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Podcast: 05. Drew Garretson - Digital Transformation During a Pandemic

How do you buy your products today? We often buy our clothes, tech and toys online… but what about ag inputs? In Episode 5 of Precision Points, Digital Transformation During a Pandemic, Drew Garretson and I chat about the impact the global pandemic has had and the way it's reshaping ag retail.

Drew dives into the omni-channel experience as the model for how we may be doing business in the future. Omni-Channel essentially means multiple ways of purchasing and receiving goods from the same company. Think about it today, we can order online and pick up in store, have it delivered, or have it brought out to our truck. Similarly, many online retailers still have brick and mortar you can physically go to and shop. This is the vision for ag as well, as companies are racing to get ecommerce sites up and running.

As we all find ourselves more socially distant than we once were, it had me wondering… what’s the best way to keep my relationship with my salesperson? Personally on our farm, we rely pretty heavily on their recommendations and the thought of just ordering everything online from a huge product catalog made me a little uneasy.

“Most of our retail owners, the value they bring to the market actually comes through the local expert seller and the service that is provided through operations at the local level,” said Drew. “Not only will growers have the capability to place these orders online themselves, they will also have the capability to have that salesmen be able to send you a digital order and you can confirm it… Those are the things we want to be able to deliver that enables the value of the system to come through the person who gives the recommendation.”’

The way different ag retail companies come online will likely be different and unique to their business. As many have been working to figure out this piece to the puzzle, Covid-19 seems to be accelerating the rate in which these platforms are available to growers. Reach out to your local vendor to learn more about what they are doing to show up online when they can’t show up at your farm.



Host: Morgan Seger

Guest: Drew Garretson, U.S. E-Business Field Team Lead with Winfield United

Morgan Seger (00:22):

Welcome back to Precision Points, an ag tech podcast from I'm your host, Morgan Seger and in every episode we strive to bring you unbiased, precision ag information and ideas. Now, today's episode is a little bit different. We're not talking about a particular tool or service in precision ag, but in general, how this pandemic has affected how we may be doing business with ag retailers moving forward.

Morgan Seger (00:48):

Now, when I was typing up the show notes for this, I said, you know my guest, Drew, dives into omni-channel experience as a model for how we may be doing business in the future. And even as I wrote that, I thought I am dating this article. We're going to look back and just think it's crazy that we thought this might be a way we're doing business in the future. But the interesting thing about our response with COVID is that it really is changing the way we're doing business. And it doesn't matter if it is the cooperative system, an independent system or a new public system. Everyone is trying to figure out how to make it easier for growers to do business online, whether that's buying product or ordering services, or just getting recommendations. And it is really, really tricky.

Morgan Seger (01:39):

So everyone is trying to figure out what this is going to look like. And with the onset of this pandemic, and it limiting some of our ability to just meet up face-to-face and do business as usual, these companies are really expediting the rate that they are moving this process along. So today on the episode, I have one of my friends, Drew Garretson, from Winfield United, and he's going to be talking through what omni-channel means and what that would look like for us and the way it's going to shape how we do business.

Morgan Seger (02:12):

Today on Precision Points, I am joined by Drew Garretson from Winfield United. And Drew, and I started working together, you were working at a local co-op and when you transitioned to Land O'Lakes is when we joined the same team. And I got to say, you were always optimistic and from day one, a leader on our team, which we always really appreciated. And it's been really fun watching you transition from basically a field-level support role, where we were writing prescriptions and trying to get them to work in monitors, to now leading the e-business team for the entire country. So I appreciate you taking time here today.

Drew Garretson (02:49):

Well thanks, Morgan, I'm honored to be here. Thanks for having me. Thanks for asking. I always enjoy these conversations and yeah, likewise, I've always enjoyed those opportunities to work together. It's been a kind of a wild ride, right? I mean, moving all the way from the field level, working with growers day-to-day just to implement ag technology solutions. Now thinking through the strategic business opportunities that lie ahead of us, it's been fun to see that shift and evolve over time, and it's absolutely in the spot where it needs to be today.

Morgan Seger (03:20):

Good. I appreciate hearing that. We always wonder if we are moving the mark and getting to where we want to be. So that's really cool to hear. There's a couple of different ways we can look at this, but I have a feeling this is not going to be our typical really techie precision ag episode. Really what I wanted to do was we're going to be releasing this in June of 2020, so a post-coronavirus or COVID world. And I'm not ready to say that this is our new normal, because I think there's a lot that we don't know yet. And especially for grain farmers like myself and like the customers you work with, we don't always see our end consumer. So I think we're all kind of sitting here wondering like, what implications is this going to have for us? We're going through our day-to-day growing a crop, doing the best we can, but from your perspective, is there anything we could see changing in the way we are working with ag retail? And is there any technology that can kind of help us bridge the gap that you see really coming to the forefront?

