Bates Next Generation Farms
The year was 1857 when Erastus Bates first landed on American soil and made his way west before settling down in Rockton, Illinois. For over 160 years and through seven generations, Bates Next Generation Farms has been growing predominantly corn and soybeans in northern IL. Much as their name suggests, Bates Next Generation Farms is as ingrained into the community as their crops are into the soil.
The original homestead burned down many generations past but was rebuilt on the same property. To this day, that house has seen several additions but still stands intact, inhabited by the 5th generation of Bates. Grandma (Judy) and Papa (Roger) make up the 5th generation and while no longer employed on the farm, they remain integral team players that receive an immense amount of credit from their succeeding generations. Thanks to them, Bates is able to carry on the proud family farm legacy that brings so much joy to the family.
At a glance
Bates Next Generation Farms
Headquarters: Rockton, IL
Crops Grown: Corn, Soybeans, Oats, Winter Wheat
Defining Cost of Production
Historical Data Spanning Generations
Continuing the Family Legacy on Farm
Before technology was introduced to the farm, Bates Next Generation Farms used old-school farm journals to track everything from the first frost to the first plant. While those journals capture the essence of what grew from this land over so many generations past, they are hardly what you’d call accessible. Coupled with pinpointing the cost of production, the Bates knew these barriers needed to be knocked down in order to stay on the farm.
“Prior to using Conservis, my husband and my father-in-law were very successful farmers,” said Financial and HR Manager, Sue Bates. “One of the things that they couldn't tell you though is what it cost to produce that crop.”
Cost of Production
“Before Conservis, we didn't really have a good system in place to look at a crop year on an accrual basis,” said Agronomy and Crop Sales Manager, Kyle Bates. Financial and HR Manager, Sue, feels Conservis is her competitive advantage, because it enables the family to define their bottom line.
“Obviously, things change according to weather, but it gives us the data that we need to make good decisions on the farm.”
Sue attributes good decision-making that’s enabled through the software by seeing costs and insights that help guide the farm. Especially given the wet weather conditions in 2019, the Bates had prevent plant and things were coming down to the wire. Having the cost of production numbers was a big benefit that fueled educated decision-making. Sue’s biggest challenge on the farm is budgeting and she finds Conservis to be helpful. “We're looking at that crop year, and our accrual basis and we need to know what we're really making. We also have to have that cash basis, so when we're looking at taxes, we're able to do preparation and planning. The fact that we're able to take a look at both of those, is something that we wouldn't have been able to do prior to Conservis.”
“I feel Conservis provides us a strategic advantage because it gives us more organizational structure, and the ability to track our cost to the penny and we can track where all of our inputs go,” said Michael. “We have records of where they went and we're not losing or missing stuff. It allows us to know exactly where we're at now, and what we're capable of going to.” Kyle sees the advantage in the ability to look at everything on an accrual basis. “We're able to track our cost a lot better for each crop,” said Kyle. “And even on a field level, so we can estimate what we can afford to pay for rent, and how much we need to sell our crops for.”
One Accessible, Easy-to-Use Platform
“I think the biggest benefit of the platform is having that digital storage space to record all of our data, and to access that from any location, anytime, whether on a phone, iPad, or computer,” said Michael.
As the Operations Manager, Michael spends a lot of time in the field. He leverages Conservis Work Orders to communicate back to Sue and Kyle who spend their time in the office. The process enables him to be efficient within a small window of opportunity. From there, Sue and Kyle can view the electronic log detailing field activities and inventory levels right from their office. When Michael is on the move, having remote access to the data housed within Conservis, fits his active everyday routine. “It's so easy... if you're curious about something you want to know, say how much of this do we have left, you just pull your phone out and look it up. It's extremely convenient and easy to use.”
“I definitely like the ability to track and record all the information. Being able to access that from your phone or pocket anytime, anywhere, is a wonderful thing.”
Time-Saving FSA Reporting
Prior to Conservis, Sue’s husband and father-in-law would go to the FSA office and going into the process, they just knew it was going to be a frustrating day. Sue recalls it taking the pair of them hours to complete the reports. Perhaps the toughest part was that there was irritation in the fact that the process seemed inefficient.
“We use Conservis to generate reports, particularly for the FSA office. They love us for it!”
Now, the process is made easy. “We use Conservis to generate reports, particularly for the FSA office,” said Sue. “They love us for it! I'm able to download the reports, I can just send it via email to the representative that we work with. It allows her, in between farmers that are popping in and out, to take a look at ours. When we go over there then, it saves a lot of time for both of us.”
“It's a very complicated process,” stated Sue. “I think it [Conservis] took a lot of that frustration out of it.” Her son Kyle agrees, noting that it does take time to enter all the data into the system. “But it produces a lot of really nice reports that streamline things,” said Kyle. “One example would be the FSA acreage report, and that really helps with acreage reporting for crop insurance. And then certifying our acres at the Farm Service Agency.”
