Summary:

Since its release in 2016, MyGrower, Greenstone’s grower-facing mobile platform, has grown and expanded to meet the needs of AGRIS customers time and time again. In this episode of Outstanding in the Field, you will hear from Adam Jackson, a merchandiser with TriOak Foods, Inc., about how MyGrower has impacted their business and what it’s like to work with Team Greenstone. Additionally, MyGrower’s Product Manager, Mahmoud Naeim, joins the show to discuss what’s ahead for the platform and why it’s truly a “no brainer” for AGRIS customers.

What you will learn in this episode:

  • What MyGrower is and how/why it was developed
  • How MyGrower can be implemented into an agribusiness for increased efficiency and higher levels of customer service
  • How MyGrower interacts with AGRIS
  • What’s on the product roadmap for MyGrower in 2020 and beyond

Relevant links:

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Transcription:

Mike Terning: Welcome to another episode of Outstanding in the Field, a podcast by Greenstone Systems. Today I am excited to introduce Adam Jackson. He’s our guest today. Adam, what is your role and where are you at today?

Adam Jackson: So, I am based out of Oakville, Iowa and I work for TriOak Foods. I do the grain merchandising for the company, and I also buy a lot of the ingredients for our feed mills. So.

Mike:   Okay. For those out in our audience who don’t know much about TriOak Foods, what’s your primary line of business and what do you do?

Adam:   So, our primary line of business, we’re actually a pig company, but we also have three feed mills. One feed mill would be in Bushnell, Illinois, one would be in Oakville, Iowa, and then the third would be in Brandon, Colorado. We also have five grain elevators to go along with those to kind of supply our corn for our feed mills.

Mike:   Okay. So, you have quite a few locations and activities happening each and every day.

Adam:   Yeah. There’s a lot of different stuff that goes on here day in and day out for sure.

Mike:   Roughly about how many hogs do you handle if you’re open to discuss that.

Adam:   Yeah, that’s not a problem. So, we would be somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million market hogs annually is what we do.

Mike:  Okay. So that’s a lot of bacon, isn’t it?

Adam:   That’s a lot of bacon.

Mike:   How long have you been with TriOak?

Adam:   I’ve been with TriOak about five years now. Prior to that, I worked with a co-op in east central Illinois called Topflight Grain.

Mike:   Are you an Illinois native?

Adam:   I am. Yeah. I actually grew up kind of near Jacksonville, kind of in that area of the state.

Mike:   Okay, alright. And stayed there for university in Illinois somewhere?

Adam:   Yeah. I went to Western Illinois University actually. So not too far from where I am now actually.

Mike:   That’s Macomb, Illinois if I’m…

Adam:   Yeah, right. Macomb, Illinois. Yep.

Mike:   Oh, good. Yeah. Well, again, thanks for being willing to spend a little time with us today. So, Adam, in terms of your role, I know you deal a lot with growers, correct?

Adam:   Right, exactly.

Mike:   What’s your interaction with farmer growers?

Adam:   Pretty much everything. I mean you know so the philosophy of this company is to deal with our farmer customers from start to finish. So, we would buy grain from our farmers. The farmers are also the people who own our barns for us that we raise pigs in. So, we turn around and take that corn we bought from them and turn it into feed and bring it right back to them to feed out the pigs. So, we try to have that touch from start to finish. So, where I would kind of come into play is I would buy the corn directly from the farmers that we deal with, work with our farmer customers on marketing and marketing programs, and things like that. So that’s kind of my role with our farmer customers.

Mike:   Okay. Roughly how many farmers do you interact with or buy grain from each year?

Adam:   You know I think we have somewhere in the neighborhood total active customer base 500 to 600 customers.

Mike:   Okay. Good. Do you have others on your team or do you kind of do this all alone?

Adam:   No, there’s a couple others here that help out. We’ve got two others in this office especially that help me out with the merchandising and marketing in that.

Mike:   Okay good. Good. It certainly has been kind of a challenging year here in 2019 thus far. I believe as of late, corn prices have been sort of heading in the right direction for the growers.