Drew Garretson (04:28):

Yeah. I think that when I think about how COVID is going to impact the way that growers interact and do business with, I think it probably just speeds up some of the adoption out in the country that was already starting to take place just based off of the natural turn at the farm gate from a generation's standpoint. We typically think about that in these step changes, right, over time that allow us to make sure that the business and the way that consumers want to buy, not only in their consumer life, but also in their, I'm going to call the B2B scenario where a farmer actually buys from a local owner retailer. There's this translation that happens over time.

Drew Garretson (05:13):

I always say that it's not a light switch moment. You don't need to, as a retailer, you don't... Farmers, aren't going to demand that that's the way that they need to do business in the future, but they do want to make it easier to do business over the long haul. So over time, as a retailer, you have to deliver solutions to help you maintain your relevancy in the market. And I think the COVID piece probably speeds it up, right? Because there was the way in which you had to interact was digital, right? I mean, you didn't really have the ability to be face-to-face, so it forced things to happen. And it probably forced some business process on both sides, the grower side and the retailer side to change in light of that.

Drew Garretson (05:57):

And it probably likely or not opportunities as well, right, [inaudible 00:06:03] led to the spot where, Oh, man, our process here is a lot of paperwork or the way that we typically buy as a grower's perspective, I really can't do that now. And I'm going to have to make sure that I'm working with a retailer that allows me to do business if I choose to do business that way. So I just think it probably speeds up the timeline, Morgan.

Morgan Seger (06:29):

Yeah. I know from our perspective, we tried to do a better job of just emailing our rep before we needed something instead of just showing up. I mean, we all like to go to the office and sit and drink coffee and catch up on who got in the field first and whatnot, but so really tactically speaking, what does this look like for you guys? How would a grower engage differently?

Drew Garretson (06:55):

So what I would say that we're working really hard, and I would say accelerated now on creating an omni-channel ecosystem for our retail network to be able to tap into. Nobody in the-

Morgan Seger (07:07):

Now, take a quick break.

Drew Garretson (07:10):

Yeah, that's good.

Morgan Seger (07:10):

Can you explain omnichannel for us? Before you get too far and I forget.

Drew Garretson (07:15):

Great. I'll do that. I use that word all the time, so thank you for stopping and asking me. So the omnichannel experience is a way in which a consumer has multiple ways in which they can buy. Right. I use Walmart, we'll just use that as an example, right? Their strategy when they built stores was let's find places where people live and build a store there where they can walk in the door, they can buy what they need, and then they can put it in their car or whatever, and drive home. Right. That was their strategy. Now, what the omnichannel experience would be is the ability for you to order online, pick up in the store, order online, pull in the parking spot, and they come bring it to you, right? Order online, pick up in the little thing, your locker that has your stuff in it.

Drew Garretson (08:06):

It could be, I order online and have it shipped to my house. It might be I'm in the store. They don't have what I want, but I can order it online and have it delivered. All those would be omnichannel experiences. I'm doing business from the same company, I'm just doing it in different ways. So what we want to create is the omnichannel experience that for people like Morgan, who wants to walk in the door and have a cup of coffee, talk to the secretary, talk to the agronomist and kind of put in their order and write a check or whatever it is, they'll still have that experience. But for the consumer who wants to place their order on their mobile app and have it delivered to their farm, we're going to deliver that experience too.

Drew Garretson (08:47):

So I would say that it's really... What I would say, we have to make it easier to do business with our customers and our customers, the retail-owner network of Land O'Lakes is demanding that we deliver that experience to them. And that's where our team is really focused on right now, is we've made a bit of a pivot, even in the last 90 days to really accelerate that experience for our customers, right? Let's work hard to digitize their shelf of products, essentially into a spot where we can move them fast to the experience where growers can log in and place orders.

Morgan Seger (09:27):

Got you. So it's not going direct. You're still working through the ag retail.

Drew Garretson (09:33):


Morgan Seger (09:35):

So how does it work for... You know, traditional ag inputs aren't usually something that FedEx is going to bring you. You would see us ordering those online and then going in and picking them up or having them delivered via the car or whatever, but... I lost my train of thought. But for...

