Tom Hall, Senior Agronomist, Rooster Strategic Solutions

The 2020 sales season is a few months away, so marketing and sales plans will soon be presented to sales teams.  Here are a few questions that should be answered before the plans are finalized: Do these plans reflect that farmers are facing record low commodity prices? That farmers have to use equity to stay in business? That optimism about the future is at record lows?  These are the most challenging economic conditions that most farmers have ever faced, so the sales environment will be equally as challenging.

Below are three suggestions to prepare sales people to work with their farmer customers this fall.

  1. Acknowledge the depth of the ag financial crisis. Discuss the factors that are putting downward pressure on commodity prices such as slower exports, tariff battles and the record crops that are now in the field. Review pandemic-related factors that have driven corn prices downward, including a 50% reduction in ethanol production that will lead to large corn carryover into 2021. All these factors indicate that corn and soybean producers will lose money on every acre and that federal USDA payments will not make them whole. This is serious – deadly serious – and your sales teams must have a firm grasp on the reality of the farmers’ situations.
  2. Replace the term “maximizing yield” with “maximizing return.” Highlight and feature the calculators, practices, and products that lead to better returns. Look internally for research that can maximize a farmer’s revenue. Shine the spotlight on the agronomists and technical people who can explain how to use technology in a profitable system.In fact, consider starting every meeting or conference call with ideas to help farmers survive this economic crisis.  Ask your sales people to suggest ways to use the products and services they sell to increase a farmer’s return.  Go beyond why the product is better than the competitor to how to use the product to increase return.  Don’t forget about the many tools developed by university extension.  Educate your people on how to use these tools to help them become trusted advisers.

    An example of a great tool is the Midwest university consortium tool called Maximum Return to Nitrogen (MRTN) calculator found at http://cnrc.agron.iastate.edu/.  In the example 275 pounds of nitrogen (N) creates the largest yield, but 150 pounds creates the largest return.  The MRTN calculator is an easy way to introduce the concept of net return.

    Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices are another way to improve return. This includes either preventing a problem or using scouting to determine fields that will most likely pay off if treated. IPM tasks might include:

  • Count adult rootworm beetles to determine if a soil insecticide will be needed in 2021
  • Scout fields and inventory diseases to guide hybrid selection and need for crop rotation
  • Battle resistant pigweed an extra year in corn
  • The best insect control may be a Bt trait to control cutworm, armyworm, or western bean cutworm
  • Match the seed treatment to the problem in field
  • Review when to use a fungicide to control of gray leaf spot
  • Guiding the farmer through corn rootworm resistance management practices
  1. Help your customers be “a little more Amish.” Why? Amish communities are extremely practical and work extra hard to utilize every resource on hand. The Amish accept or reject technology based on how it impacts their families, their community, and the way they worship. For instance, electricity in the house might encourage folks to stay up late, so it’s typically not used in private homes, but since states require milk tanks to be refrigerated, electricity in the barn is allowed. It’s not unusual to see a phone hanging on the pole at the entrance to the farm to use in emergencies. However, it’s unlikely you’ll see them in homes where they can cause distractions.When it comes to crop production, Amish communities use the same kind of analysis to put the best agronomy reasoning to work. And this kind of rigorous review can be useful in your customer’s operations, as well.

    These are just a few examples:

  • In a tillage situation use this opportunity to incorporate manure to conserve nitrogen (N).
  • If your neighbor has too much manure hire a trucker to move it to your farm.
  • Two tons of limestone per acre will raise the pH and release unavailable phosphorus; the extra calcium and magnesium increases root mass; healthy roots and calcium increase the uptake of nutrients including nitrogen.
  • If you’re losing money growing corn, rotate to a hay crop to diversify income and give the soil a rest.
  • Share equipment or trade labor for services
  • Find a trusted adviser to navigate technology
  • Any pesticide application is going to have IPM reasoning behind it
  • Give praise for what you have and ask for guidance on what you really need

In short, being “a little more Amish” means to have faith, work hard, be practical, watch out for your neighbor, and enjoy a big hardy dinner. You’ll want to make sure that all these are included in your upcoming sales and marketing presentations this year!