S3:E1 What You Need to Know About Farm Planning
Supply chain constraints have affected many industries and agronomy inputs are one that have felt increased pressure in the last few years. Working through product allocations and at times switching to alternative product applications have become commonplace since 2020. The key to navigating these supply challenges is a process Ceres calls Farm Planning.
In Episode 1 of our Agronomy Series on Field Points Podcast, John Gibson, Director of Seed and Crop Protection co-hosts a conversation with Brock Frasch, VP of Agronomy to provide a supply chain update for our customers.
“I would say its gotten infinitely harder, and it really takes a lot more planning,” shared Brock, on securing agronomy inputs. “Luckily we feel like 2022 was the hardest year and we feel like it will get simpler from there.”
There are two key pillars to tackling supply chain issues. The first is creating a unique farm plan with Ceres Solutions customers to best understand their needs and predict what products will need to be on the shelves to serve those customers throughout the growing season.
“The best way to manage is over communicate. So we try to start early and often communicating with our customers to understand their needs,” Brock shared. “We really appreciate our customers being flexible…we may have had to use different products than they were used to using but at the end of the day I feel we were able to fulfill the needs our customers had.”
In addition to creating the Farm Plan with your Ceres Solutions Account Relationship Manager, Ceres has worked on digitally integrating these plans through software applications like AgWorld. Growers can now access their CORE Agronomics data alongside their Farm Plan right from their phone. This also comes with streamlined application notifications.
The second pillar is building and maintaining strategic partnerships. Ceres Solutions works hard to be a good partner not only with their customers but also with their distribution suppliers and basic manufacturers to help improve product security for their customers.
“You won’t see Ceres make short-term decisions for short-term gain,” shared John. “We’re in it for the long haul and I think our growers get value in that and I think our partners also see value in that.”
Have you created your 2023 Farm Plan? To learn more about Ceres Solutions Agronomy and farm planning, visit https://www.ceres.coop/agronomy or reach out to your local Ceres representative.
Morgan Seger (00:02):
Every day we rely on food, fuel, and fiber. But how much do you know about these industries we depend on? In this podcast, we dive deep into the production and processes of these everyday essentials. This is Field Points an original podcast production from Ceres Solutions. Welcome back to Field Points. Today on our first episode of our agronomy series, I will be joined by my co-host John Gibson, who is the director of Seed and Crop Protection for Ceres Solutions. Our guest on today's show is Brock Frasch. He's the VP of agronomy and we talk about farm planning. The thing about farm planning is it helps Ceres Solutions know what products they're going to need to have on hand for customers throughout the growing season. They're very deliberate through their procurement efforts to make sure their customers have a secure supply of products. On today's episode, we walk through how they do that and also how you as a customer or grower working with series can play a role in that process. Now let's meet my co-host for this series, John Gibson.
John Gibson (01:07):
John Gibson, currently the director of Seed and Crop Protection for Ceres Solutions. I've been with the co-op for over 10 years. Various roles started in seed couple different names within the co-op system have had different positions in seed and sales management and currently working with seed and crop protection for the whole company.
Morgan Seger (01:30):
John walks us through what he does as the director of seed and crop protection.
John Gibson (01:35):
So a lot of the day, day in, day out with our manufacturer suppliers distributors, as well as setting our marketing and programs for those products. So I'm involved with people that you'll hear on this series as well as our location managers and our region directors.
Morgan Seger (01:52):
Our guest today is the VP of agronomy. Brock Frasch.
Brock Frasch (01:55):
First off, want to thank you for having me. Morgan and I actually used to work together at Winfield, so it's been a long time, but great to see you. Yeah, so my name's Brock Frasch. I'm the VP of agronomy with Ceres. This is actually my 22nd year in the cooperative system, so right outta college actually started out as an applicator and had the opportunity to work in the sales and really enjoyed that. And then over the last, oh 20 so years, I've had a lot of different roles within series from seed manager to sales manager. Had a short stint with Winfield in their master agronomy advisor program and then had the opportunity to come back to series in a leadership role and have been the VP of agronomy for about 45 days.