Drew Garretson (10:00):

One other point that I had made, Morgan, then while you're thinking, maybe you can still think [inaudible 00:10:05] thought here, but most of our retail owners, the value that they bring to the market actually comes through the local expert seller and through the service that's provided by the operations that happen at the local level. So not only will the growers have the capability to place these orders online themselves, but they will also be able to have the capability to have that salesmen that you're working with, be able to actually send you a digital order, and you can confirm it with just a click or two, right? I mean, those are the things that we want to deliver that enables the value of the system to kind of come through the person who gives the recommendation, if that's the way that that customer wants to do business.

Drew Garretson (10:48):

Well I don't really, maybe I'm looking at, you've got 500 products in you, I may not know which one I need, right? I need somebody to help translate that for me without me looking at all the recommendations for each one of these products. So you can have local sellers, actually, I call it, build their cart. Right. It was kind of funny when we did one of these at the very beginning, we actually hosted a training for the shopping experience. Like, okay, so we brought these farmers and we brought these salesmen into a room and we showed them how to use the platform. And it was about 30 minutes in when I realized we don't need to train on this. Right? People know how to shop online. It's a pair by the UPS and FedEx drivers that drive up my drive every day that you probably don't need trained on how to utilize these tools. Right.

Drew Garretson (11:39):

They just need to know that they're there, the ability like the navigation is if you can shop on any of your you named big box store, you can use the experience, right. I mean, it's a multi-tiered navigation that you can search in that you can drop it down by products. It's not incredibly difficult. So that was one key learning. So not only do we have the ability to have growers login, put in orders, but they also have the capability to be able to uplift the local expert seller and have that seller actually serve those recommendations. This is a really big deal.

Morgan Seger (12:19):

Yeah. Okay. So it's actually huge in my opinion. And that's what I was going to ask. I got lost thinking of the FedEx truck bringing potash, but that was going to be my question is how for people who necessarily don't know exactly what they need, which thinking of our own operation, we rely really heavily on the right rates and product type and things like that to kind of be delivered for us. And that's kind of part of the service that we're paying for. So I'm glad to hear that that's still a piece of it, even if it's not happening in the office.

Drew Garretson (12:55):

Yeah. So you certainly can buy that way. Right. The other thing is, is that you have the choice as the consumer to decide how do you want the product. Right. Am I going to come to the location and pick it up? Maybe the location that I do business with I'm at this other farm, right, maybe it's actually closer to another location. And although I don't, it's the same company, but typically I do business with this location because of an omnichannel experience, I could actually choose that other location in a deliver, or go pick up or to receive a delivery from that.

Drew Garretson (13:31):

So all the locations will have, you have the ability to upload all of your store locations, so to speak, or your branches that allow you to choose. And then also, how do you want it, right? You want delivered to the farm and here's my address. Right. Am I going to pick this up at the local location or is it going to be applied? Right. I can actually choose this to be applied by the local retail. So it'll be different options for location and how you want the delivery to happen.

Morgan Seger (14:01):

Go you. That makes a lot of sense. So you were mentioning, this obviously is not going to need much training. It's really straightforward. That being said, do you have a key demographic that you're really targeting to try to transition to this way of purchasing? Or are you just casting a wider net?

Drew Garretson (14:20):

Yeah. So that's a really good question. And when people, I always say, when people say it's really a question, then we may not know the answer to it, right? I think all of our owners have some similar onset of a segmentation model and what they... Like our retailer owner that work will decide who they want to grant access to this platform. And there'll be a control of, well, this person asks for access and I, whether or not I want to grant them access or not to my online portal experience. Or whether if I give them access, hey, we've got this thing stood up now, you're grower who we determined might benefit from this, I'm going to actually, here's your username and password to login.

Drew Garretson (15:04):

So there's two different ways in which that the owner can register for, but ultimately that owner retailer has control and kind of opens and closes the gate, as you might say, to on who gets access to the platform. So do we have a targeted demographic? I mean, I think obviously that people over the younger generation, if you look at the buying habits of a millennial, like Rocket Mortgage, Carvana, you tend to think about that that's the way that they want to do business, right. Is this digital experience. So I don't know that we have a target, but we certainly know there are customer, grower customers who want to do business this way. And they expect for the people that they're doing business to deliver a solution that allows them to interact and transact in the way. And so part is probably a self-selection process. So the casting of wider net is probably the right answer, but that will be determined, that'll certainly be determined over time.

