Tools for Training and Keeping Good Employees Increasingly Important in Agribusiness

A few months ago, Matt Reese of Ohio’s Country Journal reached out to Harvest Land asking if we have any tools for training and keeping good employees, as this topic has been increasingly important in agribusiness. We decided to share the details and success of our ACE program with Matt and Ohio’s Country Journal. This week, we share with you the full article Matt wrote:

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Tools for training and keeping good employees increasingly important in agribusiness

By Matt Reese

It is not an uncommon story. A young employee starts at the lowest levels of a company, works in every facet of the business and one day ends up running it.

“Our CEO is in his early 40s. He hired on at a local ag center as an applicator, which is a technical job driving big machines. He was willing to do anything. He would tie feed sacks at the mill, sweep shop floors, check out customers at the counter — that man now is our CEO,” said Lindsay Sankey, communications manager for Harvest Land Cooperative with locations in western Ohio and Indiana. “He has worked in every department of our business. He is a prime example that if you are willing to learn and take on responsibility, there is so much opportunity in a farmer owned cooperative. We have several examples of this. He started on the lowest rung and now he is leading the cooperative.”

Unfortunately, for a number of different reasons, this type of ground up experience and long-term company loyalty seems to be less common in the modern pool of employees. Harvest Land Cooperative recognizes the value of this type of experience for young potential leaders and has taken extensive steps to recreate it as a way to groom tomorrow’s leaders.

“About 5 years ago we started talking about succession in the cooperative system. Harvest Land has about 300 full time employees and about a third of them will retire in the next decade. We recognized the need to fill our bench, you might say, with people who are qualified to be a valuable leader in our business. As we prepare for future demand of an evolving agricultural climate, we also must provide our emerging front runners with a broad perspective of what our cooperative does,” Sankey said. “That gave us the idea for our Accelerated Career Excellence (ACE) Program. We invite people to apply for this program, right out of college or trade school, maybe someone who is interested in working for Harvest Land, but they might not know exactly where they could fit. This is a great program because it allows them to see all facets of our business in 12 months and determine what areas suit them and how they suit our system the best.”

The paid position through the ACE Program sets the stage for future leaders by teaching them about Harvest Land from the ground up.

“They go on a tour of our co-op. They work in the agronomy department, they work in the energy department that includes fuels, home heat and propane, they have to dive deep into our seed business, and then they go through training on the importance of organization and prioritization skills. They go through a whole session on personality testing and how to understand and work with multiple types of people. They also are required to dive deep into the financial understanding of the cooperative system and specifically Harvest Land’s balance sheet. We give assigned reading to them and we bring in a professor from Purdue on communication skills and how to work with customers, growers and the community. As they go through this they are showing up every day at a local location or our headquarters,” Sankey said. “We started this in 2016 and we have had really good success. We had a young man come out of the casket industry, and he applied for a job at Harvest Land. He had grown up on a small farm in Indiana but had not been a part of that farm in a decade. He is about to take over our grain marketing department in September. He has excelled so much. He showed up. He was willing to learn. He really shined in grain marketing and when our grain marketing manager retires, this young man will take over the department. Every one of our candidates has accepted full time positions. They are doing cool things for the co-op and are proving their leadership abilities. We recognize we are building strength on our bench at Harvest Land.”

 

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Kyle Baumer is one of many success stories through Harvest Land’s ACE Program.

ACE offers a chance for young leaders to discover where they may fit, but it also provides a chance for management to learn about the upcoming talent.

 

“The managers supervise, evaluate and enrich the experience for these individuals so they get a boots on the ground look at Harvest Land. Our managers are always looking for good help and their feedback is extremely valuable and candid. We know when things are going well or when an ACE candidate is not so interested in that area,” Sankey said. “ACE is managed by our HR department and it is a large part of what they do. From the very beginning when they interview someone, this is in the back of their mind. Because this is a 12-month program and it is cyclical, they are constantly having to manage how long someone has been in the department, where they are now, and who they have worked with. It is a lot of work. We have three HR individuals on our team and they do a great job of facilitating the ACE Program.

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“When you recognize the needs of running a business, you know you are going to have to put in some work to attract young talent. Every ounce of effort put into this will pay us back if we can create a good culture and hire these employees that will stick with Harvest Land.”