Outstanding Customer Service
The foundational customer service feature of Conservis does not go unnoticed at Bates Next Generation Farms. “The Conservis Customer Success team is amazing,” stated Sue. She knows that if she needs to call the customer success team for any reason, they are there for her any time of day. “I'm not being put on hold, I'm not getting, ‘Okay, we’ll call you back at a later time,’ and time is of the essence on the farm.” Sue recognizes that this personal and professional rarity in business is a big win for her whole family.
“My experience with Customer Success has been outstanding. I don't think there's ever been a time that they haven't been able to help me with what I was working on.”
“One of the great things is that the individuals that we work with do know our farm personally,” Sue said. She elaborates about how the customer success team monitors what’s happening on their farm in the background. “So when there's a mistake that we haven't got, they're calling us or sending us an email that says, ‘You know, we noticed this on your farm.’ They're familiar with our farm and how we operate and maybe we're not fully utilizing something and they're able to say, ‘I was looking at this, and I think that you could really benefit if you use this.’ And they're always working with us, it's like they're part of our team.”
Her son Kyle is equally impressed. “They're really easy to get a hold of, they know the system in and out and if they don't know an answer to a question, they usually get back [to us] right away. It's also really nice because they help hold us accountable, like checking inventory reports, or looking at cost analysis to see if something's way off, and they bring it to our attention.” His brother Michael agrees, referring to his customer success rep as absolutely outstanding. “She’s always available, and always did everything that she possibly could in order to help us come to a conclusion of any problem that we threw her way.”
Traceability refers to the ability to track any food or substance that will be used for consumption, through all stages of production, processing and distribution. “Traceability is definitely important,” said Michael. “Mostly from a cost perspective, knowing exactly what went where and having the documentation to keep track of all of our finances provides us an accurate location of where we currently are, and where we're capable of going.”
“Traceability is going to be really important in the future. I think there's going to be a lot more regulation and using Conservis, we're preparing ourselves for that.”
Sue feels similarly. “Conservis absolutely helps us do that and I think a recent example of that traceability… we had an incident where somebody didn't want us spraying the field,” said Sue. “There were concerns about the winds. We're able to go in and tell you the time that we're spraying something. We're able to tell you what was sprayed in every field.” Sue sees great value in capturing historical data and thinks the need for this information is inevitable, especially as time advances.
Kyle sees that traceability is going to become more important as time passes and feels that Conservis sets them up for success here. “With all of our work orders and field tickets, we're keeping track of where we were on what dates and times,” said Michael. “And for the spring tickets it also brings in the temperatures and humidity and wind conditions which is a really big thing.”
Historical Data Spanning Generations
“I'm sure as with most family operations, the information has always been just in dad and grandpa's head,” said Michael. “It hasn't been down on paper or on a computer platform where everybody has access to it.” Michael found he kept having to go directly to his father or grandfather to access information, hardly what you’d call efficient or straightforward. Particularly when dealing with multi-generational farms, the historical recordkeeping and data-driven insights are not passed down between generations.
Michael realizes that having a system to house this data will help with accessibility throughout the whole organization. This will be especially valuable as time continues and generations hand off their insights to the next generations. Michael is looking forward to one day seeing his heirs take over the family farm and this historical recordkeeping is setting him and future generations up for success. With Conservis, that important historical data will be retained within the cloud, not lost as time passes.
“Conservis was a great opportunity to put that information into a platform where it is attainable by other employees or family members to extract that data.”
Staying on Farm & Continuing the Legacy
Farming is sometimes defined as the one industry that buys at retail costs and sells at wholesale costs. So how do we ensure that a family legacy has every opportunity to carry on? Bates Next Generation Farms was named with the legacy in mind, cognizant of the fact that the next generation will one day take over.
“I wish for the next generation of Bates to have all the same opportunities that I have, to be 100% involved from a young age.”
With each generation, comes a shift. A shift in the environment, technology and the way business is run. Sue Bates is optimistic, but she’s also a realist. She recognizes that it’s imperative to define their farm’s cost of production to continue in ag. “We're struggling as farmers to make it,” said Sue. “If we're going to make it, we need all those numbers.” Today, technology has become an integral part of the Bate’s strategy, driving planning and budgeting. She references her desire to stay on farm and loves that her kids want to take over. “Obviously, we're so excited, but that new piece of technology that they're bringing, so necessary and yet so foreign for my husband and father-in-law.”
Continuing the family’s legacy requires thinking about the future. Just as their name suggests, Bates Next Generation Farms is doing just that. Michael Bates wants the next generation to have the same opportunities that he was given. He hopes they will build on their existing farmland and make something greater of it, as his parents and grandparents have done. Michael thinks back on the initial 120 acres that’s grown to 3000 acres. “I can only imagine what my kids are going to take it to from the 3000 acre farm that it is today. It's going to be a wonderful thing, and something that I'm really looking forward to.”