When agri-retailers look beyond competition and come together to benefit producers, incredible things can happen. Earlier this year, Agri-Trend, a division of Trimble Navigation, announced they will be collaborating with the Ultimate Yield Management Institute (UYMI), operated by Rack Petroleum Ltd., to benefit producers through shared research and data.
Rack Petroleum Ltd. is a Saskatchewan-based retailer that offers crop protection, custom application plant nutrition, fertilizer, fertilizer distribution, fuel products and consultation services. The UYMI has two divisions, a research division and a crop consulting, precision ag and agronomy division.
Agri-Trend offers agricultural coaching and services such as agrology consultation, precision farming, grain marketing, farm business management, aggregation and selling of carbon offset credits, land resource assistance and data management (through Trimble Ag Software). The collaboration with UYMI will assist all divisions of the company with decision-making and customer relations.
Although the two companies are often considered competitors in agronomy packages, Rob Saik, founder and CEO of Agri-Trend was invited to be a guest speaker at the UYMI/Rack Petroleum research launch in March. He was blown away by what he heard while attending the event.
“I got to listen to the UYMI unveil the 2016 compendium of their results,” Saik explains. “I thought, ‘My goodness, this is what our Agri-Trend coaches have wanted to do for a long time,’ and we were going to do this. Why were we going to do it on our own when we could potentially do it with the UYMI?”
Saik approached Dennis Bulani, CEO of the UYMI/Rack at the research launch, and they realized how beneficial it would be if the two companies worked together to gather and disseminate information that could help their customers make better decisions and increase their yields.
I think (farmers) want more than just sales brochures and anecdotal information. I think they want to see some numbers, and this collaboration will give us the ability to deliver that.
Both companies strongly believe that farmers need modern, relevant and current information surrounding agronomic practices and product use in the field. With no shortage of products and ideas made available to producers, Saik says producers need a way to validate both the products and the timing.
"Right now, information like that is simply not readily available. I think farmers are looking for that and I think they want more than just sales brochures and anecdotal information,” he says. “I think they want to see some numbers, and this collaboration will give us the ability to deliver that.”
Sharing and Learning
Cassandra Morari, corporate finance and credit manager at Rack Petroleum Ltd., notes that although the collaboration is currently in the early stages, the two companies are already sharing useful information and learning from one another.
At this point, the focus is really on developing relationships and sharing knowledge between the two groups.
“Agri-Trend agronomists have been trained on UYMI research results via a published research compendium,” she says. “The compendium contains all the data from previous years of research, as well as a recent joint tour of UYMI research plots, where both UYMI and Agri-Trend agronomists were brought up to speed on the most recent trials and observations. At this point, the focus is really on developing relationships and sharing knowledge between the two groups.”
While the two companies will be working closely together, Saik notes that both companies intend to remain separate entities. He says he is excited about the information they’re already sharing, and believes that combining their knowledge will allow them to provide greater value to their customers.
“We’re fascinated with the research these guys are doing,” says Saik. “Who else has access to information like row spacing, growth, yield on lentils or production management to alleviate the effects of field pea root rot in 2015? Agri-Trend has data on crop responses to phosphate, zinc and manganese by rate, form and placement. That’s 17 different treatments and combinations. People need to know that.”
Reaping the Benefits
Each company is bringing something to the table that will add value for the other. Resources will be pooled and geographical locations will be considered to ensure greater efficiencies between the two companies. Saik says it is this give-and-take relationship that will make the collaboration a successful one.
“The UYMI has a team in place that’s developing the protocols and scientific rigour, and we could extend those protocols into larger geographic areas so that the database of information grows stronger and the statistics become even more robust,” says Saik. “Any information we use to help our customers will come with the caveat that the information was provided by the UYMI – we want to make that clear. Essentially, the UYMI will gain greater credibility and Agri-Trend will have better access to research. I look at this as a tremendous way for us to leverage multi-year, multi-location studies.”
Saik believes the collaboration will positively affect how Agri-Trend and the UYMI are seen in the marketplace, but says the collaboration isn’t necessarily about selling services.
“For us, the information shared with the UYMI provides us with a greater level of confidence when we make recommendations to our farmers. We have access to more information, and together, we’re going to be able to extend the reach of that information. It’s a noble cause, and should bolster the value that we’re bringing to our customers.”
Morari says the benefits of this collaboration include sharing local research results, putting them into practice on a larger scale and having additional resources for the agronomists at both companies.
This partnership is a really great example of putting the care for the agriculture industry first and business second. Both organizations can gain, certainly, but the ultimate winner is agronomy
“Our customers will continue to see the same great service and recommendations, and in time they will see more research information as the two groups collaborate to increase the number of trials and move into new geographies,” she says. “This partnership is a really great example of putting the care for the agriculture industry first and business second. Both organizations can gain, certainly, but the ultimate winner is agronomy in Canada.”
The Future of Collaboration
News of the collaboration has been shared on social media, and it was also announced at Ag in Motion in July. Saik says there are other upcoming opportunities to share the news and benefits that will stem from the collaboration.
“We want to significantly profile the collaboration at the Farm Forum Event in Calgary from December 5 to 7,” he says. “If people want to learn more about the UYMI and the results, we’re going to be featuring those in a lot of the technical breakout sessions at the event. Farm Forum will be highly publicized and a good way to profile what we’re doing.”
While he is optimistic about the collaboration, Saik is also trying to keep a realistic view of the challenges Agri-Trend could face in the process, mostly in terms of a learning curve.
“We’ve got a really robust team at Agri-Trend, and I think the challenge for us will be to mirror the quality of work the UYMI has done. How do we further that quality of replication?”
Despite possible challenges ahead, Saik believes that the collaboration between the UYMI and Agri-Trend is just the beginning of a more co-operative landscape in the future amongst all agri-retailers.
“In agriculture right now, margins remain tight, farmers need information and government continues to be under constraint. So, it’s time for the industry to step up and do some of this work. It’s time for us to say, ‘Stop reinventing the wheel,’ and it’s time for us to put the collective good of farmers ahead of our own self-interest,” he says. “The UYMI could have chosen not to do this with us, and we could have chosen to do exactly the same thing. But it’s in the farmers’ best interest that we put aside our egos and look at the greater good.”
Know GMO Project Takes Next Steps
Rob Saik of Agri-Trend has been working on a project to provide another perspective in the anti-GMO discussion. He and his son, Nick, have 110 hours of footage from around the world that they are hoping to turn into a documentary called Know GMO to address the issue from an agricultural perspective.
There have been some setbacks along the way – including federal funding for the film that suddenly fell away after the most recent federal election – but Saik has continued to look for opportunities to make the project a reality. Since late last year, nearly all the funding for the project has come from his own pocket.
The most recent project updates include a website chock full of videos and blog posts, as well as the creation of a media company, Know Ideas Media Inc., which Saik believes will help raise additional capital. He hopes the web series and featurettes available on the Know GMO website will keep the conversation going until the full documentary can be released.
“We want teachers to know that they can use the Know GMO series or the featurettes in school to teach students about agricultural science,” he says. “There are four episodes already up on the site, as well as featurettes that talk about everything from public perception, to why farmers use chemicals. There’s no end in sight on the work that needs to be done to continue to provide education on this issue.”
Visit knowgmo.ca for more information and to support the film.
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