Our mid-February cover story focuses on the Lennard Farm of Samaria, Mich. In the past decade this family operation tripled acreage, set up a new operation across state lines, boosted revenue ninefold and quadrupled its employee base.
We asked Purdue economist Joan Fulton to offer some insights on what can be learned from the Lennards' farm expansion experience. Two areas surfaced: One, the importance of business relationships, and two, the importance of converting data to better decision-making.
The Lennards have taken steps to foster relationships with the businesses that are buying their potatoes, notes Fulton. How are they positioning their farm business with their buyers and communicating the value proposition that they are delivering?
"Our culture and focus is always to provide what the customer is looking for, which is quality potatoes," says Lori Lennard. "We continue to strengthen our internal quality control practices, maximize the use of technology and develop better ways to communicate with customers, such as our real-time shipment information."
In the article, the Lennards identify the need that they had for databases, so all managers could have access to the extensive data their business was collecting.
"To be effective, businesses need to turn data into information, a process that involves understanding the relations in the data," says Fulton. "Next they need to turn the information into knowledge by understanding the patterns in the information.
"Finally, they must turn the knowledge into wisdom and incorporate that into their business decisions," says Fulton.
The Lennards use their weekly manager meetings to explicitly move from data to information to knowledge to wisdom.
"We incorporate data into our processes and decision-making so that individuals make objective, informed decisions vs. subjective ones," says Lori. "We also gather data to be stored for reference only to be used if needed for problem solving. "
For example, if a particular field isn't doing well, the Lennards may look at field condition data at the time it was planted to analyze and determine a cause. A specific example where farm data was converted to wisdom would be corn fertility. Last year, the Lennards collected soil and petiole samples on commercial corn on a bi-weekly basis. They used the data collected to analyze N, P and K nutrient reserve in the soil and tissues. Last year they experienced an unusually wet spring. "Our history from our sample collections gave us knowledge to make real-time decisions to adjust fertility practices specific to the crops growing year," says Lori. "We converted that knowledge into wisdom by analyzing a two year pattern of being short on N from planting through side dressing due to wet conditions.
"We have now increased our nitrogen application during planting to ensure there is not a future shortage," she adds. "This is just one example, but we carry this practice throughout all departments in the organization.
"We use our weekly manager's meeting to analyze data and increase our knowledge to make optimum decisions based on facts."