S3:E4 Partnering for Success in Agronomy

Dec 16, 2022



Show Notes

Throughout this podcast series we have heard a lot about the volatility, uncertainty and the risk inherent in our business today. We have also heard a lot about partnership. The agricultural cooperative was built on partnership and has been successful at providing value to both sides for over 100 years.  

WinField United, an arm of Land O’Lakes cooperative, is a preferred vendor for Ceres Solutions. There are many collaborative efforts from employee resources to data and insights.  

“It's been a great, deep-rooted, long-standing relationship,” share John Gibson, Director of Seed and Crop Protection with Ceres Solutions. “Obviously our businesses have changed over time, but we've continued to have a really deep thorough relationship and partnership even through those changes for the better for both really.” 

There are many value-added services that Ceres Solutions representatives can off their customers through the partnership they have with WinField United. From seed and crop protection offerings, to Secure Financing and more. One service WinField is excited to be offering is a performance warranty program called Advanced Acre Rx.  

“That's one thing that, when we look at how can we solve a grower's problem, a lot of growers are looking for a risk mitigation tool and that's what exactly what the Advanced Acre Rx platform does,” share Andrew Mitchell, Implementation Specialist with WinField United.  

In addition to these product offerings, WinField United provides industry-leading data and research insights. This data is fueled from the National Answer Plot system which has 4 locations in the Ceres Solutions territory. WinField also owns a full-service agricultural lab that provides Ceres with timely, cost-effective, reliable data on soil samples and plant tissue samples, located right in Indianapolis, called SureTech. Alongside all of this is the Technology Research Center, based in River Falls, Wisconsin.  

“And that's one of the very few wind tunnels that exist in the world,” stated Aaron McManaway, Business Unit Lead with WinField United. “It's really allowed us to do some very advanced research on some of the new products, specifically adjuvants coming to market. And I definitely think it gives a competitive advantage in that space to that product line.”

To learn more about the cooperative system partnerships, and how it’s leveraged to best serve Ceres  customers through a reverse-ownership model, tune into the full episode linked above.


