From the Field to the Office: Granular Customer Success on Crop Planning

I was born and raised in the small farming community of DeWitt, IA, and I still live here today. Before Granular, I worked in sales and client services for an ag-retail software company called AgWorks. I ended up at Granular in August 2014 via a LinkedIn message from our CEO, asking if I would be interested in Granular’s open Director of Customer Success position.  I politely declined since I was thinking he wanted me to move out to San Francisco – and I had never heard of Granular.

Andy McGarry crop planning

Andy McGarry

Sid replied back immediately, “Andy, we have plenty of people in SF, we need people where our customers are, in the midwest.” A week later Sid and I had lunch in Chicago,  where I saw the early product and talked about the company vision –  a few weeks after that I joined the Granular team. I have directly worked with more than 50 of customer farms here at Granular, but indirectly I work with all of them. What I enjoy most about my job is helping growers adapt our technologies on mobile and web to improve the  business side of their farm. My favorite part of the job is getting personal feedback from customers on how our software is making their jobs easier day in and day out.

How do you define crop planning?
Crop planning is essentially creating and organizing a list of tasks that producers need to complete across all fields with the end goal of producing the highest yields and profits possible.  Depending on the farm and its location, a crop plan can consist of tillage, soil sampling, fertilizer, scouting, planting, irrigation, spraying, harvesting, etc. An accurate plan should also outline the related costs and timing requirements for each one of the tasks.

Crop plans are as old as farming, but with new technology these plans can (and should) become meaningful decision-making tools. Software like Granular allows you to create both a crop plan and an operational budget in a single workflow because we pre-configure all planned expenses and expected revenues.

Why, and how, is crop planning critical to the long term success of a farm business?
I believe Ben Franklin said it best: “failing to plan is planning to fail.” Crop planning is critical to long term success because it allows producers to create an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) that can be followed year over year. Crop plans have been revised after many years of trial and error. The crop plan financials at the end of the season, for example,  will tell the producer if it makes sense to keep renting ground that is not generating enough revenue. We know that a crop plan will always need to be adjusted, but having a crop plan that needs to be adjusted is better than not having a crop plan at all.

What are the 5 things successful farms are doing when it comes to crop planning?

1. Actually have the discipline to build crop plans. Define the concrete activities with timing and estimated costs for each task within each of the plans

2. Share the plans with the entire team, including field operators. Everyone benefits from knowing what the business is working towards, and everyone will be more invested in its success.

3. Take the time to make sure all assumptions (for example, inputs required) are correct and statistically sound.

4. Consider the financial, not just agronomic, implications of different scenarios. “What would happen if you plant soybeans here instead of corn? Is increasing the fertilizer application rate really leading to better profits?”

5. Execute on the plan. If you have to change it, be ready to record those changes so you can accurately evaluate them once you’re done.

What are some of the ways in which your customers are working with data and technology to improve their crop planning for next year?

Most of our customers have used basic budget projections for their crops. They now use actual input costs (from last year or what they can get this year) from each field to project real revenue and alter their crop rotations wherever possible. Some of them find unexpected results when they plug in historic yields, real costs, and today’s depressed commodity prices.

Other customers are becoming much more proactive when it comes to securing operational loans. They’ll take their crop plans and budgets directly to their lenders to show that they’re ready to plant months ahead of time, and already have a reliable idea of what the financials will look like for each of their fields.  They’re also managing their input costs a lot more closely. Once they know what they want to do for each of their fields, customers will know how much to buy. This allows them to take advantage of early purchase programs or volume discounts.

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