Morgan Seger (02:43):
Well congratulations on the new role. That's exciting. Thank you. So I was actually thinking about this as I was driving over when we worked together at Winfield, we, there were always issues with getting products. So there's always certain hybrids or varieties that were short. There were always chemistry things that we were worried about and that was pre pandemic. How have things changed around supply and procurement since 2020?
Brock Frasch (03:09):
That's a great question. So I would say it's gotten infinitely harder and it really takes just a lot more planning with our customers, planning with our vendors and distribution partners. Luckily we feel like 2022, that was kind of the hardest year and it's going to get simpler from there. And I hate to say simpler, but I mean it'll get a little bit easier. We feel like things are starting to free up. Really our supply situations looking a lot better for 2023. So I, let's hope that we're through the worst of times.
Morgan Seger (03:46):
Brock walks us through what Ceres has done to manage some of the volatility when it comes to supply chain.
Brock Frasch (03:51):
The best way to manage is to over-communicate. So we've tried to make sure we started early and often communicating with our customers, understanding their needs. We really appreciate our customers being flexible cuz at the end of the day, we want to make sure we control weeds and that we feed a crop and that's our core of what we do. We may have had to do those with different products and what they were used to using, but at the end hopefully, and I feel like we were be able to fulfill those needs that our customers
John Gibson (04:24):
Have. I believe speaking to Brock's point and alluding a little bit more to 23 being easier than 22, we learned a lot of things in 22 and we got the job done overall, but we might have to do it a couple different ways than we've done it in the past. And I think we've learned how important planning, forecasting and knowing when to take position on products to set us up for a successful 23.
Brock Frasch (04:48):
And it was painful as we went through 22, but what it's done for series as an organization has driven us to be more digitally integrated with our customers and with our employees and really having a better plan in forecasting and understanding those needs that maybe we didn't really have to have a great handle on before and today we really do. So we've just got a lot better processes and practices in place today. We have dashboard that we use to manage all inventory so we can look at any product we sell our current inventory, our current bookings, and prepaids and sales and just have an understanding down to the grower level exactly maybe what they used last year, what they could need this year. And that helps from a procurement standpoint.
John Gibson (05:33):
Yeah, it's back to good data in gives you good data out. We have a lot more data captured and organized where we can actually be actionable based on what we know today.
Morgan Seger (05:43):
In addition to improving internal communication, external communication with growers and understanding their needs has played a vital role in this as well.
Brock Frasch (05:52):
I think our customers like us have evolved over the last couple of years with some of the supply issues we've had of understanding that we have to communicate early and often we have to plan earlier than maybe they historically would and they get it. They understand that the, it's a dynamic situation that's going on and to procure their needs, we definitely need to be open and plan that early.
John Gibson (06:19):
I think just being as transparent as possible and trying to make the best decision with the information we have at that time and trying to bring them along through the journey because things continue to change and evolve seems like daily or weekly.
Brock Frasch (06:33):
And I'll speak a little bit about how we got through 22, but then how that really impacts 23. So for the first time last year we actually did allocations. So we knew from our basic manufacturers or our distributors, hey, what was our allotted amount of that product? And we really went back and looked at previous purchases. We wanted to make sure we took care of our customers that took care of Ceres that were longtime customers. So we would look at prior year purchases, we'd establish allocations by locations, they would communicate those out to growers and then we would offer alternative products as well to fulfill that total need.
Morgan Seger (07:12):
Farm planning is a crucial step in understanding where we're at. Brock walks us through the farm planning process.
Brock Frasch (07:20):
So farm planning has always been important. I think just the way we actually executed that has changed over time. Luckily as part of series and as part of the team that got to where we are today, we really realized that there's going to be a big transition in our customer base and in our employee employees to a generation that didn't know anything different than planning on their phone or using digital technologies. So we really started looking at platforms that gave us the ability to plan digitally versus having an Excel spreadsheet or a paper tablet that we would write on at the farm. But also then once we had the plan in the system, we wanted that to bring us some operational efficiencies and really be able to communicate what the plan was with the grower, the salesperson, be able to view that digitally, the grower, be able to view that digitally and then it get work moved into the operational phase as a work order and ran through clear tilt billing.
