During a recent trip to BASF headquarters in Germany, we heard about a strategic shift the company is working on to become not just a supplier of products but also a solver of problems.
The company is determining how it can help farmers grow crops in a smarter, more sustainable way – beyond selling a product. They want to help farmers run their businesses more successfully and connect with each other in a network of farmers worldwide.
Kaleb Hellwig, a BASF "Innovation Specialist" in western Missouri, is at the frontline of this new strategy. BASF now has 40 such specialists in the U.S., working to solve farmer problems.
"In the U.S. the key trend is consolidation and as a result we have a lot more complexity," he says. "In the U.S., 10% of farmers produce about 80% of the crops."
One of Hellwig's customers, for example, has 20,000 acres producing 1.4 million bu. of corn and 480,000 bu. of soybeans. He manages 200 fields, 40 employees, and has 30 landlords to satisfy.
"Many of these farmers make multi-million dollar decisions daily," says Hellwig. "It can be overwhelming. As a result of that increasing complexity they are asking for someone from the crop protection business to be part of their advisory team."
As such, Hellwig builds relationships with the farmer and other advisors on the team, such as seed providers, distributors, equipment manufacturers and marketing firms.
One customer, for example, has 14,000 acres of soybeans and grapples with two big weed problems: glyphosate-resistant marestail and waterhemp. This spring, wet weather delays caused many challenges for early spring burndowns, so growers and retailers were put in the position where they had to control these weeds post plant, but prior to soybean emergence, says Hellwig.
"This is a 24-72 hour window when we need to make an application," he explains. "With 14,000 acres it's tough. The farmer has three planters going all the time and if it rains in one spot he has to send planters to another field." Hellwig worked with the grower, John Deere and the grower's planting team to communicate when a field had been planted. In the future the customer will use myjohndeere.com, which offers notification when a field has been planted; that allows the herbicide retailer to go make an application immediately.
From local to global
BASF is also leveraging local expertise on a global scale through some innovative technology.
Elmar Groiss, global head of information technology for BASF Crop Protection, works to share the expertise of people like Hellwig with others around the world. For example, using their technology known as Digilab, a farmer or consultant can zero in on a problem - say an odd looking spot on a wheat plant – and instead of taking a sample to a lab and waiting weeks, can get answers nearly immediately via the internet and a mobile device like smart phone or tablet.
"You can click on maps and check a library for diseases that match your individual problem," says Groiss. "You'll find explanations and damage assessments instantly. If you're still not sure of the diagnosis you can send that photo to a BASF team that can identify it with better expertise and give recommendations."
This is being deployed with success now in Brazil, along with a professionally hosted network, Porteira Agro, that links farmers with each other.
"Back in the office the farmer can connect with friends and share info he just captured in the field with other farmers," says Groiss. "A farmer can look and see what other pictures have been uploaded from his area and connect with other farmers who have the problem, or connect with BASF experts for help on a local basis.
Porteira connects people, connects data and mobile tools on a professionally hosted network," adds Groiss. "It helps farmers to be more correct in decision-making."