Recording of Beth Ford (00:00):
The financial structure is that we hold back some of the earnings and we invested in equity or invested in technology and the rest of it goes out as a dividend, A patronage.
Morgan Seger (00:11):
The agricultural cooperative story is one that many growers already know and participate in. Like Ceres Solutions. Land O'Lakes is a farmer owned cooperative, and this reverse ownership model is unique in that when there are proceeds, it reinvests them into the company or disperses them through patronage to its member owners. Beth Ford, the current CEO at Land O'Lakes shared this story on Reed Hoffman's podcast, Masters of Scale.
Recording of Beth Ford (00:40):
We work with small producers and large producers, and our job is to advantage all of them.
Morgan Seger (00:46):
In this episode of Field Points, we're going to dive deep into what that partnership means for Ceres Solutions and their member owners.
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 to Field Points. I'm your host, Morgan Seger. This is our fourth episode of our agronomy series and we will be wrapping up today focusing on partnerships. If you've listened to our other conversations, you know we've tackled farm planning, the volatile fertilizer markets, and key agronomic insights from 2022. Today I will actually be joined by two guests from Winfield United. Winfield United is a preferred partner for Ceres Solutions, and our guest today is Andrew Mitchell and Aaron McManaway throughout this conversation, I love how the value that both companies get from partnering together just comes through so clearly in how that at the end of the day, is benefiting this Ceres customers.
Throughout this conversation, I'll be joined again by my co-host John Gibson. John is a director of Seed and Crop Protection for Ceres Solutions and really adds a lot of value to this conversation. Before we dive into today's conversation, I wanna be sure to say thank you to this Ceres sponsor. Centuro. wasted nitrogen is wasted time, wasted yield, wasted money. Protect your investment with Centura nitrogen stabilizer from Koch Agronomics Services to safeguard your nitrogen and optimize your yield goals. Centuro featuring the patented active ingredient, pro nitrogen is a next generation nitrification inhibitor for anhydrous ammonia and UAN, it's an easy to handle solution with unequal flexibility. To learn more, reach out to your local Ceres Solutions representative or visit centuro.com. Now here's our conversation with Andrew and Aaron from Winfield United.
John Gibson (02:46):
So today on our episode we've got some partners from Winfield United joining us and I'll pass it over to Andrew Mitchell to give an introduction and then on to Aaron McMahon way. Hi guys,
Andrew Mitchell (02:58):
My name's Andrew Mitchell. I'm an implementation specialist with Winfield United. I cover seed and crop protection. I cover, if you're familiar with the Ceres regions, the middle and southern half of region three and all of region four. So state line branch down to Vincennes. I've been with Winfield United for just over a year now.
Aaron McManaway (03:18):
And I'm Aaron McManaway, way business unit lead with Winfield United. I cover the majority of Illinois, the western half of Indiana, and the Boot Hill Missouri. I've been with Winfield United for 18 years, so I reside in South central Illinois. Thanks for having us.
Morgan Seger (03:37):
Throughout several of the conversations we've had on this podcast already, the value of partnerships has been very evident. Aaron walks us through Winfield's perspective on partnering with cooperatives like Ceres Solutions.
Aaron McManaway (03:49):
The one in particular with Ceres Solutions is obviously long-lasting and deep-rooted work together and some capacity for several years and obviously Winfield United for those of you that may not know we're part of the Land O'Lakes system we're a cooperative just like Ceres and all the member cooperatives that purchased through us I've always referred to us as a three-legged stool. We have the dairy foods division the working with the actual dairy producers and bringing finished products to the shelves at places like Walmart. We've got Purina feed for large animals and small animals I guess. But working with the feed side of the business and then you've got Winfield United, the chemical and seed distributor side of land. And honestly guys probably that stool's probably grown a leg. I would say the fourth leg of the stool today would be the true tear and sustainability side of our business. That's definitely became a fourth pillar of the Land O'Lakes business. But as far as the partnership couldn't ask for much more as far as a partnership between Ceres and Winfield United and work together daily I don't think there's an employee we have in Indiana that that's not with Ceres pretty much every day of their lives. So it's been a good partnership. I'm glad to be part of it.
John Gibson (05:11):
Yeah, it's been a great like you said, deep-rooted, long-standing relationship. Obviously our businesses have changed over time, but we've continued to have a really deep thorough relationship and partnership even through those changes for the better for both really.
Morgan Seger (05:27):
As you've heard in our previous conversations, these partnerships are very beneficial at a high level when we're talking about product procurement and inventory security. But like Erin mentioned, they also have boots on the ground. So Aaron shares how this partnership impacts Ceres customers.
Aaron McManaway (05:45):
Well, I've been in the co-op system my entire career 25 years and I'll never be part of any other system and pretty firm believer in it. And I think it's the single best option for grower for all facets of their operation and consolidation. Morgan has probably been the buzzword of everything for the last 10 years, whether it's in the grower side, manufacturer side, distribution side or the retail side. And as you do that, you've got less options for a grower when it comes to retailers, when it comes to manufacturers that we work with and I look at the importance of this relationship as we partner together. The main, you know, look at how it's continued to strengthen over time, is there, quite frankly there's just less co-ops today and the ones we have are larger and they're could Ceres Solutions bring everything to a grower they needed without Winfield United? The answer to that is absolutely yes, but could they bring Solutions to a grower that are maybe enhanced because of our relationship and some of the things that we're able to do as a federated co-op system pulling resources together and offering things at the grower level that maybe they couldn't do on their own. I guess my answer to that would be hopefully. So I think that's what we do and that's how we work together and it's just a pretty seamless relationship.