Good, long-term employees are shaped by their work experiences, but they also respond to a workplace culture including positive core values. Emphasizing and instilling those values with employees is the reason behind the IREP program at A&L Great Lakes Laboratoriesbased in Ft. Wayne, Ind.

“A couple years ago we had a bit of an identity crisis. We needed to distinguish ourselves in the marketplace. So for about 9 months, we worked on identifying what we really stood for as a company,” said Jamie Bultemeier, agronomist and corporate sales director for A&L Great Lakes Laboratories. “We identified our core values are doing the right things with integrity when no one is looking. We want to do things right the first time every time. We want to be easy to work with. When the customers are looking for solutions, we want to solve those problems. And, we want to be partners with our customers. If their business grows, our business grows and we can build loyalty with our customers that way. A group of employees came up with IREP: Integrity, Right, Easy, Partnership as a way to remember them. That has stuck and become a foundation for what we do.”

IREP is focused inward.

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If employees decide to embrace the principles of IREP at A&L Great Lakes Laboratories they get to add their name to the wall.

 

“Our outward appearance and marketing is based on these four core values too, but this is about getting employees to adopt the same internal branding that we are pushing outward. And when someone calls the office, no matter who they talk to, we want these core values to exude from the conversations. We want a consistent message of what A&L Great Lakes stands for. IREP has been a way to bring this into an easy to understand concept that people can buy into,” he said. “When you can articulate your core values, it opens doors for sales and hiring new talent. It really clarifies our value messages to people. When we make big decisions, does it stand on our core values? If it doesn’t, we don’t do it. It has made the decision making process easier too.”

From the beginning, new employees are introduced to the IREP concept. It is featured on a plaque in the office lobby, but more importantly it is emphasized on a wall in the back of the office for employees to sign if they agree with those principles.

“We are hoping we can build an emotional tie to the company. We rely heavily on seasonal employees and when we can get an employee to return it really helps. When they come back we do not have to retrain them and they understand how things work. We hope to bring those part timers back year after year,” Bultemeier said. “We have always had a small group of seasonals who return, but trying to get them to return has gotten more difficult. Now we are getting to the point where those people are developing a personal tie to the company and become something more than just a seasonal employee. That makes them more likely to come back each year.”

Because it was developed from the inside out, IREP has been very effective.

“IREP has been around for about a year and a half. When we started going through this branding process, the company morale took a little bit of a dive. It created some open conversations that maybe weren’t the most fun to be a part of. We have really since then seen a real change in morale as we have brought some of these things out and company morale has really gone up dramatically. Employees are taking ownership in this. We are also now trying to catch people following the IREP values and highlighting it. We encourage it and celebrate it when it occurs,” Bultemeier said. “It doesn’t matter the size of your business or what it is, that unified belief or value set is important. It is tough if those values are only in your marketing. If it doesn’t resonate through the employees of the company, it is lost. Now we hear from our customers using the words directly out of IREP. That is huge when we see that manifesting itself in our customer base. That is not something you can fake or get in advertising. This is deeper than a marketing program. This started out as a management need. It was a very methodical business oriented decision to do it. When the employees took ownership of this, it took on a life of its own.”

 

This is the third of a series of five stories in cooperation with the Ohio AgriBusiness Association highlighting human resource management solutions in Ohio agribusinesses.

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We apprecaite Matt reaching out to Harvest Land. You can read the full article printed in the recent edition, or online here.

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All About Wheat

We’re in the middle of wheat harvest in Indiana and Ohio. We don’t market as much wheat in our territory as we do corn and soybeans, but it is still an important part of our cooperative business.

Grain marketed by Harvest Land in fiscal year 2018, in bushels:

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This Friday, we present you with eight fast facts about wheat:

  • More than 17,000 years ago, humans gathered the seeds of plants and ate them. After rubbing off the husks, early people simply chewed the kernels raw, parched or simmered.
  • Wheat originated in the “cradle of civilization” in the Tigris and Euphrates river valley, near what is now Iraq.
  • A bushel of wheat yields 42 one-and-a-half pound commercial loaves of white bread OR about 90 one-pound loaves of whole wheat bread.
  • A bushel of wheat makes about forty-five 24-ounce boxes of wheat flake cereal.
  • If you eat pasta three times a week, it would take 70 weeks to eat all the pasta made from one bushel of durum.
  • More types of foods are made with wheat than with any other cereal grain.
  • Wheat is not only used for food but it also a vital ingredient in paper, hair conditioner, charcoal and medical swabs.
  • Globally, wheat is the leading source of vegetal protein in human food.