Morgan Seger (16:07):

Okay. So as you were explaining that you talked a lot about login. So this isn't maybe a traditional platform that you can just go to the app store, download and start putting in the order?

Drew Garretson (16:20):

No, that's a really good point. And that's really a spot that's important for us as a retail network is to provide, I'm going to call it the clearing house opportunity that we don't necessarily want to drive to a public-facing pricing model with our system. We need each retailer to establish how they price their products and how they navigate through serving up that. So, yeah, this is a public-facing e-commerce model. And if you also think about the way in which the retail growers are structured, they typically do business with a few input suppliers. They're not swiping a credit card a lot of times, or writing a check on the spot most of the time to do those things. They already have pre-existing accounts set up with these owners. So it's not your traditional e-commerce experience in that manner either.

Drew Garretson (17:17):

So you said, you already have these, typically they already have some type of profile with that account, or would need to set up that profile in order way in which they transact. So, yeah, that's a long-winded answer to the question is it's not a public-facing experience. Our retail network will have control over who gets access to the platform and it will be behind a logged on experience.

Morgan Seger (17:47):

Okay. So I could see with it being behind a logged on experience, it would be a way to kind of customize and serve up more relevant information anyway. So if someone's listening and wants to check this out, or maybe try to log in, they should just reach out to their local retail then.

Drew Garretson (18:05):

Yes, absolutely.

Morgan Seger (18:06):

Okay. So as we've been kind of rolling this podcast out, we're trying to keep each episode in line with the growing season. Do you see this online experience being any different from buying in-season inputs versus the traditional planning and prepay that we see at the end of the year?

Drew Garretson (18:29):

Yeah. So I think that it'll evolve over time, but certainly the digital experience has to be in compliment to the things that are happening throughout the season. So where growers can get a recommendation served up to them from the local seller that's relevant to what's happening in season, right? Hey, I scouted your field and I see that you have a very least spot. Isn't this hybrid is also susceptible? That's a very personalized recommendation, right? And so we have the capability to deliver that. Also, the capability to be able to use the commerce model or the digital omnichannel experience to actually serve up a more built out plan later in the season that is dynamic to that pricing as well as we know those things as those things.

Drew Garretson (19:24):

So I think it'll be a compliment to both because we understand that those things can be different based off of the needs of the customer. Well, some of the planes that you make in January, don't always see themselves out through the season. Right. You have different things that happen throughout the year that cause you to augment your plan, and we've got to have the capability to be able to deliver the plan at the beginning and be able to edit or augment that plan as we go through the season.

Morgan Seger (19:56):

Yeah. I think keeping it flexible is really important. You don't need a fungicide for a field, you prevent plant, right? So you got to be able to call an audible and change those things.

Drew Garretson (20:05):

That's right.

Morgan Seger (20:06):

So I have one last question for you, and this might make you rack your brain a little bit back on the more technical side. But one thing that we like to ask is if there is any one technology outside of one of your own tools that you think is really interesting or compelling for growers to be looking at today.

Drew Garretson (20:24):

I'm a big proponent of automation. And I feel like maybe I'm a bit of a... I'm going to be out, it's going to be out there quite a bit, but I really liked the concept of how a farmer automates his process longterm. Right. So right now we have automation in the case of like all autosteer and we have some autonomous vehicles out there that are making applications. I would argue that it's not to scale, but we do have the capability to be able to do that. But farming is such, especially in the large commodity crops, farming is such a repeatable process, right? That thinking about how you actually downsize and automate allows you so much more capabilities and flexibilities outside of your normal monoculture, large-scale size fields in the future.

Drew Garretson (21:26):

So I get really excited about in 2040 or 2050, and I opened my shed and like these robots just come out of the shed and they just go to work and I control them as a video game. Right. I really believe that that's real. I think that that will happen. And I'll have, instead of having a 48-row planner, I'm going to have 161-row robots that can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And I'll just tell them and deploy them and dispatch them on where to go, because it's so repeatable. Everything that allows me to do has become a lot more diversified, right? I mean, I can plant different crops. I can plant crops inside of other crops while they're growing in my inner crop. And I can also, I don't have to plant the big commodity crops because one of the reasons why historically we went that way was because of labor becoming such an issue. And if we automate labor, doesn't become as much of an issue.

