Supplier with ace service

20 March 1998

Supplier with ace service

Agrochemical distributors

are competing more fiercely

than ever for farm business.

Charles Abel finds out how

one British-owned company

is focusing on better

technical advice to win

the war for new clients

SERVICE-based chemical supply is attracting growing interest as more growers seek expert advice to optimise input use.

So says the UKs seventh largest distributor, &#42 L Hutchinson of Wisbech, Cambs. Top notch technical advice has helped it quadruple turnover from £7.5m to £30m in six years, says managing director David Hutchinson.

The companys 50 agronomists and eight trainees now account for 7% of the national crop protection market, serving a trading area from Yorks to Kent and Herefordshire in the west.

"Our agronomy is among the best in the country – and that includes crop advisers, not just distributors," says Mr Hutchinson. "We want to be the best advisers in the land."

Complex spray options, falling crop margins and demands for better crop quality as well as detailed crop records, all mean demand for expert advice is rising, says arable sales manager Andrew McShane.

To create such advice Hutchinsons draws on its own plot programme, independent trials results and manufacturer data. "We buy a lot of information, which costs a lot of money. But it is the sort of reinvestment many of our competitors do not make," says Mr McShane.

Trials sites at Wisbech, on silt/clay at Tilney All Saints, lighter land at East Harling, Norfolk, and on fenland in Lincs aim to find the best products and programmes for local conditions.

"We score over other companies because we look at the real problems growers face and consider local farm practice," explains technical manager Dick Neale. "We look at late-sown wheat after beet, for example. Advice for such crops is very different from earlier-sown crops. It all helps our advisers relate results to every clients farm."

Translating raw data into something growers and advisors can easily understand when discussing recommendations is an important next step. This is loaded into Hutchinsons regularly updated Technical Information System which is held on every agronomists lap-top computer.

Accessing three thousand pages of product details, trials results, background information and cost/benefit analyses is quick and easy. "Its a good replacement for the estate car full of product manuals and results folders and helps give the grower a real impression of what lies behind the advice," says Mr Neale.

Demonstrating a clear margin over input cost is a cornerstone of Hutchinsons advice. "Well look at the statistical significance of trials results and apply that to individual farm situations to see whether a spray is worthwhile. If the return is unlikely to give more than the cost we wont recommend it."

Strobilurin fungicides are a case in point. Total production costs for a crop treated with a conventional triazole programme might typically be £530/ha (£216/acre). If it yields 8t/ha (3.3t/acre) unit cost of production would be £66.25/t, says Mr Neale.

Although a strobilurin programme would add £17.70/ha (£7.22/acre) to production costs, the 10-14% extra yield response seen in trials would raise output by 0.8t/ha (6.5 cwt/acre), so cutting unit cost to £62.23/t. "That £4.04/t saving represents a 49% return on investment," Mr Neale notes.

Once recommendations are agreed they are loaded into Hutchinsons crop recording package. Unlike bureau services using grower summaries the agronomist updates this directly.

But the key to winning farmer business is good advice, stresses Mr Hutchinson. "We have got to look after the farmers long term interests. If advice is not well founded and independent their businesses are at risk."

A clear focus on farmer profit ensures customers stay loyal, adds Mr McShane. "We are judged on how well we help the business and we feel this is where things are changing.

As more growers monitor their margins more closely, we can demonstrate a return more easily," says Mr McShane. However, Mr Hutchinson firmly discounts an agronomy-only service. "Service and product sales are inextricably linked."

For the future ever better technical advice is the goal, to win new clients in existing areas and expand into new ones. But size is not considered a virtue in itself.

Being a privately owned, British company with a 60-year history gives growers confidence, says Mr McShane. "They know they are dealing with a company that is in the business for the long run. Some foreign owned distributors have very different objectives. Sometimes they can seem to be in it for the quick return."


&#8226 Wisbech-based, British owned.

&#8226 Advice for 7% of UK market.

&#8226 8th largest distributor.

&#8226 £30m turnover, 60 advisers.

&#8226 Technical detail the goal.

&#8226 Computerised records and advice to support growers.

Tip-top technical advice is the name of the game for HLHutchinsons (l-r) Dick Neale, Andrew McShane and managing director, David Hutchinson.


&#8226 Wisbech-based, British owned.

&#8226 Advice for 7% of UK market.

&#8226 Seventh largest distributor.

&#8226 £30m turnover, 50 advisers.

&#8226 Technical detail the goal.

&#8226 Computerised records and advice to support growers.

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