Originally published on January 30, 2019.
In 2016, Lance Staggenborg spent two weeks on a Farmer-to-Farmer flex assignment visiting feed production plants across Rwanda through the Farmer-to-Farmer Middle East and North Africa (F2F MENA) Program. As part of his volunteer assignment with Land O’Lakes International Development, his job was to use his industry expertise to find opportunities for improvement. We sat down with him to learn more.
Lance, tell us about what you do for Land O'Lakes, Inc.
Purina plant manager shares his Farmer-to-Farmer experience
I have worked as a Plant Manager for Purina for ten years in different plants across the country. Today I’m working out of a plant in St Joseph, Missouri.
What was the feed landscape like in Rwanda when you volunteered there?
When I was in Rwanda in 2016, I visited six feed mills that produced feed for dairy cows, poultry, some swine and even fish. The feed industry there is still relatively new, so production capacity was small. To put this in perspective, when I was there, one facility was making about six tons of feed a month. At our Nashville, Illinois production facility, we can produce over 4,000 tons a month.
What was your volunteer assignment with Farmer-to-Farmer?
I provided recommendations on how they can improve operations. I went in thinking they needed help with increasing production due to being over capacity, but my expectations were wrong. They had equipment, resources and logistics figured out. Their largest gap was lack of sales and marketing. Today, a big challenge is quality management of raw materials, such as high moisture content and aflatoxins.
In what way?
The mills I visited didn’t have a sales force and general marketing strategy. When I asked who was on their sales team, they'd say either no one or one person, and that person was also working on production at the plant.
What recommendations did you give them?
What did you learn from the assignment that applies to your stateside job at Purina?
- Prioritize creating a sales team: This was a new concept in the mills I visited, so it took some coaching. I talked with them about how to market themselves, like branded t-shirts and building communicative relationships with customers to better understand their needs and how the plant can address them.
- Find ways to lower prices: Instead of paying to import maize, I asked them to consider utilizing maize from local farms. In doing so, they can build the price of the maize into the feed and sell it back to the farmers at a lower price. Since Lance’s visit, operators are generally still importing raw materials – which continues to present quality control challenges.
- Seek other ways of distributing: At the time, they were distributing to large individual customers. I suggested they partner with vets in town centers to get their product in store fronts. They can educate vets and store managers on the benefits of their products, then cut them a deal on the pricing, save on transport, and increase their market exposure – it is a win-win for everybody involved. This is how Purina was originally established – by partnering with dealers to sell the product to end users of varying sizes. Since Lance’s visit, operators have started educating vets and store managers on a limited basis. More work needs to be done to address distribution challenges.
- Managing the business: I offered some technical advice on how to manage operations. For example, they were not weighing raw materials when they arrived, so it was unclear if they were receiving what they were paying for. I suggested purchasing a scale to validate the weight of the inventory. I also suggested purchasing some relatively inexpensive equipment to mix, test and portion out their products more accurately.
To not take things for granted. Our plants in the U.S. are incredibly efficient. Plants in Rwanda are using mostly manpower to unload and stack 15 tons of product a day. To complete a ten-ton batch, it takes them four hours. For us, it takes 20 minutes. The amount of physical labor they do in their plants is probably 200 times higher than ours.
Any closing thoughts?
This volunteer assignment made me proud to work for a company that's Feeding Human Progress around the world and not just solely focused on making money. By offering our experience and partnering with these businesses, we are helping people and agribusinesses find ways to improve agriculture –and as a result, we are moving the global industry forward.
The Farmer-to-Farmer(F2F) Program is a USAID funded program which relies on the expertise of American volunteers to respond to the needs of farmers and agribusinesses in the developing world. As of 2018, Land O'Lakes International Development is implementing a new F2F project in Egypt, Lebanon and Bangladesh focused on food quality and safety.
If you or someone you know are interested in volunteering for the Farmer-to-Farmer Food Safety and Quality Program and have food safety and quality, agribusiness, or production expertise, email Gretchen Hanson for more information at GHanson@landolakes.com.