Adam:   Right.

Mike:   Not so with soybeans unfortunately.

Adam:   Right. It’s kind of diverged a little bit for sure. Corn looks pretty good, pretty profitable at this point. Assuming that you got your crops planted anyways, and then they’re looking decent. Beans kind of different story so.

Mike:   Yeah. In terms of you helping your farmer customers market some of their crops, have you noticed any trend lines with growers contracting in advance? Are they tending to do more or less? Or is it just kind of on a case by case basis when they look at their crops and how they market them in advance?

Adam:   Yeah. So, in general for the past few years it seems like there’s been a definite pickup in forward sales just with different marketing programs and things like that. So, I’d say in general, overall, the amount we buy forward for fall delivery would be going up. This year’s kind of been different. Like you said, it’s a case by case thing. The guys who got stuff planted and it’s out there looking good, they’ve been tended to be selling in this rally. Guys who may have got in planting late and some of that, maybe they’re kind of hesitant to sell at this point so.

Mike:   Okay.

Adam:   Kind of a mix bag there. So.

Mike:   Is there a certain tool that seems to be most popular in terms of forward marketing?

Adam:   You know guys really seem to like, the past couple of years, really like those manage type programs where they enroll some bushels and basically have somebody make the decisions for them. Then in the end they’ve got a price contract. Then also we’ve had a lot of interest just in our simple averaging programs. They worked really well the past couple of years also.

Mike:   Okay. Do you use a brokerage tool to help you manage those things?

Adam:   As far as our company risk management you mean?

Mike:   Well, in terms of the growers and doing your averaging mechanisms and that sort of thing.

Adam:   Oh. So, on the averaging we do that. We do all that in-house. So that’s one that we take care of. But then for our manage programs, those are run by our brokerage company John Stewart and Associates. So, they kind of take care of that end for us.

Mike:   Okay. Interesting. Alright. We’ve had other guests on Outstanding in the Field talk about how to help farmers become more profitable marketing their grain and ideas for doing that.

Adam:   Yeah, yeah.

Mike:   So, it’s interesting to hear your side of that as well. So, you’ve been using a new tool, a relatively new tool, called MyGrower.

Adam:   Right, right.

Mike:   Yeah. Could you tell us sort of what prompted your decision to explore MyGrower and start using it?

Adam:   Yeah, sure. So, a couple things really. Kind of probably the biggest one for me is I just have always been pretty technology oriented. So, whenever I see stuff like this come out, I just kind of tend to want to at least give it a shot. So that was part of it. Then also, you know, it’s kind of that’s just sort of the way the business is going, the grain business is going, and the world in general is going. So, people almost expect you to have stuff like this. There are other companies around us who have programs like this. So, I just felt it was definitely something we needed to try to role out. So.

Mike:   Okay. How have you…So describe to the audience just a little bit about how you and your famers use MyGrower. How do they typically look at or what are they trying to find out in terms of how they’re using it?

Adam:   So, our customer base, some of the things that they’ve really liked and mentioned that they really like is the ability to go in and look at tickets without actually having to call into the office. They can log in on their smartphone from the combine if they want to and kind of see what’s going on. They can pull settlements and take a look at that kind of stuff to make sure stuff is accurate before they might actually get something in the mail, which that’s good on both ends. The sooner we can catch stuff like that the better. This latest version that we use, they can actually get on and run some of their own reports for crop insurance and some of that. Those are some of the features right now that guys have expressed to me that they really like.

Mike:   Okay, good. In terms of helping them understand how to use it, what sort of mechanisms or programs have you done as a company or in your role to help them understand how to use MyGrower?

Adam:   So, several times a year we have like grain marketing, grain outlook, grain market outlook meetings. So typically, we would use those kinds of meetings to give demonstrations on how to use this kind of program. We’re actually doing that here this summer. We’ve got four meetings scheduled in August. At that time, I will kind of present a demo sort of on how to use the program and hopefully how to use our new iPhone and Android apps that we’ve got coming.

