With farming and fruit growing becoming an ever more complex operation delivered by fewer and fewer staff, expert support is more important than ever.
While there is plenty of advice around, what growers in particular need is an integrated service that combines trusted research, technical advice, sound data and the right product guidance in a responsive and focused way.
That decision support service is available from Agrii, a company that combines hands-on agronomy advice from a friendly, local and professional team with the resources of a national provider.
Agrii was created in early 2012 from a merger between Masstock and UAP, but the years leading up to that final amalgamation were marked by a succession of other mergers going back many years and bringing together the cream of the industry.
The result is a strong company with unrivalled backup and impressive credentials, but one that still values old-fashioned farm gate communications at the sharp end – where the agronomist meets the grower.
The company’s agronomists still walk fields and orchards on a weekly, fortnightly or less regular basis, and they still pass on advice gained as a result of years of experience and training, but these days they also have the multi-layered support of high-level technology.
“We now have the advantage of sophisticated soil scanning, accurate and detailed weather data and high-tech computer models to help growers produce the best possible fruit and deal with the pest, disease and weather issues that challenge even the best of them,” explained fruit team manager Kevin Workman.
“Above all we are there to improve the bottom line and help growers get the best possible return in an increasingly competitive market.”
What Agrii also has is an impressive ‘iFarm’ at East Malling Research in Kent, a facility that allows the fruit team to conduct wide-ranging trials and research on a variety of trees.
The facility has won the backing of the industry as well as being welcomed by growers, and is producing results that are making a real difference in the horticultural world.
Agrii’s support is no longer just aimed at growing quality fruit – although that remains the number one ambition. The company’s agronomists also provide advice in other areas, such as marketing and compliance, which are becoming increasingly important.
Although growers tend to have fewer support staff these days, they also have more to think about, not least coping with all the legislation around compliance. Agrii offers an integrated approach which supports the grower’s whole business and allows them to focus on the other aspects of farm management.
Agrii’s agronomists have a range of decision support tools at their disposal to help growers achieve the best possible results using the latest technology coupled with the team’s years of experience.
While the approach is integrated and technology-focused, the day-to-day support still depends on human contact and a shared love of good quality fruit and how to grow it.
“Many of my customers have become my friends,” explained Kevin Workman. “It’s about relationships that are built on trust.”
Like all business relationships, they benefit from regular communication, which is something that has become increasingly important over the years.
With mobile phones, text messaging and emails now a normal part of everyday life, it’s many years since any of the agronomists on the Agrii team came even remotely close to the nine to five working day that might have been acceptable in the past.
These days the team is available and providing advice seven days a week, using mobiles and emails to respond to questions and provide advice when it is needed and not when it is convenient.
“I know some growers that still don’t use mobile phones,” added Kevin. “With communication vital, we find ways to work around that and meet the grower’s specific needs. My customers know that I am on the other end of the phone whenever necessary.”
And in these days of high-tech computer modelling and pin sharp supermarket specifications, speed is often very necessary. “We have information that growers need, and we recognise that they need it now, not at some point in the future,” Kevin explained.
“You can’t wait a fortnight for scab advice. If our models are predicting an incident, regardless of whether that incident is disease, pest or weather related, we know that we need to tell growers as soon as possible. The technology is incredibly important in shaping the advice we provide and in giving us up-to-date information to base that advice on, but if we don’t get it out there, there is no point in having it.”
While some growers still have a fortnightly visit, others see their agronomist weekly and some are happy with a less regular appointment. The system – and the charging method – is deliberately flexible in order to accommodate the needs of every grower.
“No two growers are the same. The important thing is that the approach is flexible, transparent and based on the long-term relationships and trust that our agronomists have spent many years building,” said Kevin.
He explained: “We are proud of working for one of the biggest names in the business, but the grower talks to me as a person – in many cases as a friend. He doesn’t really care who I work for as long as I give him good advice.”
The customer does, though, benefit from the Agrii back up, which has huge advantages in terms of access to products, responsiveness, industry-leading delivery times and technical back up, even if that all takes place behind the scenes as far as the customer is concerned.
“It is a partnership between a strong company and great individuals, all working together for the benefit of the customer,” Kevin added.