For retail service providers, the battle for the hearts, minds, and business of the farmer-customer has never been under more stress. As manufacturers continue to consolidate, super-regional, fully integrated retail organizations flex their muscles in key agriculture markets, and electronic commerce options proliferate, full-service ag retailers looking to capture the attention of the farmer are intensifying their efforts — in particular in the digital space.
For better or worse, it’s still a “wild west” for digital agriculture, with many initiatives making some headway but few real breakthroughs. At the same time, an increasing number of farmers is interested in engaging the internet for business purposes. For GreenPoint AG LLC, a 50-location retail service provider based in Memphis, this time of uncertainty is the right time to unleash a digital offering designed to improve data transparency and customer service while also boosting internal efficiency.
The effort, called GreenPoint AG Online, has been under development for two years in conjunction with Winfield United, which formed GreenPoint AG as a joint venture with Tennessee Farmers Cooperative in 2012. CEO Tim Witcher and Ag Technology Manager Ben Carlisle are leading the initiative, which they hope will lead to improved loyalty, sales, and satisfaction among its farmers and a more organized and focused agronomy team.
Bringing It All Together
Carlisle arrived at GreenPoint AG four years ago with the goal of building a top-shelf precision agronomy program, which is now a branded offering known as Incompass. An important developmental step in building Incompass was implementing various tools and systems to help collect and manage information. These include Fieldalytics from EFC Systems, Climate’s FieldView, and a variety of tools from Winfield’s R7 program.
The next logical step, Carlisle says, was to make the information as functional as possible for both GreenPoint AG agronomists and farmer-customers. “We wanted to be able to bring all that information together into one holistic site,” he says. “To be able to log in and through a dashboard get the information out of these precision tools, all in one place, with one password.”
Winfield United, which itself has been undergoing a refocus on ways to help retail partners deliver more data and services to farmer customers (including electronic commerce), was excited to help GreenPoint AG develop its digital solution, says Joel Wipperfurth, Director of E-Business for Winfield United.
“Their strategy — finding best performing products and systems — is similar to ours, and bringing it all together is what’s missing,” Wipperfurth says.
The two-year development of GreenPoint AG Online involved extensive engagement with partners and a targeted test group of farmers to provide input on the work being done. Key goals for development included:
Focus on Mobile: A key goal was making the system as mobile-friendly as possible, matching the growing reliance and trust farmers were expressing in mobile technologies.
Flexible: Create a dashboard that allows farmers to customize their experience and focus on data and information important to their operation. “It can be as basic or complex as the farmer wants it to be,” Carlisle says. From Incompass program information on field boundaries, data, and insights to information capture from MyJohnDeere and Climate right out of the machine, the online system is being designed to make it accessible.
Transparent: Provide complete account information to farmers about services performed and products used for all fields.
Tool for Sharing: Internally, GreenPoint AG agronomists will be able to use the program to communicate with farmers either remotely or with the grower in one-on-one meetings.
Finally, one of the most compelling functions of the new online system is electronic business. Winfield United has been instrumental in the development process, providing product data and creating a platform that will allow the farmer, the agronomist, or both to work together to view products and services and build work orders. Farmer-customers have been instrumental in the testing and development process as well.
The digital tool space in agriculture is a messy place, with many players vying for farmer attention. Still, as farmers continue to embrace mobile technologies and increasingly are participating in electronic commerce for personal and business purchases, GreenPoint AG sees a real opportunity to help its customers access what is useful through its developing portal.
Carlisle and Witcher also see it as a way to build internal efficiency. By allowing farmers that are comfortable with e-business to check products, review orders, and do transactions through the online program, it should reduce the amount of non-productive work that commonly inflicts the agronomist’s day.
Informing and empowering farmers with more information and access is a change that Carlisle admits is not favorable to every sales agronomist on staff, but it’s an evolution that has to occur as farmers demand more access to information. “Eventually, everything will be digitized, and we need to learn how to operate the business in that environment,” Carlisle says.
Wipperfurth calls it the “ability to disrupt ourselves.” If the industry is moving toward disruption, “then we have the opportunity to change now, to proactively drive the pace of change,” he says. “Moving precision agriculture tools into mobile-friendly portals and driving in-season insights and decisions will help GreenPoint AG to deliver a great customer experience while maintaining the local touchpoint of the sale, the retailer.”
All of which doesn’t replace the retail agronomist but gives them an elevated role as a provider of insight and advice.
While he is excited about the potential of GreenPoint AG Online, Witcher is very realistic about the notion of a final product. “The truth is, it will never be finished — it will always be a work in progress,” he says. “The digital arena is going to continue to change, and we have to be engaged with customer needs and ready to evolve when it’s required.”