Beyond Better Blending

Blender control system

For years, blending software has played a vital role in getting out the best fertilizer mixes for customers. However, technology has expanded to control a host of other vital functions at the plant and beyond.

“Although there are a few basic blending software programs still out there, the business has truly evolved past that point,” says Greg Duhachek, vice president and sales manager at AgWorks, Inc. “With today’s fast-paced customer base, retailers have a critical need to know up-to-the-minute inventory positions, grower intentions, and customer account balances to make the critical decisions that spell out the success or failure of their companies.”

Such a pace can take a toll on retailers, says Dave Junge, president of Junge Controls. “With all the new chemistries, fungicides, and foliar feeding, it’s almost as though we’re spraying from weeks before the crop is planted until just weeks before the crop is harvested,” he says. “It’s not necessarily fatigue from 18-hour days but from caring for that grower’s crop for months and months on end.”

The good news is that developments in computer software and automation can help.

Key Capabilities

Steve Swift, vice president of marketing/ag chemicals and fertilizer at Kahler Automation, Inc., says customers look to his firm for computerization of load out equipment, especially at hub facilities. “At the mega plants we’re automating everything from the rail received to reclaim equipment to the actual blend towers where the sales take place,” he describes. The huge facilities have become two-man operations, with one loader operator and one employee loading trucks.

Automated equipment can now build a semi-load of product in three minutes, says Swift, with buyers simply coming to a facility and punching in their code and the amount ordered for each trailer compartment. “It’s very fast and accurate,” says Swift.

The systems offer computerized file handling and inventory control. Once a day the owners could see what’s available in the plant, thanks to daily e-mail reports — sent in some cases to a Blackberry, if desired. (One newer feature is Kahler’s ability to access and trouble-shoot a customer’s problem over the Internet.)

More dealers are seeing the need for attention to detail, so they’re buying precision systems that robotically run plant processes, says Junge. Junge’s business is brisk, with customers ordering a lot of new systems, upgrading old systems, or adding more equipment. He’s found perhaps the top 15% of dealers see this kind of precision as mandatory. “More people care about accountability, traceability, and stewardship,” he says. “That’s what brings them to a high level of automation and efficiency.”

Real-Time Inventories, Integration

AGRIS Inc.‘s Tim Roberts, senior product manager for the AgroGuide agronomy management system, says recent volatile fertilizer pricing has really highlighted the need for inventory position management. “And with more companies going to a central distribution model to feed application to multiple locations, the issue is growing,” he says. In fact, Duhachek calls real-time inventories the “holy grail” of the software business.

Roberts believes the faster a dealer can get application information back to the office to be invoiced, the more up-to-date inventory is. AGRIS has taken a couple of approaches to this problem. One is a scale automation product that feeds actual weights to the back office system in near real-time. Second, the company has enhanced its automated integrations to blending equipment. And third, AGRIS has created a connection to field logistic software that allows the user to send the work order directly to the applicator.

“Once an applicator completes the job, he adds the field conditions to the order and closes it,” explains Roberts. “The work order feeds directly back into the back office system wirelessly, reducing the inventory and creating the invoice. Both inventory and accounts receivable are as up-to-date as the latest information received from the applicator.”

Duhachek says AgWorks is also currently working on bridging the “final frontier” of real-time business management, linking order information to the applicator machine in near real-time. “AgWorks will be releasing the ability to link orders directly to Raven field computers later this year,” he says. The company has offered the Smart Gun — a mobile applicator solution — for years, but is now very excited to be able to share order and machine position information wirelessly.

Mobile access to data is one of the issues addressed in Software Solutions Integrated LLC‘s new Agvance 5.0 software upgrade. Mobile Sales, one of the product’s new modules, provides fast, easy-to-use mobile access to customer data from multiple platforms such as smart phones, tablet computers, laptops, or desktop workstations. The module joins Agvance CRM and Agvance PinPoint in helping retailers gather all kinds of customer data and activity.

Duhachek believes integration of components is probably the biggest requirement retailers are seeking in their plant management system “pieces.” He says many software vendors strive to be a “one stop shop,” but the reality is most retailers use multiple software vendors in running their businesses. He notes that AgWorks provides integration to several other software packages as well as hardware vendors to offer dealers a high level of flexibility.