 

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As you see the combines rolling while cutting wheat this week and next, keep in mind all the grain offers the American population and beyond!

 

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Photo Friday: Fueling Freedom 2019

CountryMark’s 2019 Fueling Freedom event was a success at our Elwood, Greenville, Greenfield, Oxford and United Energy locations. We’re proud to partner with CountryMark on this event that does so much for the families of soldiers. More than $57,000 was raised across all participating CountryMark stations. 

We thought this Facebook post from a CountryMark employee encapsulates the value in this event:

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Here is a breakdown of our results:

Greenfield Store: 1990 gallons and $203 in donations

Elwood Station: 355 gallons

KDS Oxford: 1906 gallons and $614 in donations

Greenville Station: 1896 gallons

United Energy: 2738 gallons and $178 in donations

Today’s Photo Friday offers a glimpse of the day!

Many thanks to all who participated. 

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Last Call! Fueling Freedom 2019

This morning we want to encourage you to support our 2019 Fueling Freedom program today, June 21!

Purchase fuel at the CountryMark stations listed below, and we’ll donate 50 cents for every gallon of fuel pumped from noon – 5:00 PM to the local National Guard Family Readiness Group.

Greenville, OH

Greenfield, IN

Elwood, IN

Oxford, OH (KDS Express)

Fountaintown, IN (United Energy)

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Did You Know?

  • 100% of the proceeds from Fueling Freedom will go to support local National Guard Family Readiness Groups.
  • Family Readiness Groups fund activities for troops and their families. Many of the Family Readiness Groups use their funds to host summer picnics, hold Christmas dinners, send packages to deployed soldiers, and offer after-school programs for children of American soldiers.
  • Our National Guard troops defend our country and our people every day. This Fourth of July, we want them to know how much we appreciate what they do for us.
  • This is the 11thyear the CountryMark system has hosted Fueling Freedom events.

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We encourage you to come out for Fueling Freedom, purchase CountryMark TOP TIER gasoline and premium diesel fuel, and register to win a $150 fuel card. One fuel card will be given away at each CountryMark fueling station participating in Fueling Freedom.

Show your patriotism and come out (to Greenville, OH; Greenfield, IN; Elwood, IN; Oxford, OH (KDS Express); or Fountaintown, IN (United Energy)) today from 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM!

 

 

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No Amber Waves of Grain

If you’re not directly working in agriculture – which, 98% of the population is not – talk of the challenging time in ag may not spur your curiosity. It may only be a 20-second segment on the evening news or a quick mention at the hardware store during check out. You may work or live in town, so it likely doesn’t matter much to you. But, you should care about this challenging time – unprecedented challenging time – because it does affect you. No one is exempt.

What’s the Problem?

The weather has been relentless to those who make a livelihood off the land. Let’s start in the fall of 2018:

When the crop is harvested off the field, a best practice is to apply a fall application, which is a herbicide that kills any weeds that may emerge. This ensures the field is clean and ready to be planted in the spring. But last fall, constant rain delayed harvest and also left fields saturated. This didn’t allow for equipment to get into the fields to apply this product, so the majority of fields went untouched. Fall application became something growers would have to take care of in the spring.

Folks with livestock such as cattle faced challenges from the uncooperative weather, also. Usually, a field can get three cuttings of hay in a summer season but that wasn’t the case in 2018. This resulted in a hay shortage last fall when stockmen were trying to produce or buy hay for the upcoming winter….the winter of 2018-2019: You know, the one that never ended. The extended winter, causing stockman to still feed hay in April, resulted in a real hay shortage. But the winter wasn’t just extended, it was brutal. Record temperatures and snowfall, blizzards striking America’s heartland multiple times, great loss of livestock in inclimate weather…each of these things compressed the issue. Then came the flooding.