John Gibson (07:20):
Just to expand on that, from Ceres's standpoint, we expect Winfield to continue to bring innovative new things to us to offer growers and they also expect us to listen when they bring something new and innovative that we haven't thought of or hadn't had experience of in the past. So I think it's just a continual push from each side to try to innovate and bring new things to the market.
Aaron McManaway (07:44):
Absolutely. I mean, as we pool resources from across the country to try to bring things to market, I'll use secure financing as an example. That's something that we're able to offer to our retailer, ultimately to the grower that maybe we couldn't do on our own. And that's the kind of partnership that I think this is. But to John's point we push each other, we challenge each other on a daily, weekly basis to make, and ultimately what both of our end goals are is to provide the single best solution to a grower for their total farm that is available in the market today. And what my passion is around and always will be around is to have that offering for a grower at the cooperative retail level that is independent or independent retail level that is separate from the publicly traded companies such as nutrient. I think that's something that we're very aware of and something, I mean we'll just call a spade a spade. That's what we want to be that option. We want to be that number one option as the system. And Ceres obviously is the mainstay for that in central Indiana.
Andrew Mitchell (09:01):
So in my job and my role, I every day am in contact with Ceres Sellers, branch managers, and a win for me is going out to a grower to a farm with that seller and help co-sell however that might look, bringing data Solutions and just being out there to partner sell with them. That's the win for us and that's what an implementation specialist is designed to do under our portfolio. We could go through a lot of different scenarios that we see every day, whether that be a seed discussion, a seed placement discussion diagnosing a pest problem and a fix. But I think one thing that's unique to our systems approach is the advanced Acre RX program that we have to offer. And that's one thing that when we look at how can we solve a grower's problem and, and a lot of growers are looking for a risk mitigation tool and that's what exactly what the advanced acre RX platform does.
So where we've seen it work the best is asking the grower, how do you manage your toughest acre versus your best acre? And more times than not, they manage those acres differently because your best acre, you have a lot better potential to hit a positive ROI than you do on that tough acre. So what we're doing is putting our money where our mouth is with our data that we have through our answer plot system and saying, Hey, if you buy your seed through Ceres Solutions, you buy your products through Ceres Solutions, we're going to warranty that acre. So if it does not hit your approved deal at 95 a hundred or 105%, you're going to get a warranty payment back. To me. That's the biggest problem solver that we've had in the last year. Last year we started and we signed up roughly 14,000 acres. So out of those 14,000 acres there's going to be farms that get paid and to say that the system works, we're going to have to pay out at times. So as a true risk share cost share program that is a problem solver on
John Gibson (11:08):
The farm. Yeah, I was just going to jump in and say I think that's a great example of bringing something new and innovative to Ceres and say, Hey, this is something you probably haven't thought of and we hadn't thought of it and we didn't have the data in the background to look at that. You guys had the resources and data to run the numbers on that and put a program together to provide some risk sharing for the grower. And it's something that I think's a real benefit to growers
Morgan Seger (11:35):
In addition to Advanced Acre RX. Winfield United works hard to bring data and insights to the Ceres Solutions team and their customers. They deliver this through a system they call the answer plot
Andrew Mitchell (11:47):
Under our answer plot testing system, we have roughly 200 locations that are compromised of 20 to 40 acres, a piece of research farms across the country. I believe we're in 32 different states with our answer plots and we're producing 6 million plus data sets and these are replicated data sets, so they have a low LSD that drive that. So it's good data, it's valuable data that we're bringing to our partners which Ceres Solutions has access to all of our answer plot data. We look at response to scores and our corn hybrids response to nitrogen response to fungicide scores as well as new products coming out. So another thing that we've done is a lot of third party testing and our answer plus systems. So for example, the words of stimulator biological is a hot topic in agriculture right now. And in 2021 what we did, we took 13 different stimulants from 10 different companies, ran em through our testing procedure, and at the end of the day we came out with one product that we felt was the best agronomically and had the highest to her in a positive roi. So we're continuously looking at new products and testing them strenuous.
Aaron McManaway (13:05):
Well, I think just to go back to one of the earlier points of what we can add as a company to Ceres Solutions, it's our ability to take and replicate and evaluate new products, not just in Indiana or Michigan, but across the country and try to sort out some of the noise in all the products that come to market of what is and what is not worth advancing in our opinion and data backed. And then obviously bring those recommendations to Ceres and then ultimately they make the decision and I guess ultimately the grower makes a decision if they adopt that new product or a lot of things we used to do were more product-based, they still are. But a lot of times today we look at things as a systems approach. What happens when you add something to the quote system? What happens when you take something away from the system? And those systems are what now have been built out. They go back to the RX platform that you referenced earlier,