Mike:   In terms of—When you’re doing those sorts of trainings and meetings with growers, what questions do you typically get asked by them?

Adam:   You know generally there’s not a lot of questions. People in those meetings tend to just not be willing to always ask questions. It seems like after the fact is when guys might call and say, “Hey I saw this at the meeting,” then just have a question about it then. As far as specifics, I don’t know that there’s been a lot of questions. I mean it’s pretty straightforward on how to use it. I mean anybody who’s familiar with using any kind of computer programs can really pick this up pretty quick. So.

Mike:   Okay. Well good. In terms of, I don’t know if you’ve used the messaging feature yet at all. Are you aware of that capability?

Adam:   Yes. We have not used it yet though. That’s something we haven’t used yet.

Mike:   Yeah. That’s one of the things that we had heard is that our customers want to be able to do a little bit more real time messaging. So that’s probably a new feature you’ll want to look into and explore going forward with MyGrower.

Adam:   Yeah, yeah.

Mike:   So, in terms of the involvement with your team in supporting MyGrower and interacting with your customers, have you noticed a difference in your conversation since you’ve implemented MyGrower?

Adam:   You know maybe not a difference in conversation, but it definitely has cut down on the number of calls as far as asking for various things because guys can look it up on their own. So instead of getting—Sometimes you may have had a guy call four or five times over a couple week period asking what is the account balances for corn or beans or whatever it might be because he’s looking at selling something. So, you kind of cut out those calls. Instead they can just look it up themselves.

Mike:   Have there been less questions for your back office staff who your accountants and customer service personnel as well.

Adam:   I would say definitely it’s cut down on a lot of that.

Mike:   Do you feel you get to maybe some more meatier conversations more quickly now with a tool like this in place with your growers? Getting more to the primary marketing discussions and strategies and such sooner than you used to?

Adam:   Yeah. I think definitely we do just because guys when they call, you skip all of the balance talk and they kind of already know what they have and have a pretty good of what they want to sell. So yeah. You can get right into it a lot quicker, I think.

Mike:   In terms of growing the—it’s probably a bad word—but increasing the usage of MyGrower across your customer base, do you have any more plans to try to get it in the hands of more of your farmer customers?

Adam:   Definitely. I think especially once you get this app, the real app not just the web app. The real app that we’ve got coming. I think once you get that out, I’m not sure exactly why but it seems like if you can have a physical button there just to click right to it as opposed to having to navigate through the web to get there. I think people are really receptive to that. So, I think once we get that finally rolled out. I mean I think it will pick up a lot as far as how many people use it.

Mike:   Yeah. We offer MyGrower in a couple of different flavors. One is the essential, which is kind of what you have been using.

Adam:   Right.

Mike:   Then we have a pro version, which is native branded to you, which is what you’re talking about going to here.

Adam:   Right, right.

Mike:   Well good. Good. It’s always fun to hear more adoption within our customer base. So, it’ll be interesting to see how much more adoption you get going with something more tightly branded to try out.

Adam:   Yeah, yeah.

Mike:   Good. In terms of thinking forward, Adam, what sort of things are you seeing on the horizon that might impact what we might want to look at doing with MyGrower?

Adam:   Well, like I said it seems like this space of the mobile stuff’s really just taken off like wildfire. So as far as from you guy’s perspective, some of this from talking with you’re already planning on doing. But the integration with the cash bids and some of that will be a big one. I’ve seen some out there that can do kind of an actual built-in offer system where guys can go in and put in offers. That seems like it’d be one that’d be right in your wheelhouse since you’ve got the backend software right there too. So those are a couple though that I would see right away that would be nice.

Mike:   Beneficial to your customer base.

Adam:   Oh yeah. I think so. Yeah.

Mike:   Yeah. One of the things that we’ve worked on earlier this year was the ability to let the growers start taking some action within the application.

Adam:   Okay. Alright.

Mike:   Are you familiar with those features, Adam, at all?

Adam:   I guess maybe not.

