Innovation is key for Oregon’s largest hop growing operation
In 2014, Drew Bell with Coleman Ag recognized the need to start collecting farm records electronically and in the field, by the people performing the actual applications, instead of behind a desktop in an office. The main drivers for this need were state regulations that enforce pesticide application tracking and to provide workers with accurate information about re-entry intervals after these applications.
After looking at the different options, Coleman Ag decided to implement Agworld due to its mobile capabilities and its ease-of-use. They decided to have both senior management and field managers all collaborate together on the same platform.
Not only is Coleman Ag now collecting accurate information about pesticide applications, they also create all their crop plans in Agworld, track their expenses and generate profitability reports among others.
The Coleman family has a long history in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, having first arrived on the Oregon Trail in 1847 and settling in the Saint Paul area. The Coleman family soon started farming in the Willamette Valley, which is a tradition that the family has continued ever since, with the sixth generation Colemans currently at the helm. The Coleman family sets itself apart though by the unique business structure they have developed. Liz Coleman, partner and manager of Brand and PR explains: “In 2014, three couples — my husband John and I, together with Tom & Melissa Coleman and Ben & Jen Coleman — came together as a farm collective and started what is today known as Coleman Agriculture. “We pooled our resources and now manage over 8,000 acres of family-owned farm ground. We’ve invested in outside leadership and leverage the diversity between ourselves as business partners who are active in the day-to-day operations. As the company’s founders we’ve come from varied backgrounds of professional experiences which has been the truest strength in our contemporary farming operation. Our focus is to strengthen and sustain our family business while growing forward towards R&D and exploring innovative and new crops while honoring our heritage and traditional farming values.”
Coleman Ag is a unique farming operation, but not just because of the sheer size at 8,000 acres and the fact that they are the largest hop growers in Oregon with around 2,000 acres and over 20 varieties. Coleman Ag is uniquely diversified by producing grass seed, hazelnuts, vegetables like cauliflower, sweet corn and beans, seed pumpkins, seed garlic and industrial hemp.
It is because of this unique mix of products that Coleman Ag grass seed General Manager & IT lead Drew Bell decided to implement Agworld: “We needed a solution that allowed our teams in the field to collect and store data for all chemical applications they performed. We needed a solid record of all pesticide applications for regulatory purposes, but also to create a safety precaution for our staff so they know for every field when it has been last sprayed and whether it is safe to enter or not. When I looked at all the options available, Agworld really stood out because of its cloud-based platform structure that allows anyone, anywhere to enter data. I don’t just want that data entered in an office somewhere, but I want everyone in our operation to be a part of this – and Agworld offers us just that.”
Innovation is key
Family operations like Coleman Ag have a long history because of innovative thinking and tireless dedication to prepare the farm for the next generation; this is definitely true for the current generation leading Coleman Ag. Liz: “Because of our unique business structure and leadership team, we can focus our minds and energy on sustainability and innovation. The hemp opportunity, for example, came from outside investors that approached us with the new joint venture. The investors knew of us through friends and, after a stringent vetting process, we saw value. The opportunity was aligned with our business strategy to accelerate our efforts in innovative crops and aligned with our ethos. So we’ve now started a new business, Sweet Soil Hemp, which was born out of industrial spirit to deliver the highest quality CBD products for the health and wellness industry.”
And since Coleman Ag is the largest hop producer in Oregon, they feel they have a responsibility to lead innovation in that industry as well. Liz: “We have a thriving relationship with Oregon State University, Indie hops and Goschie Farms. We contribute to the University’s research efforts and collaborate in ongoing experimental hop development. Together the four teams have developed specialized proprietary hop varieties which underscores the momentum of exciting accomplishments in todays modern farming.”
Organizing a large and diverse operation
With the large variety of crops grown and new varieties trialled, keeping track of individual field and variety profitability is very important. Drew: “We have approximately 100 full-time employees and in peak season, between May and September we employee roughly another 200 seasonal laborers. We have a large variety of crops and it takes over an hour to drive from the southern region of our operation to the North. It is easy to lose oversight. Agworld bolsters our day to day organization planning”.
Drew continues: “Because of our sheer size, it is key for us to have all field managers and office staff connected on Agworld, so we keep track of what is happening at all times. We even have some suppliers that are on Agworld too, which re-enforces our connectivity. Instead of having to enter and re-enter data, their recommendations automatically flow through to our field staff, amplifying our increased efficiencies. And at the end of the season, it is easy to see what was spent where and which fields were most profitable.”
Liz adds to this: “To think of farming innovatively is exciting. Still, at the end of the day we are a business who is conscious of our outputs. Agworld ensures that we track our in-field expenditures to remain profitable”.
Managing a family farming business in the 21st century
For a farming operation the size of Coleman Ag, versions of corporate style oversight become necessary and accessible quality data is needed to keep tabs on everything. Liz explains: “In my previous work in corporate operations of workspace and facilities our team developed a high-level planning tool that captured of a multitude of long range projects we executed around the globe. I was curious how we at Coleman might have the same line of sight to our work for every crop around the farm, from the boardroom to the field, to help keep our administrative and crop teams fully informed and aligned on both a macro and micro level which is critical for running a successful business. As we evaluated our operations tools Drew confirmed that Agworld provides similarly for our farm; we have valuable business intelligence at our fingertips when it comes to agronomics and tracking our inputs and expenditures.”
With the seventh generation of Colemans already beginning to enter the family operation, innovation and new strategic initiatives are at the forefront of everything that happens at Coleman Ag. Liz: “By having everyone connected on Agworld with our field managers entering data that we can then transfer into high quality reports, we can collaborate seamlessly and ensure that Coleman Ag will continue to grow stronger as a family business for generations to come.”
Wairakaia Partnership used to run on spreadsheets but cropping manager and co-owner Bruce Graham got tired of having to retrospectively enter all his data back in the office at night, instead of being able to do so in the field. Bruce also was not able to access his farm data when he needed it most: in the field.
Payne Brothers Ranches saw an increasing amount of ag data coming towards them with no way to capture and handle it. The data comes from different sources such as independent PCA’s, soil reports and tissues analysis, among others. Bob and Bill Payne wanted to be able to have all their data in one spot so they could capitalize on it.
Junior Loza was using Excel to keep track of his field applications and costs but was not able to easily run reports or identify his agronomic costs per field, variety or acre. Junior also did not have a tool to help him manage his workforce, up to 40 people in peak season, and ensure that everyone was involved in recording all of the job details.
Transferring the family farm to the next generation
James Reamer had already managed succession planning from a land and asset point of view, but knew there is a lot more to pass on than just the asset. Jamie, his daughter, wanted to help facilitate the knowledge and experience transfer as quickly and effectively as possible and knew a digital platform was the best opportunity to do so. Jamie also knew that she needed to be in the field to really learn the farm’s subtleties and be of the greatest value to the business.