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Four Tips To Get More At The Elevator

Farmers are good at growing grain, but are they good at working with the people they sell it to? Respect, trust and good communication have a direct bearing on a farm’s bottom line, according to grain buyers.

“Building up a trustworthy relationship is where the profitability is,” says Gord Hagstrom, farm marketing rep for Cargill in the Edmonton area. “We do business at the kitchen table or at the board room. We do little over the phone.”

Farmers do business with people they like and trust. And companies, if given a choice, are no different, he says.

DELIVER WHAT’S EXPECTED

“Trust is huge in this business,” adds Norm Czibere, grain manager at Bunge Canada’s Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. plant. “If you can’t trust the guys you’re dealing with, it’s hard to deal.”

For example, Czibere does much of his business over the phone and considers a verbal commitment to be a “handshake” deal. Often prices have moved higher by the time the agreed-on contract arrives in the mail for signing, but if a farmer doesn’t honour the verbal commitment, he or she isn’t going to be high on Czibere’s list of people he will do business with again.

“You can’t buy all the grain, so you may as well buy grain from people you can trust,” he says.

BE UPFRONT WITH WHAT YOU HAVE

Not being upfront about poor-quality grain is another way to get into a buyer’s bad books. “If you sneak in a (bad) load in the middle, and put (grain handlers) in a (difficult) position –you’re not going to get the first call next time,” Czibere says. “You can break trust, but you run out of places to deal.”

The better strategy is to call your buyer when you have poor-quality grain.

“If you know what someone has, you know to phone with offers,” says Czibere. “If a farmer has some poor quality, and you know what it is, and you trust that when you call for it you’ll get what the farmer said; you can manage your inventory to handle it.”

LOYALTY HAS ITS REWARDS

Being a loyal customer also really pays off, according to Bob Heck and Rod Fischer of Westlock Terminals Ltd. at Westlock, Alta.

“If there’s a good price on grain, they’re the first to know,” says Heck, the facility’s general manager, adding they’ll also be the first to get a break on moisture or grade where it’s possible to give one.

“You do your best for everyone, but you’re going to give your best customer the first chance,” says Fischer, Westlock’s marketing manager. “He’s the one that looked after you for many years.”

“You always try to make sure you don’t jeopardize loyalty,” adds Hagstrom. “You make sure you look after your core customers.”

Loyalty doesn’t mean exclusivity — no company expects to get all of a customer’s business. “There’s some commodities we can’t handle or aren’t competitive, we know that,” Heck says.

Many farmers work with three different companies because each serves them best in some way, notes Hagstrom.

MUTUAL RESPECT IS KEY

Being easy to deal with is another key factor for grain buyers.

Czibere suggests farmers put on his hat once in a while. If you had a great pricing opportunity, which customer would you call first, he asks? For Czibere, it would be a customer who understands value and can make a quick decision.

“When I have a great price, or when I have a great opportunity, or when I am concerned about the market, I am not going to phone a guy that wants 45 minutes of my time,” he says. “Our time demands are incredible.”

Czibere also recommends farmers let their buyers know their price targets and seriously consider grain pricing orders because they ensure they won’t miss a price spike.

While “win-win” is an overused term, mutual gain is the foundation of a good business relationship, says Czibere.

“As long as there is respect, and you treat people good — man, you get a long ways,” he says.

MarianneStammisafreelancefarmwriter fromJarvie,Alta.Contactherbyemailat [email protected]

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