Mike:   Yeah. There’s the ability for a grower to look at a ticket and basically say, “Hey I’d like to change the split on this or apply it to the contract.” Or basically ask some general questions, and then it gets queued up for your team. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of that functionality yet, but it’s there and available.

Adam:   Okay.

Mike:   It basically lets the grower start taking action if they see something they want to do. Maybe request a settlement. So, if they’re coming into town Friday at noon they could say, “Please have the check ready for me.”

Adam:   Oh gotcha. Well that is a nice feature. Yeah, for sure.

Mike:   Yeah. Then it shows up on your team’s dashboard so they can see here’s a list of things. It lets your team message back to them right within MyGrower. That’s one of the things that we thought was pretty important. It makes it really a two-way platform to engage your customers—

Adam:   Okay.

Mike:   So that they can start using it to take action, to initiate action on their end of what they want to do. So, yeah.

Adam:   Okay.

Mike:   Well I really appreciate the time and the insights you’ve given us today. Do you have anything else you’d like to inform our listening audience about in terms of an engagement platform like MyGrower that engages farmers? Any other insights you see? Or any advice you’d give to someone considering a customer engagement platform like MyGrower?

Adam:   You know for somebody considering it, I would just say that it’s a pretty smooth setup. You guys were good to work with on it. I didn’t have to do hardly anything on my end except for just tell our growers that it was available now. So yeah. I was pleased with the whole process from start to finish. So I guess I’d just throw that out there.

Mike:   Don’t be afraid of it, in other words.

Adam:   Don’t be afraid of it. It’s pretty easy to get up and going and it’s user-friendly. I haven’t had any complaints for customers. Yeah. It’s worth giving it a shot.

Mike:   Okay. Super. Well, Adam, again thank you very much for your time today and for joining us on this episode of Outstanding in the Field.

Adam:   Yep. Thanks guys. Not a problem.

Mike:   Alright, you take care.

Adam:   Yeah, you too. Bye.

Mike:   Today in this episode of Outstanding in the Field I am welcoming back Mahmoud Naeim. He’s our product manager for our application that we call MyGrower. So, Mahmoud, welcome back.

Mahmoud Naeim: Thank you. Thanks Mike. Thanks for having me. Always a pleasure, sir.

Mike:So just a little bit about MyGrower. First off, for those who may not have listened to some of our previous podcasts, just in summary what is MyGrower?

Mahmoud:   Sure. Basically, it is a grower engagement platform between the company and the grower. They can view things like tickets, contracts, invoices, reports. They can run reports straight out of AGRIS. Make payments through ACH and plenty of other to list.

Mike:Okay. Yeah. Yeah. It’s really that customer engagement platform like you mentioned. Letting that agribusiness basically have access to what each of their customers needs. Whenever that customer wants to see the information.

Mahmoud:  Absolutely. 24/7.

Mike:Like proof of yield reports and AR statements. All of that.

Mahmoud:  It’s one of my favorite things there.

Mike:Yeah. Okay. Well that’s good. It’s offered in a couple of different platforms, right?

Mahmoud:  Yes. Yes. You can basically access it through desktop, the desktop computer or laptop, any kind of computer. We also have the native apps, which you can download from the Apple store and the Android store just by searching MyGrower.

Mike:Okay. Yeah. So, with the desktop/laptops, it runs within kind of any popular browser?

Mahmoud:  Yep. Yep. I see the most popular browser being Chrome, but it’s available on all. It doesn’t really matter what browser you use.

Mike:Yeah, okay. Basically, any computer that can run a browser.

Mahmoud:  Yep, and internet.

Mike:Any common mobile device that runs Android or Apple.

Mahmoud:  Absolutely.

Mike:Yeah. Okay, good. Alright. So, thanks for that overview of MyGrower. Where has MyGrower been? I mean what–

Mahmoud:  Wow.

Mike:I guess I should mention that you’ve been with us now a little over a year. You started just over a year ago.

Mahmoud:  That’s correct.

Mike:So, congratulations on your one-year anniversary.

Mahmoud:  Thank you. Appreciate it.

Mike:With Greenstone.