Roberts agrees that applications don’t have to be from the same vendor, but retailers should be able to expect they will work together “with less effort than the manual process. Attention to workflow is imperative.” Bottom line: Integrated applications that reduce the amount of paper needed to process transactions reduce the risk of lost revenue.

Junge’s automation products interface with a host of software, such as AgWorks, Agris, and Software Solutions. “We deal with about 15 agronomy/accounting packages, and every year pick up about two or three more software companies we weren’t aware of before,” he explains.

Hot Topics

AGRIS’ Roberts says opinions are divided on Internet and mobile applications. “Applications that are portable and sync to a common database offer the advantage of functionality when Internet access is not available, but Internet solutions offer the advantage of real-time updates to information like inventory, pricing, etc.,” he explains.

Junge has experienced both sides of this debate firsthand. For instance, he’s excited that Internet capabilities have improved so much over the past few years, to where the technology can now be a valuable tool in plant management. “Just two years ago, we would not have put live data on the Internet and allow some unattended loadout systems to use it. At 3 a.m., when a trucker would show up and the Internet was down, he’d have to call and get someone out of bed to get a rig loaded,” he says. “We’d have to batch transfer our data. The Internet has almost become good enough now.” Junge believes cell phone technology, with the latest 3G and 4G advances, could be an even better solution, a way “to get data out there and stay off people’s servers.” In fact, private servers have posed problems at times because many retailers do system back-ups in the middle of the night, thinking the entire plant was shut down. The glitch: Load-out trucks can still arrive in the wee hours, only to find a system inaccessible due to back-ups. To solve that issue, Junge has created its own unique web site, separate from retailers’ databases for access at any time.

Also ahead is the use of RFID (Radio Frequency Idetification) on semi trucks, says Swift. He says railroads and ports are currently using the technology, and it would be ideal for tracking fertilizer buyer activity. Not only would the tag enable logging a truck when it comes on a secure site, but also when it leaves. All information could be accessed via the Internet.

Swift says customers are asking about RFID, and he estimates it would take about $10,000-$20,000 to get a retailer set up with the hardware and software needed.

In another technology development, Marti Kirsch, director of marketing at E-Markets, notes that some retailers are considering “the cloud” for off-site back-up of data. The requests come particularly in the wake of recent Midwest flooding that washed away firms’ papers, files, and computers.

Kirsch also has customers calling about moving their entire business systems to the cloud. They’ve managed their own IT functions for years and simply don’t want to deal with it anymore. “They say it’s expensive to maintain as well as hire staff with the skills to handle databases, operating systems, and everything else,” explains Kirsch. “They’re willing to trust this new technology.”

In January, E-Markets announced the latest version of its integrated 16-module agribusiness management system: CINCH Agri-Suite Version 11. Kirsch says users can choose to implement at their main facility and administer CINCH or deploy it in the cloud and leave the administration to E-Markets.

Leave a Reply

Software Stories

SoftwareBlending Software To Address Every Need Of Ag Retail
March 3, 2014
This year’s packages cover more facets of dealer businesses than ever. Read More
SoftwareNew Crop Scouting App Now Available For Ag Retailers
September 3, 2013
AgraScout is a data management and communications tool used by retailers, consultants, and others to track and report conditions in a particular farm location. Read More
SoftwareWinfield Launches New Mapping Capabilities For R7 Tool
August 29, 2013
Winfield has announced the addition of a Field Response Map and a Profitability Map for its R7 Tool at 2013 Farm Progress Show. Read More
SoftwareTrimble Launches Connected Farm Dashboard
August 29, 2013
The company claims its new dashboard enables better decision making by putting key data at growers’ fingertips. Read More

