May 8, 2018

Growers need a partner who will stand with them in the field and stand up for them in the industry
(Featuring Asmus Farm Supply)

By Mike Karst, Senior Partner

Read the previous articles in the series—"Giving Customers a Reason to Believe,” “Can I Get a Witness?” "Helping Customers Fix What's Broken” and “Straight Talk

Plenty of jobs in this world are well suited for sitting behind a desk. Working at a desk makes sense if you’re advising people on insurance rates, investments, or vacation packages, for example. 

“Crop Consultant” is not one of those jobs.

When you’re providing consultative services to farmers, there’s no substitute for getting away from the office and out into the field.

Standing alongside customers in their working environment is where relationships are developed—it’s where you build trust and collect insight to develop the recommendations that contribute to improved performance and profitability.

It’s also your best opportunity to prove your commitment to your customers’ business—and show them reasons to believe in you.

[Photo above right: Asmus Farm Supply CCA sales agronomist plants First to the Field trial plot]

If a consultant is passionate about what he or she is recommending, it’s obvious he or she believes in the solutions—which then rubs off on customers, giving them confidence to feel good about their choices.

Asmus Farm Supply based in Rake, IA, seems to have that effect on customers—when Asmus makes a recommendation and stands by a product, people pay attention.

Our Entira team spent some time in Iowa recently for a research study related to our Enspire platform, and through this study we uncovered something unique going on that piqued our curiosity: In certain zones of the Iowa markets we studied, there was an 8 percent bump in market share of premium crop protection products. When we took a closer look and asked our local study participants, we found the common denominator was a single independent retailer not part of our study—Asmus Farm Supply.

Clearly, the Asmus team is raising awareness and interest in premium products, and that’s particularly noteworthy during a time when generic and private label sales are steadily rising and online sites are providing price transparency to growers.

It just goes to show that, contrary to popular opinion, farmers want more than just the lowest price.

Letting Actions Speak Louder than Words

Asmus Farm Supply prides itself on the personal relationships the staff builds with customers through traditional face-to-face partnerships, serving farmers in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota. The company operates five retail locations and works with more than a dozen partner sites across its footprint.

According to Harlan Asmus, second-generation co-owner of his family business, the company follows a consultative approach where agronomists in its four core areas—crop protection, plant nutrition, seed and seed treatment—each have latitude to recommend what’s best for the grower without being tied down to specific products. That approach aligns with their mission to provide clients with sustainable recommendations to maximize production.

“As an independent retailer, our agronomists’ mindset is that they have heart in the game—they do treat the business like it’s their own,” Harlan says. “Their passion comes from feeling like they’re able to contribute to the success of the customer.”

No matter how sophisticated the technology, an algorithm can’t tell a grower what fungicide is going to perform the best in a specific environment. Only a consultant who’s literally in the weeds with the grower can make a sound recommendation on how to control weeds in that grower’s soil conditions and weather during that particular season.

“Our people put in time and effort to get to know their customers, they believe in the products, and they’re really great at communicating their best recommendations,” Harlan says.

Continuing education also is a big focus at Asmus Farm Supply that contributes to their staff being revered as a trusted partner.

“Every single one of our agronomists is a Certified Crop Advisor—that’s required. They are well-rounded in crop development, so they’re able to field questions outside their area; but they also know how to recognize when a deeper level of knowledge is required,” says Billie Asmus, Communication and Marketing Director. “Our agronomists trust each other to pull the right expert in when needed and tailor the approach to each and every customer.”

“Plus, many of our agronomists are farmers, too, so that also provides an advantage,” she says.

Validating Claims

Confidence to do what's best for the customer comes from having first-hand insight to the effectiveness of the products they’re selling—many are using the same products on their own fields. In fact, they go to great lengths to research and test products so they can believe in them before they’re ever made available to customers.

Asmus Farm Supply has a field trial program called First to the Field, which is an internal vetting process they administer to test products before marketing them. They put new products through vigorous trials in real conditions before they ever make it onto an Asmus price sheet, and that process can take up to four years.

Harlan says, “As we’ve all experienced in this business, many vendors come through our door with a product they want you to believe is the ‘best thing ever,’ and they want us to start selling it immediately. It takes more than that for us to want to sell a product—first we’ve got to believe in it. And how are you going to believe in it until you see it?”

