Archive | March 2011

Audio: How Farmers Get Serious Business

Audio: How Farmers Get Serious Business Done with Mobile #sxsw

SXSW Interactive: Full Day #3

Agvocacy 2.0: Adding a Human Voice to the Farm

Here’s another one I was particularly looking forward to.

This panel’s description:

You probably don’t farm. But you do eat. How do we bridge the communication gap between the 2% of the population who are farmers, and the remaining 98% of people? Technology. The AgChat Foundation is working to end the divide between agricultural producers and the public by training farmers and advocates, developing strategic “agvocacy” campaigns, analyzing data, and funding scholarships. It’s all part of helping everyone understand the production of food, fiber, and fuel in its many faces and how technology is changing everything. The panel will consist of various leaders from the AgChat community, most of which are family farmers. Discussion will focus on the AgChat community: how it was built; its unusual diversity, including people, groups and ideologies sometimes otherwise not in agreement; how it grew beyond its basis in Twitter to other social media platforms; some typical discussion topics; and how the AgChat Foundation functions to equip farmers and ranchers with the tools to be credible online voices. Complete program details can be found at

Servi-Tech has been participating in the AgChat discussions for a little over a year now, and is a big supporter of the AgChat Foundation — a non-profit group dedicated to giving farmers a voice, and putting a human face on the 2% of people that feed the other 98% in this country.

Congratulations! Your Brand is About to Become Obsolete

A bit of an attention grabber, is it not?

From the panel’s description:

Blockbuster had it all figured out. Kodak was America’s favorite company. Tower Records was the place to be. Cunard was the fastest way to travel. Alas, no more. Each of these companies were blindsided by innovation. In the blink of an eye, their entire reason for being disappeared into thin air. Every day companies new and old, small and large, start down the path to obsolescence. Some have no idea that they are in trouble, others are fully aware and are begging for help. It’s a challenge that can only be addressed by changing culture and behavior, and by a mix of traditional and digital thinking. 1)Identify the opportunity (brand, consumer, behavior, competition) 2)Convince the right people that they have a problem (get thee to the CEO) 3)Build things for consumers and internal audiences (useful things) This session will train people to think differently about how they approach problems, to look at fixing the big picture instead of tactical problems, and to see the opportunity in change.

I was particularly interested in attending this panel for one specific reason — shortly before I arrived at Servi-Tech as the director of communications, the company did a complete structural change. After 35 years with the same set-up, it was decided that if Servi-Tech wanted to survive in the 21st century (and beyond), some drastic changes needed to be made.

To quote our CEO Mitch Counce: “We had hit a wall. It was time to make a decision; we either decided to sit on the other side of the wall, or we could jump over.”

Servi-Tech jumped, and we’re already starting to see dividends pay off. Smoother operation, higher employee satisfaction, and a more flexible corporate structure that lets us take advantage of changes as they come, rather than waiting until it’s too late to act. So, naturally, this panel seemed like the perfect fit.

Some highlights:

• There’s more to a digital presence than marketing. Today, everything has to be tied together digitally.

• What is a brand? Brand = $. Good branding allows a company to take it’s product beyond a commodity.

• With the advent of social media, it’s increasingly important to utilize real-time data.

• A Brand’s Purpose = Why Do You Do Business? (Servi-Tech = Making the Planet More Productive)

Creative and Effective Leadership in Design Environments

“Its tough to be creative in a business environment. Normal people do not want to do this. You wouldn’t do that unless you were compelled to do it.”

That seems to echo true for farming a bit, doesn’t it? As we’ve said before, farming isn’t a career. Its a lifestyle. But, as agriculture has to keep growing and adapting to a rapidly changing market, are there any lessons we can take from leadership in a creative environment?

If we’re collaborating, here’s some good tips from this discussion:

• Make sure you’re offering up project kickoffs. One of the hardest things to one way is to get the team working together. Get everyone in the room together and uncover agendas, expectations, etc. You want to expose people to each other.

• The ability to understand your emotions, listen to others, empathize and express emotions.

• It’s about self-awareness, self management, social awareness, relation management – Daniel Goleman

• Most importantly, we all need to realize that we’re working towards the same goals, if only in different ways.

SXSW Interactive: Full Day #1

All updates run in reverse chronological. Scroll to the bottom for the first post of the day.

Interested in chatting with Mark? Shoot him an e-mail at or call him at 620-390-9535.

My Kindergartner Markets Better Than You

One of the key issues that’s plagued agriculture over the past several years has been the lack of public relations. While we were busy feeding the world, a tide began to turn against us and the advent of safe, genetically modified crops. Over the past few years, there has been a push back from agriculture, looking to take their message straight to the consumers.

In other words: farmers needed to become marketers.

In this panel, Dave Peck (Meshin) and Kriselle Laran (Bullfrog Media) will talk about how approaching a brand from the point of view of a child can rejuvenate the public’s perception.

