For 25 years, the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants (NAICC) has awarded the Consultant of the Year Awards. Awards are sponsored by BASF.
This year’s recipients stand out as each has more than three decades of experience in the field. The 2017 NAICC Consultant of the Year Awards were given to Galen Frantz of Glades Crop Care in Fort Myers, Fla.; Marvin Ebach of Centrol in Twin Valley, Minn.; and David Willis of Agassiz Crop Management in Thief River Falls, Minn.
The association’s members include independent researchers, consultants and quality assurance professionals. Along with professional diversity, the association also includes geographic diversity in its members. One common theme across its members and illustrated by the 2017 consultants of the year is partnering with their customers.
Award Winners. For Frantz, who works in southern Florida, that means being responsive and timely to serve customers who grow vegetables, fruits and citrus.
“We have a great variety in crops and tight turnaround in our seasons. For example, the farmer who grew tomatoes in the fall is planting watermelons on those beds in the spring,” he says
For Willis who works in the northern Red River Valley and its bordering glacial lake shores of Minnesota and North Dakota, he’s built his business by tailoring consulting services to each client.
“Farms are different—just like people are different. After I have been with a client for a year or two, I’d then sit down with them and zero in on the things that are the most important to them,” he says.
He says only 15% to 20% of growers in the region have a crop consultant, so he had to prove his value.
“I always wanted to work with the whole farm—not just one or two crops. And when the cost of my services could be spread across all of the acres, it was a lower cost per crop,” he says.
For Willis, being an independent consultant motivated him to seek out new technologies to provide enhanced and profitable services to farmers. Willis has been a member of NAICC since 1989.
“When you are mastering different skills, the demand on your time is critical. So it’s important to spread it out and have revenue streams through different service products. For me, technology has helped me be efficient with my time,” he says.
The upfront costs of being an early technology adopter were high, but Willis says the return on the investment helped define his business.
“I started using on-the-go GPS for soil testing in 1994,” Willis explains. “I spent $4,200 on the laptop, and the GPS was $12,000 to outfit my sampling truck.”
Field Experience. NAICC members tout expertise, and even while deploying technology tools, they have kept their boots on the ground.
As Ebach says, “It’s been important to know when you need more face time with a customer. Technology can make life in this line of work easier, but it’s also good to go old-school when needed.”
All three of the consultants of the year say they are grateful for the learning opportunities they’ve had in the roles they’ve had.
Ebach serves farmers in a 25-mile radius of Fargo N.D., and Moorhead Minn., and his customers grow wheat, soybeans, corn, sugar beets, sunflowers and edible beans.
“I get to see all of these crops every week. And there’s always something to learn: what practices and products work and what don’t,” he says.
When Frantz started at Glades Crop Care, his first role was working as a crop scout. Through the years, he added field experiences and expertise.
“In 1985 on an assignment in Ohio, I scouted tomatoes for a summer. And then in Florida when I got back, we had a major outbreak. With the experience in Ohio, I really learned how to identify thrips. I’m an entomologist in my academic training, and if my career had one lucky stroke, then it was being able to pick up a microscope slide and identify thrips,” Frantz explains.
The three consultants say their roles in helping farmers face challenges and be successful are key.
“It’s been part of my business philosophy to use the most up-to-date, modern techniques so farmers can extract the best economic return from their crop. I may be an agronomist, but I’m an economic force in the farm operation as farmers want to do two things—grow a great crop and make money,” Willis says.
Frantz explains his approach to work with farmers as he’s looking to be an asset for their operations to address emerging issues.
“When I think about the timing of my career, I graduated high school in 1970 when the Environmental Protection Agency was established and we had the first Earth Day. And I found employment in a company that allows me to help make the world a better place through food production,” he says.
Another challenge facing farmers, particularly row-crop farmers, is the downturn in commodity prices.
“Low commodity prices are definitely affecting our farmer-clients, and in agriculture, there are good times and some bad times. Nothing is guaranteed,” Ebach says. “But I aim to provide my customers a way to be low-cost producers while getting the best crop they can from every acre. The goal is the best yield that they can get per dollar.”