So really you only have to implement the plan once. So in that process we've been in a three and a half year transition to Agworld and now virtually every location we have is on that platform. And I think it's going really, really well. It's helped bring transparency it's helped bring operational efficiencies and to the customer that is interested in looking at that historical data, it's giving them a platform to be able to do that and look at prior year plans and the things that we applied to fields and really manage our fertility programs through that as well.
Morgan Seger (09:02):
With a connection to Egg World, customers can connect their core agronomics data and have access to this right from their phone
Brock Frasch (09:10):
And there's a free version that they can view, any plans, any applications, any things we do. They also get text notifications as we complete a job or a task. An example would be of farmers trying to get the crop planted they're having us spray ahead of the planter, they get a text every time we complete a field so they know which farms have been sprayed, which farms have not been sprayed, and they can move on. The other thing is they have the ability to purchase a subscription where then they can do their own personal farm planning around cash rents and some of the other things that don't go through series. Their equipment costs some of that and have a really great picture of their total farm and even down to the field level on the economics behind that.
John Gibson (09:56):
Yeah, I think with operationally we started down this path for operational efficiency and transparency to the grower. It's turning into demand planning as well. So because those plans accumulate, we can see what our real demand by product is, our position. Correct. In a time where things are short and you don't know what could be allocated tomorrow. That's been pretty impactful for us to have that view as well.
Morgan Seger (10:19):
As we are approaching the end of the 2022 calendar year, Brock shares what things growers should be considering right now.
Brock Frasch (10:27):
We really wanna sit down and create a whole farm plan do that ahead of time, have everything ready for you for your prepaid deadlines. I think one key thing that we started a year ago was we wanted to have offerings out there almost every month of the year. So instead of waiting till the 1st of December to come out with our prepaid programs today, currently as we're recording this in the 1st of November, we've got a lot of our programs already out there available to our customers. So giving them a larger window to sit down and plan.
John Gibson (11:01):
Yeah, I think part of the value of working with Ceres is understanding that everything you do on that acre collectively rolls up to the success of the acre. We want to provide time to have that full discussion on all the agronomic inputs that go into that as well as management rather than be time constricted before the deadline of the end of the year or a prepaid deadline to hurry up and get it done when they're really important decisions. So we really wanna have an impactful thought and time and discussion with each grower to work through that
Brock Frasch (11:30):
Well. And we really believe in prescriptive recommendations versus just trying to sell products. And to do that, you have to take the whole farm approach. You have to look at fertility and oh, what are the seed and trait platforms you're plant and how does that play into your chemical decisions? And so that's a pretty involved process and we just want to make sure we devote the amount of time to it that we should. I think from a series standpoint, our whole goal is provide a robust supply chain from our size and scale, but with a local feel to our customers. And that's what we've been able to do with our partnerships and our JVs and just our size is being able to procure more product. We feel like most of the time we get our unfair share of product from our partners versus maybe someone else. And we really wanted to make sure that we do provide that robust supply chain. The other thing I think that is unique to Ceres is not only providing access to products, but tying that purchase to finance options, digital integrations and information and just providing that whole serviced platform versus just selling them a gallon of glyphosate.
John Gibson (12:45):
Yeah, I would just confirm that the service piece along with the access to traits, genetics, crop protection products, all that along with our service bundle is probably our unique go-to-market strategy
Brock Frasch (13:02):
At Ceres. We believe in partnerships, we believe in partnerships with our customers, but also with our distribution suppliers as well as basic manufacturers. So I guess the main ones I'd like to outline are we have a really great relationship with Winfield United. They've been a very long good partner of ours. We believe they bring us better data than anybody in the industry to help us make decisions on recommendations, but also really just a pretty big large portfolio of great products that are new and they're always bringing things that are a little bit unique. So from a supply standpoint, they've done a really great job on the seed and crop protection. The other thing too about Ceres, what's different than most what I would call seed dealers. We have access to a very vast pool of traits and germplasm that come from a lot of different places in the industry.
