Last month, the agricultural website Rooster-dot-com closed its virtual doors despite backing from agricultural giants such as Cargil, DuPont, and Archer Daniels Midland. This has become a familiar tale in the land of Internet commerce.
Despite these gloomy stories, the Internet continues to expedite processes at the local level. CO-OPs are offering online access to account information, management services and even grain marketing tools. Even with these advances, businesses are only beginning to service the unmet needs of agriculture and rural America.
A case in point is Ames, Iowa-based E-markets, a business that views the internet as a giant network to more efficiently serve the world's agricultural community. Producer Tyler Teske explains.
On the surface, Iowa-based E-markets looks like any dot-com company. There are programmers, project coordinators and designers. But, E-markets differs from many of its internet dependant cousins. Besides turning a profit, chief operating officer Scott Cavey says the philosophy driving E-markets is a desire to meet a universal need of businesses.
Scott Cavey, COO E-markets: "The key, is using the internet to make existing processes more efficient, streamline those processes, and create profitability along the whole value chain in agriculture versus using the internet as a specific target audience. It's a way to communicate, connect with customers up and down the chain, not to replace people within that value chain."
Cavey and many members of the company have a history with agricultural sector mainstays such as Pioneer Hy-Bred, Purina Mills, Cargil and Farmland. That experience has translated into widespread usage of E-markets products by roughly three thousand businesses, mostly in the central U-S.
Since its inception in 1996, E-markets has been creating solutions for seed management through a product called NetOrder. The application essentially cuts paperwork, and time, out of the ordering process, and is capable of managing the huge volumes of data generated by the transactions.
The fully customizable system has been used by a variety of seed companies. In 1999, the Land-o-Lakes seed arm Croplan genetics began using a version of NetOrder to manage seed distribution. The management system was tailored to the needs of Croplan and then branded with the SOAR 21 name. Now, three years later, roughly 90 percent of the elevators in the Land-o-Lakes system are using SOAR 21.
Croplan is pleased with the system because it reduces paperwork and updates seed sales in real time. The company's seed hybrids are never oversold and they can easily track sales and product movement.
Croplan is not the only beneficiary of SOAR 21. Dale Vos is the former seed manager at S-C-E Sully in Sully, Iowa, part of the Land-o-Lakes, Cenex Harvest States, Farmland system. SOAR 21 has become a vital application for many coops including S-C-E.
Dale Vos, SCE Sully: "I deal with several different companies and what I like about the Croplan System, is that they take those different companies and bring them under one umbrella. I can still keep those things separate but I don't have to keep this set of books for this company and this set of books for this company and that umbrella effect is a very effective tool for us."
According to Vos, SOAR 21 is continually evolving. As one of the first elevator managers to use the system, he was able to see the growth and betterment of the product. Vos claims E-markets and Croplan are responsive to their client's concerns and needs, and the software reflects changes based on user feedback.
Responsiveness to customer needs is part of what has driven the expansion of E-markets.
Bill Towles, Bunge Corporation: "We were impressed with their willingness to work with us and to jump through hoops, if you would to make things work for both us and the customer."
Bill Towles is the E-business manager for Bunge Corporation, one of the world's largest grain and oilseed merchandisers.
Bunge has tapped into an E-markets product called E-Xchange to sell soybean hull pellets used for animal feed. E-Xchange works much like a trading pit. Through an internet login, buyers can an offer a price for the quantity they want to buy. Bunge can counter or accept and the entire transaction can be done electronically any time of the day. Typically, this process involves multiple phone calls, a considerable amount of paperwork and verification of orders through the postal service.
Towles: "We attempted to do that over the years, eliminate paper as much as possible. We felt like this was a continuation of evolution to the internet and that we needed to participate at some level, and we opted to start with attribute E-Xchange, because we felt that would solve a problem for us, down the road, if we were successful."
Bunge is currently using E-Xchange at two soybean processing sites, one of which has moved all of its soybean hull pellet buyers online. If E-xchange continues to work well, the application will be used throughout Bunge's operations.
Geography and a desire to reduce efficiency killing tasks, such as paper-pushing, are steering agriculture to the internet. Towles claims the trend is because of a bottom line influence.
Towles: "It validates the flow of information electronically, versus the physical processing of paper. And that's a benefit to the customer. He has basically a 24 by 7 opportunity to trade or to interact with the business and he can do it on his own term. And that adds value to his relationship with us and it allows us to be more efficient in the way we process data."
The internet also holds less obvious benefits. While those who regard the internet as lacking usefulness will likely be left behind, those interviewed by Market to Market feel the internet only expands the possibilities for agriculture.
Cavey: "It's really the savior, in my mind, for elevators being able to handle a larger, broader audience without having to add exponentially staff to do it. Don't distract that or confuse that with finding people they don't know, because the harsh reality in agriculture is, an elevator manager knows all the people that are growing grain in a 50 mile radius, that have the likelihood of delivering grain to their facility. But it's about how can you do a better job facilitating their needs, servicing them, getting them the information on a timely basis that they are looking for."
For Market to Market, I'm Tyler Teske.