While summer gradually approaches us here in the Northern Hemisphere, our friends in South Africa are gearing up for fall. And with fall comes harvest season. On the heels of the International Town Hall on March 31, we thought it was time to check in on the latest happenings with our one-and-a-half-year-old Villa Crop Protection partnership. We learned that, like the flowers popping through the soil in Minnesota, our partnership in South Africa is blossoming.
Using less to feed more
The USDA’s Economic Research Service notes that Americans typically spend 7 percent of their income on food. Compare this to the 20-30 percent of South Africans spend on food and the issue is clear: Africa has a significant need to increase food productivity. And that’s where the opportunities the partnership between Land O’Lakes—and our unique farm-to-fork view of the food chain—and Villa Crop Protection come into play.
Last year, South Africa experienced a significant drought. Planted maize hectares decreased by 30 percent due to the limited soil moisture which, in turn, drove higher corn prices locally, according to Dave Schumacher, Land O’Lakes vice president on the ground in Johannesburg. However, farmers worked with Villa to ensure the best yield outcomes possible.
“Growers who were receiving rain were willing to invest in their crop to maximize yield potential. Villa focused on helping growers maximize the crop that was planted to optimize production,” explains Dave. Villa’s focus allowed the company to achieve its 2016 operating goals.
This year in South Africa, planted corn hectares are back to historical levels which will help Villa achieve its 2017 operating goals.
Building on that momentum, we’re continuing to expand our offerings to farmers in terms of agronomic knowledge and tools. Exciting things are happening at Villa when it comes to our very own WinField United™ products.
“Villa has InterLock® adjuvant registered and we are preparing a launch for the upcoming growing season. We’re also utilizing sprayer clinics to provide insights to growers and sales agents on advanced applications technology of crop protection products and creating demand for our high-value adjuvant product portfolio. We have 13 micronutrients registered and are in the process of implementing the NutriSolutions® tissue testing process to drive insights on plant nutrition,” Dave says.
Three Answer Plots were also planted last season with very positive feedback from growers and dealers. Villa plans to expand to six locations this upcoming season.
A 'brand' new feel
In addition to rolling up their sleeves and getting to work, the Villa team embarked on a brand refresh to more fully convey the partnership’s personality. Market research shows that Villa boasts the broadest crop protection product portfolio in South Africa, which is something to be proud of. However, the old branding just didn’t do the company justice in conveying Villa’s customers’ feelings: That the company provides best-in-class service and is a trusted partner.
“In the partnership, we wanted to build on the strong Villa brand and highlight the connection with Land O’Lakes and Winfield United,” says Dave.
The new branding successfully characterizes a modern, value-added crop production input supplier, while maintaining Villa’s distinct geographic flavor.
It takes a village
There's a lot that goes into making an international partnership like this successful. In addition to the talented Villa staff, Land O'Lakes employees are also playing a vital role.
Of note, Dan Hennessy (formerly a Land O'Lakes Senior Finance Director) will take the reigns as Villa CEO and Managing Director come September following the retirement of current CEO Andre Schrueder.
"Andre's industry knowledge has been key to the success of the company," Dan says. "I'm very excited about the opportunity to move into his role once he retires in August, and I want to personally thank Andre for his mentorship over the past few months."
There are exciting opportunities ahead for the partnership as Villa and Winfield United look to feed future populations on a global scale.
"I believe we are well-positioned to take advantage of any opportunity that arises from all of the changes"
"The global crop protection industry is entering a period of unprecedented change. The partnership with Winfield United has opened up new opportunities for Villa and fundamentally changed the way the market views the company," says Dan. "I believe we are well-positioned to take advantage of any opportunity that arises from all of the changes."
Todd Cardwell, a senior agronomist at Winfield United, is doing some vital work, as well. He spends part of his year in South Africa with Villa understanding the differences between U.S. and South African agronomic practices. With that knowledge, Todd trains and assists dealers and farmers in the region on proper spray application technology and adjuvant usage, all the while introducing WinField United products to this new market. It's all about discovering what works in a new market with a different environment.
Todd's role, according to Dan, is perhaps one of the most visible successes of the partnership.
"Todd's passion for the business and deep expertise has made him somewhat of a local celebrity with our farmers and sales agents. All of the customers that have met him continue to ask when he will back to share new insights," says Dan.
The future looks bright
With the fall harvest a few weeks away, a renewed and refreshed brand, successful integration of Land O'Lakes and WinField United employees' know-how and a leadership transition on deck, the partnership's horizon looks bright.
Dave will return to the U.S. in August after spending two years in South Africa. He believes that the partnership will continue to thrive because of the all-hands-on-deck approach.
"The Villa employees feel part of the Land O'Lakes team. The interaction and collaboration between the businesses is making a significant impact," says Dave. "This partnership will make a positive impact on feeding the growing population in Africa."