Laran: Our kids can market better than you can. From this statement, they launch into a somewhat detailed, somewhat rambling discussion on the passion that fuels children and their desires. That desire, that innocent “Oh-my-god-this-is-going-to-make-me-happy” mentality is what marketers need to use.

Specifically, it’s that passion farmers (a traditionally reserved bunch) need to harness to tell their story. It makes me think of an interesting conversation I had with Doug Cossey, our crop service manager, a few weeks ago. “We have facts,” Doug told me.

“Facts aren’t enough. It has to be facts and passion combined. To be right, and feel good while doing it.”

That’s the bottom line of this.

First impressions

We got in to downtown Austin a little bit before noon this morning. We were immediately pushed toward the check-in counters (over a dozen) by countless hundreds of people. All chattering, excited. All looking down at the phones. Truthfully, I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen so many Mac products. There’s a great mixture of people here, ranging from the expected hipsters and music nerds, to marketing professionals, to computer programmers, to educators.

This is why it’s important that agriculture makes an appearance at these events. We know that what we do feeds the world, but not everyone in the general public does. It’s our job to step out of our comfort zone and take the message of agriculture to the people who benefit from it the most.

(Don’t forget we’re live-tweeting righ

(Don’t forget we’re live-tweeting right now!) #SXSW #kidsmarket

Servi-Tech at SXSWi: Day One

March 10, 2011 — Servi-Tech on the road to SXSWi Day One

Right now I’m  biding my time in the United Airlines lounge at Denver International Airport (so I could actually plug my computer and phone in and get  Wi-Fi access). I have a two-hour layover here until I catch my last leg over to Austin. Working on about six hours of sleep in the past 72 hours, so I’m dragging a bit, but it’s nice to take a look through the great e-mails we’ve got so far.

A little history on the SXSW Interactive festival so everyone has an idea WHY we’re spending out time to go out and dig up new tech.


SXSW® Interactive features five days of compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology, scores of exciting networking events hosted by industry leaders, the incredible new SXSW Trade Show and an unbeatable lineup of special programs showcasing the best new digital works, video games and innovative ideas the international community has to offer. Join us for the most energetic, inspiring and creative event of the year, taking place March 11-15, 2011 in Austin, Texas.

Just because it doesn’t specifically SAY that it’s for agriculture doesn’t mean we can’t take advantage of it. Stay tuned for breaking new technology.


— Mark

Meet Servi-Tech: Orvin Bontrager

Director of Training and Education (Based in Aurora, NE)

Welcome to a weekly feature here on From Field to Field where we spotlight one of Servi-Tech’s own professionals in the field.

Orvin Bontrager has worked for Servi-Tech, Inc. for 33 years as a crop specialist, division manager and now as education director. Since 1984 he has worked in Aurora, NE and is responsible for consulting on 15,000 crop acres, supervising education and training programs for Servi-Tech crop service personnel, and managing several research projects.

Orvin has CCA, CPAg, and CPCC-I certifications and a voting member of the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants.

Orvin was raised on a small-diversified farm in south central Kansas.  He graduated from Kansas State University with a B.S. and from Texas A&M University with a M.S. degree in range science/weed science.

He and his wife, Linda, have been married for 35 years and have three children, Mona, Kim and Austin and two grandsons.

In his spare time, Orvin enjoys volunteering at his local church, and spending time camping, hiking and biking with his family.

Dirt: Part Two

By Orvin Bontrager

Servi-Tech, Inc.

This is a continuation of the discussion about the changes in soil fertility over time based on various farming practices; particularly certified organic production verses farming practices that utilize fertilizers and pesticides.

The soil results I am presenting are composited soil samples obtained in the past 20-25 years, depending on the field represented.  Each sample is a composite of 10-20 acres at the time of soil sampling.  The same sample depth of 9-10 inches was performed and the soils were tested at the same soil testing laboratory.

Very little change has occurred in the organic matter results.  This would give a good indication of the overall soil fertility of the fields.  The first three years of the sampling period for each field were averaged and compared with the last three years that soil samples have been obtained.

The following table shows two certified organic fields compared with four conventional fields I have checked for the past 20-25 years.

The four conventional fields were chosen because their soil types are similar to the organic fields.  They were a few of the fields on which I have the longest records available.  The long term averages of the organic fields were 2.57% organic matter 20 years ago verses 2.56% now.  The averages of the four selected conventional fields were 2.48% OM 20-25 years ago verses 2.39% now.  Without the benefit of true replicated trials, I would consider these differences in OM to be non-significant.

I attended a presentation by A. E. “Johnny” Johnston, Rothamsted Research, at the AICC conference near Birmingham, UK in January.   His long term research indicates that soil OM changes very slowly.  It will reach equilibrium in time and we can’t affect or change it significantly.

Continued yearly monitoring of crop production fields is important to document how the soil organic matter is changing from the various cropping practices.  Long term averages are important to monitor verses sporadic sampling that may show trends that are not truly occurring.