Trending Articles

CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More
EquipmentNew Holland Acquires Miller-St. Nazianz
September 3, 2014
The assets of Miller acquired as part of the transaction will become part of New Holland Agriculture, a CNH Industrial brand, building on a successful four-year partnership between the two companies. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires East Kansas Chemical
September 2, 2014
Ranked 82nd on the CropLife 100, East Kansas Chemical will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More
ManagementExpert To Discuss Farmland Value, Rent At Farm Science Review
August 18, 2014
While cropland values in Ohio increased in the past two years, they have remained flat in 2014, declining in some cases, according to an Ohio State University agricultural economist. Read More
EquipmentAdvance Your Technology IQ At MAGIE
August 13, 2014
The Midwest AG Industries Exposition (August 20-21) is the place you need to be to see, study and evaluate how new advances in the equipment, operations, crop protection and fertility sectors can help your business prosper. Read More

Latest News

CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires Kansas-Based Cedar Ridge Supply
September 16, 2014
Cedar Ridge Supply will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
StewardshipSecretary Vilsack Highlights Innovative Conservation Ef…
September 15, 2014
Nearly $16 million in Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) will be awarded to 47 organizations to help develop cutting-edge ideas to accelerate innovation in private lands conservation. Read More
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Responds To Cargill Lawsuit
September 15, 2014
Syngenta believes that the lawsuit is without merit and strongly upholds the right of growers to have access to approved new technologies. Read More
Equipment2014 Farm Science Review Launches Mobile App
September 15, 2014
Smartphone and tablet users planning on attending the 2014 Farm Science Review can now download this year’s customized mobile application. Read More
CropLife 100Southern States Coop Grower Sets Georgia Soybean Yield …
September 15, 2014
Georgia farmer Randy Dowdy's soybeans yielded an astonishing 110.66 bushels per acre, crushing the previous record of 82 bushels-per-acre. Read More
NIMITZ Treated vs Untreated pepper plant
InsecticidesNIMITZ Nematicide Approved By EPA
September 12, 2014
NIMITZ is a novel, non-fumigant nematicide with simplified application features, user safety and an active ingredient with a unique mode of action. Read More
InsecticidesMarrone Bio Innovations Receives Patent For Chromobacte…
September 11, 2014
The patent is the first step for MBI in developing a commercially viable product to inhibit infestations of corn rootworm larvae across America and other regions. Read More
HerbicidesDow AgroSciences: Keeping The Pipeline Stocked
September 11, 2014
Dow AgroSciences is embracing product diversity to drive the company’s future. Read More
CropLife 100CHS Is Official Partner Of New St. Paul Ballpark
September 10, 2014
The new ballpark in St. Paul, MN, officially became CHS Field with Twin Cities-based CHS Inc. revealed as the naming rights partner. Read More
EquipmentHagie Honors Farming Stewardship Leaders
September 10, 2014
The Iowa Farm Environmental Leader award recognizes Iowa farmers as environmental leaders that are committed to healthy soils and improved water quality. Read More
Precision AgPlantBeat: Your Plants’ Pulse In The Palm Of Your Han…
September 10, 2014
A new agronomic monitoring and recommendation service from Phytech could rewrite the book on real-time plant health status monitoring. Read More
StewardshipCCAs Making Headway With 4R Program In Lake Erie Wester…
September 9, 2014
Certified Crop Advisers are implementing the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification program in Lake Erie's Western Basin to improve water quality. Read More
MicronutrientsMicronutrients Going Macro
September 9, 2014
Between 2014’s fantastic growing conditions and a heightened awareness on plant nutrition, the major players in micronutrients are gearing up for another big year. Read More
Crop InputsFMC Announces Cheminova Takeover
September 8, 2014
FMC Corporation today announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Cheminova, a wholly owned subsidiary of Auriga Industries. Read More
HerbicidesValent’s Fierce XLT Herbicide Receives EPA Approv…
September 8, 2014
Valent U.S.A. Corp. announced today that Fierce XLT Soybean Herbicide is now federally registered for preemergence weed control in soybeans Read More
Eric SfiligojIndustry Consolidation Set To Increase Going Forward
September 8, 2014
As the agricultural marketplace moves into fall, one observer predicts the pace of consolidation will grow at all levels. Read More
LegislationCropLife America Leaders Address Regulatory Landscape, …
September 8, 2014
As CropLife America enters its 81st year, the organization’s leaders have seen another period of rapid and visible policy and public issue activity. Read More
FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More