Mahmoud:  Thank you.

Mike:So yeah. Where have you been in the last year with MyGrower?

Mahmoud:  Oh, it’s been quite a journey. So much have been covered. We’ve added a lot to the mobile side in terms of offering the native app all together. Before we did have the mobile in a web app form where you could access it, but through a browser on your mobile device. Whereas now you could actually go out and actually download that app essentially like most apps on people’s phones, and also receive push notifications if the admin chooses to do so to the growers. We recently have done ACH. That’s been a pretty big one. That’ll cut out plenty of time and effort on the elevator’s side of the co-op.

Mike:Alright. So, for those that might now know that acronym, ACH what does that stand for? It’s automated clearing house, right? So basically, what a grower can do is they can go online and pay their bill online by just tapping a few buttons and saying, “Hey I’d like the co-op or agribusiness to draw funds from my bank account to pay this bill off.”

Mahmoud:  I’d like to point out here too I think this is a big plus and some people may overlook it is that the admin’s have the option to allow those payments being made on MyGrower to automatically apply within AGRIS. So that’s an additional several steps that the admin would otherwise have to do manually that they no longer have to do. So, they can choose for the payments to come in to be automatically applied to that name ID or they can choose for it to come in as unapplied or payment on hold. Then they can apply it how they see fit.

Mike:Okay, great. Well, good. So yeah. It’s quite a journey, as you said.

Mahmoud:  I’d like to add one more.

Mike:Okay, alright.

Mahmoud:  I mean they just keep coming into mind. We made a lot of UI improvements. Made it a little bit more user-friendly. A big one was also performance overall. Not just performance for P SQL or MS SQL, but just performance overall on the time it takes to retrieve data, whether it be contracts or tickets or invoices.

Mike:Okay. So, there might have been a couple acronyms there that our folks might not have caught, but UI means user interface. Really, it’s kind of the user experience. What is the person who is sitting on that mobile device experiencing as they’re using it. So, you focused on making it easier and a better experience.

Mahmoud:Correct. Correct. And we’re still working on it.

Mike:Yeah.

Mahmoud:Absolutely. It’s a continuous process. Continuing to improve and cleanup and just making sure that it’s the best that it could be.

Mike:Then you mentioned P SQL/MS SQL, which really those are database engines that the accounting system runs on that MyGrower extracts the information from. Which really there’s no impact on what the end grower or farmer or customer sees relative to either one of those. It’s just part of the company’s infrastructure. So yeah. Okay. Where are you at right now?

Mahmoud:  Right now, we are in the process of adding details to settlement or bringing in more detail into MyGrower for settlements. Immediately after we’ll be working on bringing additional details for contracts and tickets. That’s more so on the shorter term, next month or two. Then after that we’ll be looking at ACH paper invoice. That’s been a popular request. So that the growers would essentially have the ability to go in and choose which invoice they’d like to make a payment towards since now the payment is made towards specific name ID.

Mike:One of the things that some of our customers ask is why is MyGrower something we should look into. Why should a company, a Greenstone customer look into MyGrower?

Mahmoud:  Sure. I don’t have a short answer for you. A couple of reasons really. So, it’s really the only app on the market with real time feed into AGRIS. It’s instant. If it’s in AGRIS, it’s in MyGrower. If it’s not, then it’s not. Elevators can leverage that ACH functionality. The type of things that you could pull out of MyGrower that you can’t anywhere else. You know like running a proof of yield report. That’s just a simple example. You go in, the grower takes them 10 seconds to run a proof of yield report. They can either choose to save it or print it and it would look exactly like you were to print it at your facility.

Mike:Sure.

Mahmoud: So that’s something that an admin would have no hand in at all. Grower does it on their own. 24/7 365 they can specific whatever date range they want to do it in. That’s just one example.

Mike:So, when it comes to an agribusiness looking at a platform which they can engage their customers with, there’s a few things that they can look at right. They can look at should we build it on our own, right? That’s an option.

Mahmoud:  Sure, sure.

Mike:We’ve actually had customers do that.

