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

EquipmentDTN Launches Ag Retailer Focused Data Management Program
April 5, 2016
As farm data multiplies exponentially, ag retailers need help leveraging the power of big data to better serve their customers Read More
Junge Control Panels
SoftwarePlant Automation Takes Traceability To The Next Level
March 8, 2016
What began as a way to simply vary differing fertility products at different rates to create custom fertilizer blends — Read More
Tiger Sul Crop Nutrient Calculator
FertilizerH.J. Baker Launches New Nutrient Calculator App
November 12, 2015
H.J. Baker, a global agriculture firm, has launched a new agronomic nutrient calculator app. This innovative and powerful tool will Read More
Precision AgXS Inc. Expanding Ag Retail Reach With AgVeritas
November 5, 2015
AgVeritas, the patented cloud-based yield analysis application launched by XS Inc for the 2015 season, is making a significant impact Read More
Trending Articles
Key Cooperative Marcus Construction Steel Building
Retail FacilitiesMarcus Construction Builds High-Speed Agronomy Center For Key Cooperative
July 7, 2016
Key Cooperative in Grinnell, IA, wanted a state-of-the-art Agronomy Center to better serve its customers. Marcus Construction delivered exactly that. 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
Crop InputsDuPont Pioneer: Corn Belt P and K Levels Lagging
August 24, 2016
A new DuPont Pioneer study conducted across 12 Corn Belt states demonstrates that growers may be leaving profit potential in Read More
Monsanto sign
Crop InputsCould a Monsanto-Bayer Union Be 2 Weeks from Fruition?
August 24, 2016
Via STLToday.com (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch): Merger talks between Monsanto Co. and Bayer AG are advancing after a series of Read More
EquipmentCase IH Debuts Nutri-Tiller 955 Strip-Till Applicator
August 24, 2016
With strip-till continuing to expand across new acres, Case IH designed the new Nutri-Tiller 955 strip-till applicator to help producers Read More
EquipmentCase Launches Aim Command FLEX, 25th Anniversary Patrio…
August 24, 2016
Case IH announces new AIM Command FLEX advanced spray technology for greater application accuracy, as well as special 25th Anniversary Read More
ASMARK 2016 Retailers Live! Tour - CPS
CropLife 100CPS Acquires Texas Retail Operation
August 23, 2016
Crop Production Services (CPS) has acquired the assets of Larry’s Chemical and Spray, Inc., for an undisclosed amount in an Read More
PrecisionAg Video Conference
Precision AgVideo: PrecisionAg Vision Conference
August 22, 2016
A Strategic Conference Focused on the Future of Farm Digitization and Precision Agriculture Visit precisionagvision.com and register today! Read More
Young Corn Plants
Industry NewsOABA Welcomes Nicole Wallace As Communication & Adm…
August 22, 2016
The Ohio AgriBusiness Association has hired Nicole Wallace as its communication and administrative coordinator. Wallace will help provide comprehensive communication Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsChemChina, Syngenta Receive Clearance From CFIUS
August 22, 2016
China National Chemical Corp. (ChemChina) and Syngenta have announced that the companies have received clearance on their proposed transaction from the Read More
ManagementAg Industry Shows and Rumors
August 18, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about the upcoming trade show schedule, crop protection merger updates, and content for Read More
MAGIE 2015
EquipmentMAGIE Takes The Pulse Of The Ag Retail Industry
August 18, 2016
Every year, one of the major highlights of my career as an ag journalist is attending the Midwest AG Industries Read More
MAGIE 2015 Overview
EquipmentPride In Professionalism On Display At MAGIE
August 18, 2016
The Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association (IFCA) is proud to partner with CropLife IRON and continue the tradition of bringing Read More
SprayersJenner Ag To Debut 25th Anniversary Edition Case IH Pat…
August 18, 2016
Visitors at the 2016 Midwest Ag Industries Exhibition (MAGIE) in Bloomington, IL, will have a unique photo opportunity, as Jenner Read More
Crop InputsEU Glyphosate Controversy Heating Up Yet Again
August 17, 2016
The battle over glyphosate rages on in Europe, creating a lot of question marks over whether the herbicide will continue Read More
Industry NewsNew Partnership Provides Improved Representation At Ohi…
August 16, 2016
The Ohio AgriBusiness Association (OABA) has retained Belinda Jones of Capitol Consulting Group, Inc. (CCG) for government relations work in Read More
Tissue testing
FertilizerMosaic: 6 Tips For Better Crop Nutrition In Corn
August 16, 2016
Late in the crop season is a good time to assess visual nutrient deficiencies and ensure early- and mid-season deficiencies Read More
WebinarsWebinar Schedule
August 14, 2016
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
Dow DuPont
Crop InputsDowDuPont Update: EU Takes Closer Look at Merger
August 12, 2016
Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co. face months of haggling with European Union antitrust regulators who opened an in-depth probe Read More
ManagementNews from InfoAg 2016 and Weed Wands
August 11, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj review what happened at last week’s big Precision Ag event and a possible solution Read More