ReachOut: Life Is All About Communication

ReachOut: Life is All About Communication from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

Mike Zwingman

Mike Zwingman

This isn’t—and has never been—a dating column, but today, I want to talk about relationships—give you something to chew on while you’re spending the days in the cab of your combine.

I often call you friends in these articles, and I mean it.  It isn’t a cheap ploy to catch your attention, but rather a true statement of our interconnectedness.  Because our profession depends on relationships.  It may not seem to at first glance, but partnerships are key to our success, from the people you buy seed from to your grain guy to your trusted advisor—that person who know most about your operation and to whom you turn with questions, puzzles, problems, and tales of victory.

I hope that when you think about your trusted advisor, you think about your Central Valley Ag Field Sales Agronomist (FSA).  That is the core of an FSA’s job: to know your operation intimately in order to provide the best service to you.  And how successful an FSA is at that depends a lot on the success of your relationship, which like all good working relationships is built on trust and understanding, two things that spring from successful communication.  We develop trust in each other and an understanding of one another through communication, so the quality of this communication is vitally important.


I used to be a seller and I know the challenges and rewards of the position.  And I can see very clearly now the significance of communication.  I understand that there were things I needed to know but didn’t, things I needed to ask but didn’t.  Not because I was a bad seller, but because communication is tough.  It’s tough to anticipate what another person needs to know.  So what follows here are five things I wish every grower had told me (ahem, ahem: you should tell your FSA) and five questions every FSA should ask you.  I offer these in hopes that they might ease your communication and strengthen your relationship in the service of strengthening your operation.

  1. I wish every grower would open up and really tell us not only about their goals but about their hopes, dreams, and aspirations.  Goals are strictly business related: improving profitability, increasing yields, being more efficient, etc.  I like goal setting, but I like the bigger picture even more.  Spending more time with family, being a better steward of the environment, leaving a lasting legacy—these are the dreams and aspirations that provide the context for our goals.  We want to help you realize these things.
  2. I would like to hear about the strengths and limitations of your operation.  Knowing these things helps us to understand what products and services we might provide in order to enhance those strengths and fill those gaps.
  3. I want to hear about your willingness to take risks or not and where you are most ready to expand your comfort zone.  We all have a different level of comfort with risk—some of us bungee jump, some of us have too much respect for the laws of physics for such things—and knowing yours and which aspect of your operation you’re most comfortable with such risk will help us align the products and services that will help you be all you can be.
  4. While we’re on the topic of communication, I’d like to know how you prefer to communicate.  A phone call?  Text?  Email? Face to face?  Every week?  Every other week?  Every other day?  Only when there’s something to say?  If our aim is not to under-communicate, we want to be careful not to over-communicate as well.  We don’t want to be that guy.
  5. Lastly, I want to know your limits.  What topics should we not infringe upon, perhaps temporarily, perhaps forever? I, like most of us I think, would prefer to just keep my foot out of my mouth and prevent any strain on a good relationship.

Like there are things we want to hear from you, there are things that you should hear from us.  Here are the five questions your FSA should ask you:

  1. If you could give me a grade based on the past year, what would it be?  This is a tough question to ask because the answer might be scary to hear, but that’s why it’s important.  It’s a question we need to ask even if we don’t want to know the answer or even if we think we already do.
  2. The follow up question then is: How do I improve my grade with you?  It lets you set your expectations for this relationship and guides us in our response.  Your answer helps us better serve you.
  3. Surveys show that most growers are thinking about making five major changes to their operation from year to year.  What are your five things and how can we help you implement them?  Change can be good, but it can be hard too, even unsettling.  We’re here to support you—give us some work to do.
  4. What information do you need to make the best decisions for your operation?  While you’re answering that, let us know where you get information and how you acquire it.  Because we don’t just want to be your source of products and services but also your source of information so that your operation grows in value.
  5. Blue BoxThe last question we need to be asking you is about CVA in general: What five things does your cooperative need to do to better serve you and your operation?  What new services do we need to develop?  What do we need to improve?  How do you want us toget there?  Your answers to these questions help us to serve you, our customers and friends, to the best of our abilities.

We at Central Valley Ag appreciate your business, your trust, and we’re proud to be your co-op of choice.  We hope to not only continue this partnership in the future, but also to improve upon it.  Tell us how to do that.  It’s communication that we welcome and value.