There's really only four or five main places that have germplasm and traits today, and we really have access to all the major ones, which is unique for series and unique for the cooperative system. The other one would be from a distribution standpoint, chs, they've been a great provider and supplier on our crop nutrient needs. We've got partnerships with them at some of our terminals and they've been a really great partner. And I guess too, a lot of the basic manufacturers we have great partnerships with as well. We communicate well with them, they provide us great products and market access, and it's been really good.
John Gibson (14:40):
You'll see series not make short-term decisions for shortterm game in it for the long haul. And I think our growers get value in that. I think our partners also see value in that long term that we're in it for the long term with them and it's long term partnership.
Brock Frasch (14:54):
We believe. Obviously we've got within the series system, we've got answer plots that help drive their national data set. We have actually quite a few partnered employees that actually work for Winfield but only work with Ceres solutions. And I think that that helps. And I think the other thing is too, we really believe and promote in their value added products. And when you look at that they're just good products and they work well and hopefully that shows we're a good partner.
John Gibson (15:27):
I think that speaks to our long-term decisions for long-term success. We believe that our growers have to be successful long-term for Ceres to be successful long term mean, that goes back to our member ownership. I think we just make decisions that way. We continue to drive innovation and yield for the farmers' benefit, and that in turn will help Ceres, long-term,
Morgan Seger (15:49):
These partnerships help us create a secure supply chain in these times of volatility. Next, we're going to transition to the things you should be thinking about for 23. I
Brock Frasch (15:59):
Feel like we're in a lot better place than we were a year ago and without getting into specifics from a crop protection standpoint, just globally transportation's easing up and things are starting to be easier. The transportation cost from China to the US has actually declined a little bit. So I think things are going better today. We don't really have any main concerns on specific product allocations. We feel the main ones that were struggle last year were glufosinate and glyphosate. We feel a lot better about that this year than we did last year. Fungicides has become huge, I think especially the yield responses that we've seen, not just this year, this year's been great, but over the last five years it's really becoming a farming practice versus a trial. So we're just planning for that in our supply plant. Had a massive fungicide season this year.
I think our customers are seeing the benefit of that. So we're just today planning ahead to fulfill that need in 23. From a crop nutrient standpoint, you're going to talk with Chris James and he's going to fill you in a lot of this global supply issues. But I will tell you the big thing today is the river. The river being so low, we're having barges being held up. It's really impacting some of the movement inland today. Luckily we feel in a pretty good shape for our fall needs and starting to work towards our spring needs on specific products. And it feels okay right now.
John Gibson (17:29):
Yeah, I would say we've learned a lot in 22 and have learned a lot with our partners on some of the things to probably improve on, but also what we did really well and using those learnings to set ourselves up from a crop protection standpoint for success in 23. I'll preface everything that Brock just said with where a couple major disasters could change anything at any point. That next Black Swan event is what we're all waiting for.
Morgan Seger (17:54):
If you're listening to this and you haven't yet completed your farm planning or you're interested in learning more, John and Brock will walk us through how to take those next steps.
Brock Frasch (18:02):
Well, and we would always say the first stop would be your local serious solutions sales specialists and contact them. They actually, they have access to all these things we've discussed and they implement it and use it every day and do a great job with it. So that would be your first step is contact your local account relationship manager.
John Gibson (18:25):
Yeah, I would welcome them just to have an open discussion about what it could do for them, their farm. It has a lot of opportunities to help a farm in a different ways. Just ask, Hey, what can this farm planning do for me?
Brock Frasch (18:36):
Thanks for having us on Morgan. This has been great. Yeah, thank you so
Morgan Seger (18:39):
Much for coming. It was fun catching up. Thanks for tuning in to the first episode of our agronomy series. If there's one thing that came through in this conversation for me is that Ceres Solutions has learned a lot over the last few years about procuring product to ensure a secure supply chain for their customers. And that goes hand in hand with this increased communication they're having with their partners and also their customers. So if you're listening to this and you haven't had that farm planning conversation yet, I encourage you to reach out to your account relationship manager and kind of get the ball rolling on your plan for 23. Thank you to Brock and John for joining us in this episode. In our next episode, we're going to be tackling fertilizer markets. You won't wanna miss it, and it drops tomorrow.