Mahmoud:  Yeah.

Mike:There’re agribusinesses out there that are doing that. Another option is to try someone else who offers a similar product to MyGrower. That’s sort of off the shelf for lack of a better term. What are the pros and cons as you see it with those different approaches as it relates to a customer engagement platform?

Mahmoud:  Frankly, so I would say the pros for MyGrower in that aspect is the fact that it’s being provided by your ERP provider, which is us being Greenstone providing you with AGRIS.

Mike:So, your main core accounting system vendor or partner is…

Mahmoud:  Right. We’re going to know generally how to communicate, if you will. We’re going to know how to communicate best with AGRIS.

Mike:So, I think another thing you’ve mentioned in the past too is that the way MyGrower works is that there’s one version of the truth, right?

Mahmoud:  Yes.

Mike:It is housed in the AGRIS and soon to be CINCH database. I think one of the things that’s on the plan is to support our CINCH customers as well.

Mahmoud:  That’s correct.

Mike:Yeah. So that one version of the truth is—I mean what does that really mean? That’s what I call it. What does that mean? Describe what that means to the listening audience?

Mahmoud:  It’s a way of—I guess it’s a way of explaining…It’s a fact checker, right. It’s verifying that what you’re seeing in MyGrower is truly the same in AGRIS. MyGrower doesn’t actually store anything. It pulls right out of AGRIS the moment the grower makes a request. So, if they pull in a request by clicking on tickets, for example, tickets that have come in today. If that ticket is finalized and inside AGRIS and it was done two minutes ago or a minute ago or 30 seconds or shorter, it’ll show up in MyGrower. If an edit or something like a ticket is removed, that also is reflected in MyGrower right away as well. So that’s how I see it. That’s, you know. Fact checker.

Mike:Yeah. You’re right. That’s how I think of it as well. I mean there’s to a data warehouse that is being populated. In other words, there’s no replicated data out in the cloud somewhere.

Mahmoud:  Right.

Mike:That needs to be refreshed or added to or transactions deleted from if they’re voided and cancelled and things like that, right? So, the source of the truth for the accounting information for the agribusiness of which they do all their financial statements and all of that is where it’s getting the information from.

Mahmoud:  Right.

Mike:So that’s the one version of the truth concept. So, yeah. Okay. In terms of other things that an agribusiness should consider when they’re making a decision for a customer engagement platform, what kind of comes to your mind Mahmoud?

Mahmoud:  You mean like in terms of pros and cons of it?

Mike:Yeah. You could build it on your own, you could partner with another thing, or just…What are you seeing as you implement some of our customers and what are maybe some of the things they–

Mahmoud:  I’m going to be frank. So, you can absolutely do it on your own. Verifying that it is going to be one version of the truth is going to be difficult to do. It’s going to be very costly, and it’s just one more big moving part you have to worry about. It’s not something that is once it’s built and it’s done, that’s it. No. This is something that you have to continually throw money into. You have to continually invest and utilize R&D to keep improving it. So as far as going with a different provider, you can absolutely do that as well, but a couple of things you face there is well for one you don’t know whether they’re continuing to improve it. You don’t know if they’re utilizing R&D funds to keep improving it whereas we are. That’s an ongoing process. You may find a—Sorry for lack of better words here. You may find a prettier user experience right now, but that’s something—like I said—that I’m tackling head on. Making sure that the user experience is attractive and easy to use. That’s something that we’re going to continue to work on. We’re not stopping at any point. Yeah. I think that covers it.

Mike:Okay. Well good. Anything else you’d like to communicate to the listener today Mahmoud?

Mahmoud:  I can’t wait to show them what’s coming next. It’s all very exciting. The ACH is only going to get better in terms of functionality. We’re going to add more functionality to it. The app itself is going to be easier to use and more attractive to the user as well. Yeah. Just I like surprising people.

Mike:Okay. Alright. Well, yeah. Well great. I appreciate your time today Mahmoud and thanks for sharing your insights.

Mahmoud:  Okay. Thank you for having me.

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