Some believe that in many aspects of life, timing is everything.
Among those believers, please count Randy Bartholomew, Integrated Solutions Manager at GreenMark Equipment, a John Deere dealer in Three Rivers, MI.
“If we go back five to seven years, they had their challenges, and we had our own,” recalled Bartholomew, referring to Green Valley Agricultural Inc., an ag retailer headquartered about 50 miles north of GreenMark, in Wayland, MI. “Now, as we both started to dig into this thing, we realized we’re going to end up being quite involved with each other (anyway) as this goes on.”
The “this” Bartholomew was referring to is his dealership’s now close-knit business affiliation with Green Valley, where just hours earlier PrecisionAg® Professional had dropped in to get a bit of a sense of just how an equipment dealer and an ag retailer can offer conjoined services to drive value for grower-customers.
The folks at Green Valley — chiefly Vice President John Christian and Jason Stegink, who leads the organization’s ag tech division and works diligently with Bartholomew and his team at GreenMark — also enjoy the fruits of a relationship with the GreenMark dealership in Three Rivers, just south of Wayland outside of Kalamazoo.
“We’ve just gotten along really well with those guys, and it’s benefited us and our customers,” Christian said on a frigid Upper Midwest December morning. “Jason says all the time that they’re really good at selling technology, and it’s just been a really nice opportunity for us to help customers use precision technology.”
Diverse Customer Base
The Grand Rapids-area territory that both operations serve is as diverse from a crop standpoint as it is craft-beer-focused (“Beer City, USA”!), with corn and soybean growers futzing around with Ag Leader yield monitors and 24-row Deere planters right alongside specialty-crop growers raising smaller acreages of blueberries, organic squash, and other vegetables. Christian estimates Green Valley’s grower mix at around 70% corn and soybean, with specialty crop growers making up the remainder.
“Our vegetable guys have probably been good for our row crop guys; I think they help bring a whole different mindset to production, because even during the worst year their mindset is production, production, production,” Christian says. “The row crop guys are slower to adopt that mentality. They’re trying to balance cash flow, and really production isn’t the foremost thing on their minds — it’s cost conservation and things like that.”
Driving a higher level of technology adoption among those row crop growers — while also retaining current growers and recruiting new ones — are two benefits the affiliation enables. This gives an edge to GreenValley, which competes locally on everything from bulk fertilizer to seed with such big names as CHS, Wilbur-Ellis, and Crop Production Services along with a few independent regional co-ops. Meanwhile, GreenMark is just a stone’s throw up the road from a New Holland dealership, and Case IH has a presence in the area as well.
“I don’t think our competitors know what to think about the effort and expertise we’ve put into our precision programs,” Christian said. “I mean, they offer grid sampling and a lot of the same programs, and they use a lot of the same systems as we do, but there’s a completely different mindset behind it here.”
Mindset, however, goes only so far with skeptical and technology-overwhelmed growers, so the value-added service behind that mindset remains a Green Valley/GreenMark Equipment hallmark. Stegink, Christian’s right-hand precision man, describes the relationship rather succinctly. “We go out and support the agronomic side in the field, writing the prescriptions and getting those to work in the cab,” he said, “and they (GreenMark) make sure the iron works and that the tools do their job.”
Hours later down in Three Rivers, in a corner office of a brightly lit Deere dealership that’s surprisingly bustling for a snowy December Friday, Bartholomew can’t stress enough his operation’s intent to stay out of the agronomic recommendations game. Implementation, as he described it, is where the rubber meets the road for GreenMark.
“We help them (growers) get started, and make sure all the equipment is optimized in the field and ready to go,” Bartholomew explained. “Growers are running all of the prescriptions, and at the end of that we start pulling that data back in” using MyJohnDeere Wireless Data Transfer.
Telematics Take Center Stage
Besides stewarding an RTK network that stretches across 11 million acres via 46 towers, and marketing its two-tiered AMS programs to growers — a basic tier which Bartholomew described as “phone support and biannual software updates with two on-farm visits per season,” and a customized advanced tier which is much more “boots on the ground” and charged on a per-acre basis — the movement of data, or telematics, makes up a huge chunk of Bartholomew and his team’s day-to-day.
“When we have to go out to each individual machine to pull a jump drive and get the data out, get it back to the office and compiled, all in a timely manner, it is miserable,” he shared. “With the JD Link Wireless Data Transfer, now those agronomic service providers like Green Valley can see the data coming in, and they know it’s coming from ISG (John Deere’s Intelligent Solutions Group) so it’s going to be good, clean data: Here’s the harvest map, meaning they now can write their prescriptions, and they know the field is finished. Basically that first point of contact (to the customer) now becomes ‘Hey, just so you know we’ve already spread that field (with lime) and it’s ready to be tilled under.’ And so they can get such an earlier start at it, because they’re not figuring out where to start. The data just kind of flows.”
Up at Green Valley, meanwhile, as GreenMark stayed busy on its end making sure all of the data flows and comes in clean and optimized so that Green Valley’s agronomists can write prescriptions, the retailer was looking at aerial imagery and nitrogen sensors as two technologies they’d like to implement even further going forward.
“It’s those types of technologies that I can see working out well for us, at least on the vegetable side,” Stegink allowed. “The drone scenario would be the most convenient because you can go out today and check that field. From the big row-crop standpoint? Hmm, maybe. So, we’ll see.”