and truck manufacturer and repair Read More
Trending Articles
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
Monsanto sign
Crop InputsMissouri Governor Meets With Bayer CEO To Discuss Monsanto Merger
November 21, 2016
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon visited Bayer AG global headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany, on November 18 to discuss the proposed Bayer-Monsanto Read More
Latest News
Eric SfiligojNo Alternative Facts: Dicamba Cropping System Applicato…
January 23, 2017
During President Donald Trump’s inauguration, much fuss was made over the use of the term “alternative facts” vs. some of Read More
Young Corn Plants
ManagementTimac Agro USA Acquires Michigan Ag Retailer
January 20, 2017
Timac Agro USA, an agriculture supply company specializing in high-efficiency plant and animal nutrition products, has acquired St. Louis,MI-based A&E Ag, Read More
Soybean field
Crop InputsNufarm Teams Up With John Deere Financial
January 19, 2017
Nufarm and John Deere Financial have teamed up to help farmers grow a better tomorrow. This program helps make purchases Read More
Sonny Perdue
LegislationTrump Formally Picks Perdue As Agriculture Secretary
January 19, 2017
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump officially announced Sonny Perdue as his choice for secretary of agriculture on Thursday, selecting a former Read More
ManagementPresident Trump, Wisconsin Review, and a Dow-DuPont Upd…
January 18, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj reflect on a new administration, a recent winter show, and crop protection company mergers. Read More
Industry NewsBayer, MS Technologies Get China Approval For Balance G…
January 18, 2017
MS Technologies and Bayer have received import approval from China for Balance GT soybeans. The new Balance GT Soybean Performance Read More
Werner Baumann, Bayer AG, and Hugh Grant, Monsanto
Industry NewsReport: Monsanto, Bayer CEOs Among Latest to Make Trump…
January 18, 2017
The chief executive officers of German chemical giant Bayer AG and U.S. seed behemoth Monsanto, Werner Baumann and Hugh Grant, Read More
Giant Ragweed
HerbicidesStudy: Focusing On Weed Seedbank Can Help Manage Herbic…
January 18, 2017
Researchers writing in the latest issue of the journal Weed Science provide important insights on the control of herbicide-resistant giant Read More
Management3 Financial Trends To Watch In Agriculture
January 17, 2017
I recently had the opportunity to attend a meeting of credit managers for Midwest ag supply and input companies, in part Read More
Andersons Retail Store
CropLife 100The Andersons To Close All Retail Stores; Shutdown Does…
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
Trimble TMX-2050 In-Cab Display
Eric SfiligojPrecision To Lead Agriculture In 2017?
January 16, 2017
Another new year is upon us! And I’m certain I speak for many in the agricultural world when I say Read More
Corn
Eric SfiligojThe Mood From Madison? In A Holding Pattern
January 16, 2017
Last week, I had the chance to attend the annual Wisconsin AgriBusiness Classic show in Madison, WI. It’s been a Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsAccenture Helps Syngenta Transform Its Global Logistics
January 13, 2017
Syngenta, a leading agriculture company, has collaborated with Accenture to design and implement a new digital logistics operating model across Read More
Fall Creek Seth Harden The Nature Conservancy
StewardshipLocal Farmers’ Watershed Initiative: Continuous Improve…
January 13, 2017
The goal in the Big Pine Watershed Project is to more intentionally do what local farmers and responsible ag retailers Read More
HerbicidesEPA Expands Enlist Duo Herbicide Registration To 34 Sta…
January 13, 2017
The U.S. EPA has expanded the geography for application of Enlist Duo herbicide from 15 to 34 states. This means 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
ManagementDeere-Precision Planting Update and the Ag Secretary Wa…
January 12, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj provide the latest on the court date for John Deere/Precision Planting and the quest Read More
Monsanto sign
Seed/BiotechMonsanto, NRGene Form Agreement For Big Data Genomic An…
January 12, 2017
Monsanto Co. and NRGene have announced that the companies have reached a non-exclusive, multi-year global licensing agreement on NRGene’s genome-analysis Read More