“Through First to the Field, our employees are testing products out on their own farms because they want to have a reason to believe in them—that’s how they can feel good about recommending them to customers.”

If the product or concept makes it through two years in the demo plot and shows benefit, then it’s advanced to customer trials where everything from planting to spraying to harvest is digitized, including aerial imagery taken throughout the season to watch progress of the crop.

“The trials are not just for products—sometimes we test an idea or a different approach to managing your farm—could be cover crops, for example, or a new way to apply nitrogen to be more environmentally sound,” Harlan says.

This program lends immense credibility to Asmus’ consulting services, and from my vantage point at Entira I see a tremendous benefit here for manufacturers as well. What Asmus is doing in the way of field testing is an opportunity for manufacturers with new products on the horizon to have solid footing and be ready to launch as soon as those products are registered.

Plus, if you’re willing to invest the time and resources in letting retailers and distributors test your product, as a manufacturer you’re giving your retail partners a reason to believe.

Supporting Growers Beyond the Field

We’ve determined crop consultants do their best work alongside growers out in the field, but there’s another place growers need a partner working on their behalf—out in the industry. Harlan’s wife and co-owner of Asmus Farm Supply, Amy Asmus, leads the company’s external relations efforts to speak out in support of the issues most important to growers and retailers.

“There are two sides where growers need a partner and an advocate,” Amy says. “They need an advocate in the field where they’re making decisions to make their operation more successful. And they need an advocate in the industry where decisions are being made that affect them. Retailers are the bridge between the two.”

Amy has worked many years in the industry giving a voice to ag retailers in special interest groups and in Washington DC, all with the intent to educate and influence discussion around such topics as sustainability, herbicide resistance, labor, and many other urgent platforms of growers and retailers. Right now, she’s involved with the Weed Science Society of America’s Herbicide Resistance Education and Outreach Group, and she serves on the Ag Retailers Association board of directors. She also is involved with the EPA, serving on a discussion committee for the Office of Pesticide Programs.

“When it comes to government regulations, most decision makers don’t have firsthand experience to really understand what it’s like out in the field. I represent the grower and retailer voice, and my role is to bring the boots-on-the-ground perspective to industry groups that are influencing the issues facing growers and the entire industry.”

Amy uses the label “AgVocacy” to describe what this is all about. She says if ag industry leaders aren’t speaking out, then the only voices heard are the others at the table representing their own interests.

“Those speaking out are the ones who protect our industry,” Amy says. “If we don’t use our voices, we can’t affect our choices.”

Asmus Farm Supply gains a lot of knowledge from being active as an industry advocate, which is great for customers.

“Our customers benefit by working with someone who has intimate knowledge of industry issues, and we bring that knowledge into the discussions we have with our growers every day,” Harlan says. “That way we can make them more successful.” 

No Empty Promises

Retailers who have superior success are the ones who are out with customers or out working on behalf of customers, not selling from a desk. Asmus Farm Supply is not a sell-from-the-desk kind of company. Being out there on the ground or riding along in a field—or speaking on their behalf out in the industry—creates an entirely different experience for the customer that’s unique and special.

For a customer, hearing your rep tell you, “You can trust me because I’m using this, too,” is much more convincing than believing them when they simply say, “Trust me.” By the same token, working with a retail partner who has a seat at the table where burning industry topics are being discussed and addressed also gives customers an advantage.

This kind of in-depth knowledge is the difference between someone promoting a product they believe in vs. someone making an empty promise that sounds nice but has no real-life results to back it up.

At the end of the day, businesses don’t survive without eventually turning a profit. But there are many ways to get there and long-term profits and success can be elusive. The way I see it, you can earn money by pushing ideas you hope will generate a payoff, even though the predictability is not very clear. Or, you can earn it by taking steps to win your customers’ trust by giving them reasons to believe in you. I choose the latter, and it’s a pleasure to be able to highlight companies in the industry who are doing the right things to give their customers reason to believe.

If you’d like to talk through developing your Reason to Believe, contact Mike Karst at mkarst@entira.net or 901.753.0470.