This article was originally published by Agworld.
The way we interact with each other and the way consumers prefer to do business is showing an increasing tendency to move into the digital sphere. The ag retail sector is not isolated from this trend, with a number of online-only input providers appearing in the competitor landscape, and traditional input suppliers therefore need to take the appropriate steps in order to ensure their sustainability and profitability in the long term.
By proactively adopting digital technologies into their organization and providing a hybrid of in-person and digital products & services to their clients, ag retail organizations can ensure they maintain relationships and a superior service offering within their industry.
The ag retail industry is no stranger to change; ever since the first farmer-owned cooperatives started to sell inputs and other products and services to farmers, their product and service offering has constantly evolved as the farmers evolved in the way they farm their land. Most ag retail stores are now part of a larger organization, through many rounds of mergers and acquisitions, and some are still cooperatives today while others have adopted a different business model. All ag retailers still have the same goal at the center of their organization however: servicing the needs of farmers in their local communities.
Arguably one of the biggest challenges that ag retailers are facing right now is the threat of disruption by online-only providers of inputs. These online sellers are looking to commoditize agricultural inputs and switch the farmers’ focus from service to price. While this kind of digital disruption has been successful in other industries, TurboTax vs H&R Block or Rocket Mortgage vs a local bank for example, ag retailers enjoy the unique advantage of having local stores with a wealth of specific and localized knowledge that cannot easily be replicated in an online-only model. In order to prevent disruption of the industry by online-only players, and improve their service offering to farmers, ag retailers are increasingly adopting digital tools. The goal of this is to take away any advantage that online-only players might have and double-down on their own strengths. In this case study we explore this process of digitizing ag retail, and the advantages it brings to both growers and those working in the ag retail landscape.
Adopting digital technology in ag retail
Like many ag retailer organizations throughout the country, Nampa, ID, headquartered Valley Agronomics, the 15th largest ag retailer in the United States, have had a strong focus on adopting digital technologies into their organization for a number of years. Servicing Washington, Idaho, Oregon and parts of Montana and Utah, Valley Agronomics decided in 2016 that they would put their grower clients’ needs and demands at the heart of their digital technology strategy. According to Valley Agronomics Precision Ag Manager, Connor Lankford: “Every digital tool or platform that we adopt needs to address a need that our grower clients have, as well serve our internal needs.”
Valley Agronomics is one of the more advanced ag retailers in the United States when it comes to adopting digital technology and offering tailored digital services to their growers. This strategy saw them win the 2018 ARA Precision Impact Award in recognition of being an industry leading retailer for the precision ag products and services offered to farmers through their 'Platinum Precision Subscription' program. Connor: “The ‘Platinum Precision Subscription’ is a key piece of the digital offering for our growers, and Agworld has been an important part of the program since 2016.”
Connor explains: “Implementing Agworld into our organization means that our agronomists, dispatchers, admin staff and growers all collaborate on the same platform with the same data set, which brings a number of distinct benefits to us as well as our grower clients. Once we became comfortable and experienced in using Agworld, we felt that the time was ripe to take the next step for our organization; digitizing the buying process for our clients to further facilitate the information going back and forth between our customers and agronomists.”
Connor continues: “As we looked to further digitize the way Valley Agronomics interacted with our grower customers, we wanted to make sure that the technology integrated with our existing technology providers, such as Agworld and Agvance - our internal accounting software. It was important to connect the pieces, given our agronomist's comfort with creating Agworld plans and recommendations, our applicators using Agworld work orders and actuals, and our customers utilizing Agword for their own record keeping and budgeting purposes. Similarly, given Valley Agronomics admin and operations teams using Agvance for our accounting needs, we wanted something that would compliment these pieces and furthe