Drew Garretson (22:25):

So I know it's out there, Morgan, but I get excited about how farmers could automate their systems to be able to scale, and also provide a more diversified portfolio of food and products to the world. So that's something that if I was a farmer, that's something that I'd be looking at robots.

Morgan Seger (22:45):

Yeah. I love it. I actually I'm right there with you. And I don't think that we're maybe going to be that far out. Maybe for some applications, 160 single roll planters that might be 2050, but there's definitely some stuff that I think growers could start using today. It was like for the longest time, anytime an equipment manufacturer was bringing out their newest and latest thing, it was bigger. And I think we've reached our limit of the size that we actually need or could handle, so.

Drew Garretson (23:13):

Yeah. No, I mean the roads in the country in Ohio are only so big, right? You literally can't make the tools any bigger, that they're actually going to have to get, they actually will have to get smaller. So yeah. I mean, that's a fun part and it may allow us to go back to what the farm may have looked like 100 years ago, right, where it was a bunch of smaller patches that had livestock rotating around. It has strawberries in the patch and hemp in a patch. They have different, your diversification in that is really exciting too.

Drew Garretson (23:51):

And I think, look at consumer behavior and the way in which the consumer behavior post-COVID, I think that you'll see that the local experience will only grow even more than what it already was. And there are some people that are capitalizing on that opportunity because they see how, I'm going to call it how fragile the system is. It's really, really efficient, right, super efficient, but it's extremely fragile as we've seen through this. I mean, the meat processing plant piece, that is a great example of how fragile the system is. And so think about how you would go from having eight packing plants across the country to 500 again, and there are all these individual experience. I think the consumers, well, once they get kind of back on their feet, so to speak will continue to demand more and more of that. So, no, I get excited about that actually.

Morgan Seger (24:53):

Yeah. I mean, and you've always been a really good advocate for ag and I appreciate the conversation because it just helps us keep a focus on how this is going to continue to change and evolve. We've talked a lot about trying to meet our consumers where we're at, but we haven't always changed. I feel like we're trying to tell our story and now's a really good time to listen.

Drew Garretson (25:16):

Yeah, sure. Well, historically we've done a pretty good, we've always done a really good job of telling our story within our own circle of people that will listen, right, and I'm going to call it the echo chamber, but the few voices that get heard that are out that are able from the... And we're doing a much better job of this, but it's still can get better of stepping outside of the normal, the proverbial box and be able to ask or be able to answer some of the questions that consumers ask without going straight down the technical answer that we tend to all speak that language, it's pretty important.

Morgan Seger (25:55):

Yep. For sure. Well, hey, I appreciate you taking the time today from your home office and your standup desk on your dryer. I appreciate it. I'm convinced that we're going to have to spend one episode where we actually show people our set up so that way they can see what it takes to be part of a podcast.

Drew Garretson (26:13):

That's right. That's right. It's been kind of a wild ride in our house over the period of the last couple of weeks or a couple of months, just like it has been for everybody. I found my solitude in here. It little bit, I'm sure it gets nerve-wracking after video call to video call, but it's just been good. It's been good. We certainly been blessed that's for sure.

Morgan Seger (26:34):

Awesome. Awesome. Thank you so much, Drew.

Drew Garretson (26:36):

Thanks, Morgan. I appreciate it.

Morgan Seger (26:40):

Uh-huh (affirmative). Bye. Thanks for tuning in to today's episode. If you want to hear more like this, please rate, review and subscribe to Precision Points. You can go to for show notes from this episode, read expert advice on our blog and share your experience with precision ag products that you have used. You can check out our network of farmer reviews and see what they have to say about products you might be considering using as well. Let's grow together.


Host: Morgan Seger

Morgan Seger spent ten years working in ag retail, specifically in ag tech. She lives and farms in western Ohio, where she has four children with her husband Ben. Morgan has her own blog called Heart and Soil where she talks about her experience farming, gardening, and raising her family.


Guest: Drew Garretson, U.S. E-Business Field Team Lead with Winfield United

Drew has spent 12 years in the cooperative system serving in roles in both ag technology and digital strategy, leading teams across the country. He is currently working with retail locations to develop and implement OmniChannel solutions. Outside of his family and being a Purdue grad, he is passionate and committed to advocating for agriculture. He does this by telling a story focused on consumer transparency, and serves a volunteer and local leader for many organizations in his community. He is a graduate of the Indiana AgrIInstitute Leadership Program Class of 2016 and works hard to help ag retail understand the value of ag technology, and the value it can bring to growers.

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