It has only been in the last 3 years that precision has really taken off as its own department and profit center at Van Wall, when Scott Meldrum became the Integrated Solutions Manager at Van Wall Equipment. In that time, the precision department has grown rapidly, adding agronomy services in 2014 and crop insurance in 2015, along with the added volume that came with the company’s addition of 11 stores through acquisition since 2014. Now, Van Wall has a 16 person precision farming team that has 4 agronomists on staff, along with 10 AMS specialists, 1 program specialist and Meldrum and Renae Pruess, supply management. And, all of the precision specialists are also certified crop insurance specialists as well.
Having certified crop insurance specialists on staff sets Van Wall apart from other dealers. In fact, Ken Ripley, strategic account manager with insurance company Farmers Mutual Hail, says he knows of just 5 dealers in the U.S. selling crop insurance.
“One of the big pillars of Van Wall is relationships. Crop insurance is a very relationship driven business. Our AMS specialists are on the farm, probably more than anyone else at the dealership. They are able to develop very close relationships, and talk about utilizing the farmer’s data. Once that grower realizes they haven’t put that data to work for them, crop insurance is a very easy discussion to have. It does flow because a traditional crop insurance agent that you would think of is maybe a little bit leery of the technology,” says Meldrum. “Whereas the people on my team, that is what they do every day. They know how to ensure that their customers are getting good quality data from their field operators. They can then show our customers how to use it and make their farms more profitable.”
Van Wall Equipment earned top honors as Farm Equipment's 2016 Dealership of the Year. Van Wall is a John Deere dealership based in Perry, Iowa, with 16 ag locations.
Don Van Houweling, owner of Van Wall Equipment, points out how strong of a link the data has to crop insurance. He says 40% of the crop insurance policies sold in Iowa last year were in error because the data used to create them wasn’t accurate. “We create accurate policies because our data is good because we create and manage it. So we’re in a much better position to do it than anybody else. And we don’t have to hand it off to anybody. We just do it,” he says.
Ripley says that link between the data and the crop insurance policy is something Van Wall is doing particularly well. “That’s something that John Deere had developed when it was in crop insurance. So we can take the technology right from their monitors, planter trackers and combines and push it right to the policy. Growers see a lot of value in this. That’s what my job entails, working day in and day out working with the agents to help them move that cropping data to the system. That’s where I think there’s going to be a big opportunity for dealers,” he says.
He adds: “One of the things I’ve always appreciated is their innovation and their ability to see opportunities. Don Van Houwling is so insightful on opportunities and trying to be that provider, that one-stop shop which is nice. He has really good employees, which has been a testament to him to be able to acquire, keep them. Scott Meldrum, he’s been in that role [Integrated Solutions manager]. The average time in those position is 4 or 5 years. Scott’s been there for many years. It goes to show he’s found good quality people with the willingness to embrace new opportunities, which is remarkable. Their desire to help growers is very impressive. They did everything they can. They don’t leave any stone unturned to make sure the customer is getting treated fairly. That’s always refreshing to have someone with that passion.”