Change In Good Times

I am writing this from Las Vegas and the AgGateway Annual Meeting and Conference, and recalling some of what Mike McCarty, president of Helena Chemical Co., talked about during his keynote address yesterday afternoon.

AgGateway, as I mentioned in my column last month, is a consortium of volunteers representing agriculture stakeholders who are working to create standards by which all ag companies can conduct commerce electronically. I’ve gotten involved in some of the committees myself both to learn more about its work, and to contribute whatever perspective I can to the cause.

McCarty was describing the early uncertainty and challenges that came with making the significant investment and commitment of time into building a platform for electronic commerce in advance of the Y2K scare. He talked about staying the course even when the actual cost of the investment blew by the original estimates, and the anxiety it created.

But understanding that an investment now would bring opportunities to serve growers better and be better partners with manufacturers in the future, the top-down commitment never wavered.

“Talk is easy,” he said. “We can sit in meetings and talk about what needs to be done, but we don’t really have that luxury. We need to make the investment and the commitment.”

On a much different scale, it got me to reflecting on our investment of time and resources on the new Website. If you haven’t gotten a chance to visit our site, I welcome you to take it for a spin and provide feedback.

When you go into a project like this, you know it’s going to present its challenges, but you also hope against hope that writing the initial check for the software and hardware and services you need is going to take you well down the road to success. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality.

The new site forced us to consider and reconsider everything about how we service you, the ag retailer, with information. To think about how what’s present on the Web affects what we put on the printed page, and what we share in our weekly enewsletters. We interviewed and surveyed the markets, tested and retested our ideas. You can’t write a check to get this kind of information — you just have to get your hands dirty and figure it out.

Technology is evolving quickly, and we all need to adapt to changing customer needs. I was talking to Jeremy Wilson of MyWay RTK during a break yesterday, and we were marveling at the number of iPads being used in the room vs. laptop computers. We estimated that it was 90-10 in favor of iPads. If the tablet is really the future, how should we be dealing with that trend?

It can be overwhelming, and in these high clover times in agriculture, it’s mighty tempting to just focus on the tasks at hand and keep moving forward. But I would argue that “high clover” times are precisely when you should be thinking about making changes to your business — if the market today hasn’t afforded you enough resources to start thinking about the longer term sustainability of your business, when will it?

As CHS President Carl Casale asserted in my interview with him this summer, making change in good times is extremely difficult. We’ll dive into this issue in January CropLife magazine.

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