John Gibson (14:05):
Andrew. Yeah, I can't overstate how important the answer plot system has been to Ceres. All of our seed brands are tested in that system, but not only just from a seed data management and looking at new hybrids, also the agronomic practices that you guys put through there in a replicated form throughout different weather conditions, different environments. The Ceres footprint is different from north to southeast to west. So not having all the data in just one location or three sites only having a robust data and research site that has great statistics to back the data within, it really is impactful for us to take something new to the countryside and actually make a great recommendation with it. You might talk about just the systems approach and how Winfield looks at not just one category independently, but seed and crop protection and stimulants and fungicides. I mean it goes all the years ago we would've said R R seven, but just kind of that holistic approach. Yeah,
Aaron McManaway (15:09):
I think I look at just in my 18 years here in the seven years previous in retail the main objective for those answer plots was to evaluate seed hybrids and varieties. And that core principle has not changed. We still do that and try to get an early look, a sneak peak at up and coming products. But to your point, the systems approach now takes and looks at that complete acre start to finish from the baseline fertility to the starters, to the pre-emerge emerge applications, the different nitrogen systems, and basically, you know, take that on into the season, into micros, into fungicides, into the bio stimulants. And what you're really looking at is what package or what system can we put together for a recommendation to a grower that would return the har highest R o ROI on that acre? And that's ultimately what you're looking for. I what is the perfect package for that acre that has the right recipe to return the highest return on investment to the grower is ultimately what the answer plot system is designed around today.
Andrew Mitchell (16:28):
Bringing that tested true and true data out and passing along with Ceres sellers, it gives them a boost of confidence that hey, these products have been tested. They do work, especially in the time right now where I alluded to earlier, the market's being flooded with new products and what kind of data do we have or do that's backing those products? To my knowledge, no one has the data and the enterprise system provides
John Gibson (16:59):
To Andrew's point Ceres is approached frequently with a new product from a new company or a new suite of products from a new company that they want us to offer to growers. And if we did that, we would have more SKUs or products available, we would probably triple just, there's just so many new things in that market of biologicals. So we rely on having things tested and being some research behind it to say that it's a proven product that has a win percentage that's that's going to provide value more often than not without having a robust answer plot system to run that through. Or a partner that will listen to you say, Hey, this product seems to have traction or we've seen it locally, do things sometimes winfield's open to that to listen to what we have happening locally and then potentially put that into a robust plan. So I think that's a great example of we can't vet everything ourselves, but they also are open to listening to what's happening locally in our
Aaron McManaway (17:57):
Market. I certainly don't want to underestimate or undervalue the research that Ceres Solutions is able to do locally at the same time, I mean we provide recommendations and a foundation to that research and those recommendations, but those are always fine tuned at the local level and there's nobody better at it than Ceres Solutions.
Morgan Seger (18:20):
As we're wrapping up the 2022 calendar year, Andrew speaks to some of the trends and exciting things they are looking forward to in 2023.
Andrew Mitchell (18:30):
I think definitely we talked about the A R X program platform. If a grower is interested in a risk share cost share program, this is definitely something that warrants some value and we would love to sit down and talk to you about. So reach out to your local Ceres seller and if he needs any further information, we'd be more than happy to sit down and talk through this program. So there has been a couple of early registration enrollment windows, but really what the enrollment windows is going to go out to prior to that application being put on. And what's cool about the advanced Saccr rx, it is a soft commit at this moment. So we don't wanna lock somebody in and charge them a per acre fee up front for something that they don't utilize. So say a guy is interested in doing something with a fungicide and we put that on the books and we enroll him into this, he's not going to get billed for that program until that application's actually made.
So we actually had a couple guys this past year that came into June, it was hot, it was dry their crops might not have looked as well as they wanted them to and they said, I don't think I'm, I'm not going to apply that fungicide pass. Well great, we just pulled 'em out of the program and he wasn't charged for anything. Other guys decided that if they're going to warranty this, I'm going to try it. And so they move forward to it and then the bill came in August. So yeah, really for a deadline I think it's a great tool to plan for prepay, but if it comes in closer to time I would say that that may timeframes probably when we need to be pulling the trigger depending on the program that you're running, it could be before the plant's getting the ground.
John Gibson (20:22):
I think for it to have the best impact, it should be somewhere in the seed conversation as well for that grower to plan efficiently and to have a really good game plan on where they're going to utilize that program to get the best roi.
