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POV: Innovation in the World's Oldest Industry

By
Grayson Bell
October 11, 2023
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Certain businesses and industries face seasonality in their volume, creating peaks and valleys in their demand. Whether it be an Ecommerce business trying to plan for Black Friday or Cyber Monday or a beer distributor preparing for the Fourth of July, each industry faces its unique challenges with seasonality. Some businesses stock up their inventory weeks or even months in advance, while others adopt a just-in-time approach. In any case, ops leaders at these businesses know that when peak season hits, they must be prepared to deliver on promises made to their customers. There’s no industry more familiar with this challenge than the world’s oldest: agriculture.

When going to the local grocery store to pick up produce, meat, bread, flour, etc., I’m sure most people don’t put much thought into all the steps it takes for it to get there. Sure, we’re all familiar with the basics: A farmer plants the crop, harvests the crop, sells the crop, and then it’s distributed to grocery stores and eventually lands on the kitchen table. What most of us aren’t familiar with or don’t give much thought to are the steps in between. Prior to Veryable, working in the agricultural space, my biggest priority was ensuring that the products needed for farmers' fertility programs, were put in their hands, and applied when needed so that the plant-to-harvest cycle went as efficiently and successfully as possible.

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The Importance of Being On-Time

For farms and those working them, there isn’t much that is more important than being on time. Whether that’s treating the crop for disease on time, fertilizing on time, harvesting on time, or simply arriving to work on time; time is always of the essence. If spraying to prevent diseases, and those applications are put out too late, that crop can be at a higher risk and the yield may not be what was hoped for or expected. If a farmer misses the perfect window for fertilizer applications, that could affect the profitability that that farmer was aiming for.

As a supplier to these farmers, if you miss that window to get the product into the farmer’s hands and onto the crop, the farmer is forced to either forego using that product, use another company’s instead, or push back their program entirely – potentially sacrificing the profitability, quality, and/or timeliness of that crop. Delivering on the promises made to the farmers that keep us fed is paramount when operating in the agricultural supply chain.

Aqua-Yield is a nanoliquid technology company whose products are used to improve the performance of farms' fertility programs. These products can be used to decrease the amount of fertilizer needed, increase the yield at harvest, and, overall, create a much more effective and efficient plant-harvest cycle for growers While at Aqua-Yield, making sure that we were delivering our products to farms on time and in full was a challenge we started preparing for months in advance.

Add in the supply chain issues that arose during COVID-19, new and larger customers, and our existing customer base, and this became an even tougher equation to solve. However, we knew that if tackled correctly, solving this could give us a competitive advantage going forward as we were able to deliver on our promises while others were not, earning the trust and business of both new and existing customers.

Aqua-Yield® is an award winning nanoliquid company founded by growers, for growers. Our goal is to help provide the tools growers need to be successful through the use of revolutionary nanoliquid technology. Whatever you grow, our nanoliquid technology will improve your program's performance. Aqua-Yield® nanoliquid technology works as a delivery system for crop inputs. While most nutrients enter the plant cell wall through diffusion, the nanoliquid particle will load the molecules and then bulk transport them through the wall by endocystosis. Low use rates (2-6 oz/ac), clean on equipment and the environment, highly compatible with liquid inputs, and easy to use are some of the many proven benefits that come with using Aqua-Yield® nanoliquid technology.

The way we made sure that Aqua-Yield products were being delivered on time was by increasing the amount of base material and products we held in inventory. We were ordering earlier, to offset long or unforeseen lead times, and we were ordering far more than we had in seasons past, to ensure that any hiccup in the supply chain didn’t set us back. We built up our finished goods early and had to hope that the gap between our real and projected demand wasn’t too far off. Fortunately, we were able to deliver on promises made in a timely manner and we shipped our nano products on the same day that the orders would come in. I can confidently say that our lead times were best-in-class, compared to others in our respective industry.

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However, operating this way had some drawbacks. To keep up with demand and to make sure we had enough finished products on hand, we began placing larger orders further in advance. Because of this, we restricted cash flow. We hit times when we had large amounts of inventory left over because we had less order volume than expected. On the other hand, there were times when we had higher than expected demand and would have to quickly order the materials needed to manufacture our finished product – hoping that they arrived on time so that we were not set back and that our backlog didn’t build up.

 

The All-Hands Approach to Production

While bringing on new larger customers, we had to make sure that our existing customer base continued to receive the same service and quality product that they had become accustomed to. To make sure all were happy, we would continually (and happily) take an all-hands approach to production. Due to our limited production capacity, and the nature of being at a company growing rather swiftly, it didn’t matter if you were a warehouse technician, production line operator, supply chain manager, or systems engineer – when orders rolled in, we would drop what we were doing, roll up our sleeves and get to work to ensure that our business partners were satisfied and got the product needed out on the crops in a timely fashion.

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Inventory is a challenge for all manufacturers, and the logistics, distribution, and warehousing networks that support that business also play into that equation.  Check out Inventory Optimization Practices for Fueling Growth to help think through how your business might alleviate cash flow constraints.

 

A New Way of Operating

With Veryable, Aqua-Yield would’ve had infinite production capacity, enabling the ability to scale production to exactly what was needed to get finished products out the door and into the hands of the farmer. On the flip side, Aqua-Yield could then scale their production down during the slow season/s, ensuring that costs remained tight, profit margins were high, and that the cost per unit stayed as low as possible – all without sacrificing the quality of service or product that customers came to know and expect. Aqua-Yield could have taken a true Just-In-Time production model, no matter the order size. Aqua-Yield would’ve been able to take on new business seamlessly and directors and managers would’ve been able to remain focused on the areas where their attention was needed and where they drove the most value to Aqua-Yield and its customers.

In the Spring of 2023, Aqua-Yield partnered with Veryable to ensure that they could continue operating at a best-in-class level while growing at a such a high rate, without sacrificing the quality that growers across the world have become accustomed to. While operating in the world’s oldest industry, Aqua-Yield proves that there is always room for innovation and that “We’ve always done it this way” doesn’t mean you should continue to stick to the status quo.

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Grayson Bell

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