Three agribusiness leaders highlighted the value of customer apps and other grain merchandising technologies at barchart’s Grain Merchandising & Technology Conference.
The panel featured AJ Andresen, grain operations manager for Valley United Cooperative; Shawn Kinkade, CFO of Premier Cooperative, Inc.; and Kevin Clausen, principal of John Stewart and Associates, with moderator Mike Hogan, CGB Enterprises Inc.’s corporate origination manager, leading the discussion.
According to Clausen, better time management is a key benefit and justification for investing in new grain merchandising technology.
“Ask yourself, ‘Am I using my time as wisely as I possibly can?’” Clausen said. “Yes, it's expensive to implement these technologies, but at the end of the day, as merchandisers, as traders, as a customer-facing person, your time is too valuable to be doing administrative tasks.”
Success with e-sign
Both Premier Cooperative, Inc. and Valley United Cooperative have implemented AgVance’s digital ag retail management solutions to save time and improve efficiencies with grain contracting. Kinkade said enabling growers to e-sign has increased Premier Cooperative Inc.’s signed contract success rate to more than 90%.
“Over the last several years, we’ve had a success rate upwards of 90% to 93% on getting contracts signed the first time within days of sending,” Kinkade said. “Nine out of 10 times, contracts come back immediately — signed, sealed and delivered.”
By contrast, “For an integrated contract, we fold it up, send it in snail mail, costing anywhere from $5 to $10 to ship each one, and our success rate is around 60%. Usually it goes 30 days without signing and we need to call them back or re-send it, and we may even have to send a merchant out to the producer,” Kinkade said.
Kinkade said the associated costs for transportation fuel, mileage and meals in this example make for an expensive, inefficient way to secure a signed grain contract, highlighting the value of investing in e-sign technology.
Information access improves communication
Andresen said providing producers with mobile and online access to customer information like scale tickets and invoices has improved communication efficiency for Valley United Cooperative. With their Grower 360 customizable online portal, growers have real-time access to their accounts with ag retailers at their fingertips.
“If a producer wants to go online to find their information, we should be able to provide that to them,” he said. “They instantly have what they need, and that reduces time spent on phone calls that may not even be necessary.”
The panelists agreed that while technology adaptation has accelerated in the last five years, around 70% of producer customers are not mobile app users, requiring the co-ops to maintain traditional contracting and communication methods while supporting high-tech alternatives.
To encourage adoption, the panelists advised attendees to educate growers on one or two key benefits of the digital platform or mobile app being introduced. Clausen said to focus technology education on solutions specific to the growers' needs rather than demonstrate a full range of features, some of which may not be useful to them.
Andresen advised attendees to be patient and deliberate when selecting an app or customer-facing platform, and choose one that is high quality, reliable and user-friendly. Cooperatives have a limited number of opportunities to introduce new tech solutions before some customers grow weary of the process.
“If I go to a farmer who does not regularly engage with technology, tell him to put an app on his phone and say, ‘It’s going to be great,’ and then it wasn’t great — when I come back to ask them to switch to a new app, it’s going to be harder convincing them this time,” Andresen said. “Be sure you’re investing in the right solutions, and they work well, instead of rushing into technology simply to be the first at the table with a new tool.”
Held in Nashville Sept. 10-12, barchart’s Grain Merchandising & Technology Conference brought together nearly 150 grain professionals to share ideas, network and explore innovative workflows for grain merchandising and origination.