Andrew Mitchell (20:35):
And you're right John, cuz the biggest caveat on of this whole program is they have to purchase their seed through Ceres Solutions. So yes, you
John Gibson (20:43):
Are correct, but it's a great example of something that's innovative and new to try to share risk with the grower throughout the season.
Andrew Mitchell (20:49):
As well as we do have some new products launching, which is a PGR. It's a new formulation of the sync that's coming out from Winfield United. That's something to look into as well as there's a new bio stimulant and we're really putting it through the testing data through Winfield United as well as through Ceres Solutions through some insight trials. So that new stimulant is called Yield On. We're seeing some really cool things with it and we're going to hopefully, well we are, we're going to get all that data and we're going to bring it in together and we can talk about it a little more in detail this winter.
John Gibson (21:31):
Troy had previously talked about yield enhancing products, about being the next thing that if growers are wanting to look at the next level or take that they really have to do everything right up to that point, but really look at that and yield on is one he referenced and that we'll have a lot more data post harvest to really dissect that across a lot of acres. So we're looking forward to seeing the initial reports have been extremely good so far.
Aaron McManaway (21:55):
One of the other assets that we own as Winfield United, Land O'Lakes is the technology research center that sits in River Falls, Wisconsin. And that's one of the very few wind tunnels that exist in the world. And I know several people have made the trip up there and took a tour of the facility and it's really allowed us to do some very advanced research on some of the new products, specifically adjuvants coming to market. And I definitely think it gives a competitive advantage in that space to that product line. And the other piece is the fact that we are basic. I, we have what we call refer to as omnium and it's our ability to procure to manufacture products on our own. And specifically in the covid days that we realized how valuable of an asset we actually had there and able to acquire the resources and raw materials to produce those products and not be reliant on someone else was definitely another, I would say competitive advantage or still is today.
John Gibson (23:06):
We heard earlier from Troy how important getting product to the middle and the lower part of the canopy. And a lot of times that is not only mechanically how are you applying, but what adjuvants do you have in there? Ceres has always felt like Winfield's done a great job of continuing to innovate and bring new things that help whatever we're applying, whether it be a herbicide or a micro or a fungicide, apply it more efficiently to try to always improve ROI and also to try to keep our tools working for the long term. So I think it's something you can't gloss over continuing to try to innovate in that space to try to create more roi.
Andrew Mitchell (23:45):
And also when we're talking about the innovation and data that Ceres has right in their backyard is SureTech Labs. And what that brings to the table is the ability for them to take some soil or tissue test and have a quick turnaround time so we can diagnose in season problems with the tissue test figure out what, maybe it's a micro deficiency and we can correct that problem with a foliar application of a maxin or a BR product or maybe it's a spring or fall soil sample to see what the nutrient content is of that soil and how we can correct that so we can further drive top end yields for these producers.
John Gibson (24:25):
So Aaron, and when you think about the overarching, we've talked a lot about data and the tools we have today and the innovation for tomorrow. When you think about the overarching value a grower gets when they buy through a co-op system, what does that look like from you?
Aaron McManaway (24:39):
Well, I might be a little biased here, John, but I think it's the best system in the country. And what I mean by that, everything we do, whether it's Ceres Solutions or whether it's Winfield, United Land O'Lakes is about improving the ROI for a grower, but also how we can do it the most efficiently and the most profitably. And the beautiful part of it is, at the end of the day, as a grower being an owner of Ceres Solutions, if Ceres Solutions operates profitably, those earnings are shared back with the grower in terms of patronage. And that same exact system works with land. And if we do our job and we do it well and we do it profitably and efficiently, we share those earnings back with back wither Solutions. So it's an end-to-end system where the profit is shared back ultimately to the grower. And it's something that no publicly traded company, in my opinion, can compete with because in that scenario, when their earnings are made, they go back to the stockholders and that's something I've always been pretty passionate about and why I've always chosen to stay in this system.
John Gibson (25:54):
Yeah, I think that's fantastic. I mean, Ceres has a board of member owners that directs Ceres and then in turn Ceres has some direction or influence with Land O'Lakes as well. And like you said, a reverse ownership model that flows both directions when it's appropriate too. I think it's a absolutely key long-term factor for us going forward.
Morgan Seger (26:16):
Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Field Points. I wanna make sure we say thank you to Andrew and Aaron for joining us on this podcast and thanks to John for co-hosting throughout this agronomy Ceres. If you missed an episode, you'll wanna make sure and go back and listen to those. It's been such a fun week releasing these episodes every day, and I hope that they are bringing you value as you make considerations for your 2023 crop. The show notes for this episode will be available at Ceres dot c e r e s dot c o o p. If you enjoyed this deeper dive, be sure to subscribe and leave us a review. Your review and feedback will help other listeners like you find our podcast and we are so thankful for that.


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