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Rain began in late March and never stopped. In a time when growers were hoping to apply the herbicide to kill the weeds so they could plant a crop, tractors, planters, and sprayers remained in the shop because they couldn’t get into the soggy fields. And there is a brief window of time in which a farmer can plant corn and soybeans. If that window is missed, there will be no crop at all. Now here we are, the middle of June, and fields still sit empty. Except for the weeds.

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Weeds stand nearly 6 feet tall in a field in Ohio.

 

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A field covered in weeds, prior to planting a seed.

 

Also, in order for growers to get the best crop insurance possible, corn needed to be planed by June 6. After that date, farmers had to make a decision to either let the ground remain completely unplanted, or to plant an alternate crop. Maybe soybeans? The soybean market is already so weak, due to saturation of the market and tariffs, that there would be no money in that. We’re talking record low prices for the commodity.

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As of June 9, just 60% of America’s soybean acres had been planted in our highest-producing states, compared with nearly 90% typically planted by this time of year. And just 83% of the corn crop is in the ground in the most productive states, a number that should be pushing 100%.

Some farmers are finally admitting

that this will be the first time in

their lifetime of farming

that there will be no crop. 

This adds to an already extremely difficult run in agriculture. Land O’Lakes recently shared this information:

Due largely to sustained low commodity prices, average farm income in 2017 was $43,000, while the median farm income for 2018 was negative$1,500. In 2018, Chapter 12 bankruptcies in the farm states across the Midwest that are responsible for nearly half of all sales of U.S farm products rose to the highest level in a decade.

Those who support the American farmer are not spared in this grief. Ag retailers, such as the local farmer-owned cooperative, aren’t able to dispense the product they’ve purchased months ago because it has nowhere to go. There is no crop insurance for retail, they simply lose the money. Credit providers won’t get paid because the farmers have no income to make payments. Salesmen who may work on commission go without pay because no one has the money to buy. It is a cycle that affects stress levels and livlihoods by the thousands.

So, how are you affected?

The loss of income in agriculture this year will be in the billions. This will affect small towns across America in very real ways because this unprofitable year will affect ag retailers, seed companies, grain elevators, machinery dealers and more, all of which employs thousands in our area. All of which will have less in their pocketbook in a very real way. And when they’re making much less money, they’re spending less at local stores, restaurants, entertainment, car dealerships and beyond.

The price of food will also see an upward swing as the corn used to produce your favorite tortilla chips or the tomatoes you cook with simply aren’t being produced. We’re usually enjoying sweet corn by now…much won’t even be planted.

It is quite difficult to put into words the depth of despair agriculture is experiencing in this moment. The sickening statistic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that suicide rates in farmers are higher than any other occupation today speaks volumes.

Wake up, America, the Beautiful! There may be no amber waves of grain and no fruited plains.

 

We urge you to take heart regarding this national crisis. It spares no one who eats or cares about their community. We invite you to check on those in your community who work in agriculture. You may only see them at the grocery, church pew, ballpark or parking lot, but a simple word to let them know they aren’t alone in this volatile time could make a world of difference in their state of mind. Let them know their work and effort matters.

We’ll keep this in mind, our faith keeping us rooted:

But I will bless the person who puts his trust in me. He is like a tree growing near a stream and sending out roots to the water. It is not afraid when hot weather comes, because its leaves stay green; it has no worries when there is no rain; it keeps on bearing fruit. – Jeremiah 17:7-8

Harvest Land stands beside our growers as we navigate this unbelievable time. Those of us in production agriculture will get through this because of our unwavering resolve which has benefitted stewards of the land from the beginning of time. And we’ll go on to live admirably, doing the greatest work in the world: Farming.

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2019 Scholarship​ Recipients Announced​

Harvest Land Co-op recently awarded 20 scholarships to 2019 high school graduates throughout their trade area, with combined money awarded totaling $20,000.

Harvest Land is a proud supporter of agriculture and young farmer programs,  such as 4-H and FFA, throughout the area. In addition to those opportunities, Harvest Land awards scholarships to young men or women who are pursuing post-high school agricultural degrees. Students from Harvest Land’s three districts within their trade market are chosen annually. Harvest Land also recognizes employees’ children who are graduating and pursuing post-high school education.

