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corn plant leaves across field Willie Vogt
TECH MEETS CHALLENGES: Farmers are working to grow more food while maintaining and enhancing sustainability. Nutrien Ag Solutions is bringing new tech to bear to help make profitable sustainability a reality.

Changing customer impacts ag retail

Farmers aren’t insulated from the changing ways people buy, and that’s offering new opportunities for retailers.

Today’s consumer is not the buyer of the past, and that’s just as true on the farm as in suburban America. Access to product information at any time, as well as the ability to make that purchase as needed, is changing the shape of ag retail, too. A major market supplier — Nutrien Ag Solutions — is stepping up in new ways, including a revamped digital purchase experience. Farm Progress talked with Sol Goldfarb, head of digital, Nutrien Ag Solutions, about that company’s new program.

“We’re a retailer, and customers transact with us all the time,” Goldfarb says. “We want to leverage digital tools to be more helpful.”

He notes that as digital ordering tools become more common, the retailer doesn’t care where the sale occurs. “We want it to be easy however the grower chooses to engage with us,” he says.

To meet that need, Goldfarb explains the company is involved in an extensive new program to create what he calls an “omnichannel” experience. Essentially, this allows customers the ability to work with their Nutrien Ag Solutions crop consultant to purchase products or buy them directly online. Goldfarb says that omnichannel is one component of its digital platform — other components allow growers, from a single point of access, to use a wide range of digital services that cover agronomy, farm planning and sustainability.

“We want to create a singular digital experience and help growers to achieve their desired outcomes,” he says.

It’s a challenge building a digital platform that growers integrate into their farm operations — to succeed, retailers like Nutrien Ag Solutions have to identify and meet customers’ needs, which isn’t always easy. Goldfarb adds that the demographics aren’t cut and dried, either. The company has seen younger farmers who still want to visit the dealership, while older farmers are fully engaged in the digital experience.

“It becomes a personal preference,” Goldfarb explains. “Some growers want to connect with their crop consultants, while others prefer the convenience of buying products online themselves. A grower who has purchased Roundup PowerMax dozens of times in the past may want to reorder the product at 2 a.m., knowing that the order is done and taken care of.” He says easy online access to product information creates customer peace of mind, too.

Why should growers care?

The way farmers buy is changing, and the retailers who serve them have to keep up. Goldfarb explains that the farmer online at 2 a.m. is just one example of how buying is changing. “Based on the patterns we’re seeing, growers use our e-commerce platform to research products as well,” he says.

The goal is to provide convenience for the farmer — with e-commerce making the purchase process seamless. You can seek out new products online, then connect with a local agronomist to discuss the proper option for use. “Customers still frequently engage with Nutrien Ag Solutions’ crop consultants to determine the right rate, the quantity to order and other factors before placing the order,” he says.

He acknowledges that farming is a high-stakes business, and there are a lot of decisions that you have to get right the first time. The aim of the new digital platform the company has been working on is to help growers improve their operations and achieve their goals.

These tools also help to maximize the farmer-retailer relationship by providing the information you want when you need it; and by helping you leverage data you collect for improved outcomes.

Tech and sustainability

One focus area of the new platform is sustainability. “Many folks think that sustainable farming requires trading off yield or profitability. By working with growers, we want to help them achieve sustainability goals like greenhouse gas reduction and carbon sequestration, while meeting their business goals of yield and profit. They are not at odds with each other,” he says.

The rising interest in how food is raised is creating challenges and opportunities for commercial agriculture. Goldfarb explains that it’s important for agriculture to get in front of this trend and help growers succeed in this sustainability context. That also helps Nutrien Ag Solutions achieve its own sustainability goals by reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.

Goldfarb says the new platform helps make that happen by recording and keeping track of on-farm practices and input usage. “If you don't measure it, you can’t know if you’ll succeed or fail with a practice,” he says. “We’re creating a good measurement platform to record what has occurred, and we’re partnering with different industry players to measure a grower’s environmental impact.”

For example, the company is working with Field2Market, a benchmark tool that can help farmers identify areas on their operations where they can improve sustainability in a measurable way.

And there is work to step up with products that maximize input efficiency and minimize environmental impact — not just software — to help growers achieve their sustainability goals.

Rolling out tools

Goldfarb says that in 2019, Nutrien Ag Solutions released a crop planning system that allows authoring of field plans by a company employee. With that tool, the agronomist can go field by field with author input plans that are crop specific. Into 2020, the work will expand to provide an expanded range of decisions that the grower can manage, from input planning to irrigation practices to tillage, equipment and labor use.

That will require capturing grower data in the system, and the company  is working with major players in the industry to make this easy for the grower. “We’re asking growers to give us permission to access data for their farms, and in return, we’ll demonstrate to the grower that we can help them improve the outcome on the farm using this information,” Goldfarb says.

Nutrien Ag Solutions’ approach is working to leverage the changing needs of the customer with the rapidly rising pile of data that’s being collected on the farm. The focus is on helping growers achieve their profit and yield goals, while layering in sustainability, too. It’s a work in progress, but market forces from many angles are driving these changes. Stay tuned.

 

 

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