The 2019 winners are:

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We’re proud to have these students selected out of more than sixty candidates. Ag educators, veterinarians, horticulturalists, ag engineers and more: We have no doubt this group will go on to do great things.

Congratulations to all 2019 graduates!

 

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ACE Program Welcomes 2019 Hires

As our cooperative business evolves, Harvest Land recognizes the need to invest in our greatest asset: our employees. With nearly 1/3 of our employee group retiring in the next ten years, there is immense opportunity for individuals to advance their careers within our cooperative and gain extensive experience to provide greater service and value to our members.

As we prepare for the increased responsibilities and future demands of an evolving agriculture climate, we must provide emerging frontrunners with a broader perspective. This more-strategic perspective enables them to see the business as a whole—beyond specific functions or departments. By gaining this perspective, they are more prepared to successfully operate in leadership positions.

The ACE (Accelerated Career Excellence) program is a 12-month career development ACE Logo-01
program designed to enable participants to strategically frame their thinking, learn and use basic cooperative business knowledge and tools, and apply what is learned in the context of their accelerating career.

We recently welcomed two new ACE candidates to Harvest Land:

Kenzi Schwieterman, originally from Ridgeville, Indiana, joins us after graduating from Purdue with a Bachelor of Science in Agronomy. Before joining our team, Kenzi worked previously as a crops resource center teaching assistant at Purdue, a research diagnostic intern with the USDA and plays an active role on her family’s farm. Kenzi begins her career at Randolph Ag. 

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Nick Arnold is originally from Hagerstown and has launched his career with Harvest Land at Central Ohio Ag. Nick recently graduated from Purdue with a Bachelor of Science degree in agribusiness management. Prior to joining our team, Nick worked as a sales intern with AgriGold Hybrids and was also a Harvest Land Field Tech summer intern in 2017. Nick has also been a large part of operations on his family’s farm, where his passion for agriculture was ignited. 

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We’re extremely excited about these two individuals joining the Harvest Land team and we look forward to the perspective they’ll bring to our farmer-owned cooperative.

Welcome, Kenzi & Nick!

 

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Maturities Do Matter

We’re getting many questions about making planting adjustments for corn and also soybean varieties in this delayed season. We sat down with agronomist Steve Dlugosz and Seed Manager Brandon Lovett to address concerns and talk about why maturities do matter right now.

Take a look –

 

 

As always, your YieldPro team at Harvest Land is here to discuss with you the best options for success in this difficult season.

 

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Sharpen The Axe: The Pan Test Process

It has been a challenging spring. Just as we think we’re entering the thick of busy season, moisture arrives and prevents us from getting anything done on local land.  

There is still plenty to do at our ag centers, whether we can get into a field, or not.

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Abraham Lincoln said,

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree

and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” 

The first four hours: That’s where we’ve been over the last two months, as a cooperative awaiting a change in season. So we’ve taken advantage of that time to do things like pan testing our machines so we’re prepared to run on all cylinders when we finally can. Pan testing, you ask?

Our Central Ohio Ag crew recently worked together to pan test machines for spring fieldwork. Pan testing is a process used to calibrate the spread pattern of a fertilizer applicator. Watch the video to see how the machines cross over the pans set at regular positions across the spread pattern, allowing us to evaluate how even the spread pattern is. We can then make adjustments to our machines to ensure our customers are getting the highest quality application every time.

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This is one more way we work to provide the best, most accurate service for our farmer-members. We wish you a safe planting season.

 

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Early Season Fungicide Success and Response to Sulfur

Increased pressure in diseased corn isn’t going away. Sara Nave from our Lena Ag Center, grower Richard Bodey and Agronomist Steve Dlugosz worked together in 2018 to develop and run a box trial that yielded really interesting – and telling – results regarding early season fungicide application and also response to sulfur. Bodey confirms that the treated side had greater plant stamina and standability.

So, how important is sulfur in the production of corn and soybeans? This week we invite you to watch the video below to find out!

 

Actual Trial Results:

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Your YieldPro Specialist is ready to visit with you about your options for the 2019 crop. Contact them today to get a plan in place for success this season!

 

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