BWT Holdings, LLLP

BWT Holdings, LLLP ("BWT") is the brainchild of Jackson MN couple, Brad and Meg Freking. It’s not by chance that the company was founded in 2010, shortly after corn prices spiked in 2008-2009. “We decided to deploy capital and reverse integrate into row crop. It really fit into our sustainability model because we have our own feed mills,” Brad said. “What we're doing is truly one of the most sustainable integrated models on the planet, because we feed the pigs, the pigs produce organic nutrients and we put those on our fields in a very sustainable manner.” BWT grows mostly corn on corn, which serves as the primary ingredient in their pigs' diet. Since the hogs’ nutrient-rich manure is applied to their fields, it limits the need for commercial fertilizer.

Prior to BWT, the Frekings founded New Fashion Pork in 1994. Over the next 10 years, Brad and Meg strategically acquired hog facilities and feed mills across the Midwest. The expansion grew from Minnesota and Iowa into Wyoming, South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Today, they have about 60,000 sows, produce about 1.4 million pigs a year, and have their own processing and bacon plants.

At a glance

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BWT Holdings, LLLP


Headquarters: Jackson, MN

Crops Grown: White Corn, Yellow Corn, Soybeans
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acres across four states
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full-time employees
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local growers
2017
year they started using Conservis

Challenges


Communicating Field Work

Tracking Field Progress

Efficient Field Visibility

BWT employs 15 local independent family farmers to work the land and operate equipment. For the farm to effectively manage that many independent operators, they needed an information system to house, record and track each farm cycle, while keeping the growers on track and on task. “In 2011, BWT had 700 acres and they’ve since scaled to 16,000, and it's more than one person can do,” stated General Manager, Mitch Hogrefe.

Director of Crop Strategies, Chris Green knows firsthand, the difficulty in scaling with old-fashioned methods. “In the beginning, it was a lot easier,” said Chris. “But as we continue to grow, we have 100 plus fields. It's impossible to manage the planning, the pre-spray, the post-spray, the side dressing, the fungicide. Everything that we do, the harvest, the manure hauling is impossible to manage with a spreadsheet, phone and text message.” 

Owner Brad thinks back to the time before using Conservis. “I know they tried to work with two other systems that didn't pan out,” said Brad. “We bought our first farm in 2010 and so the need came as we got more and more family farms working with us. It hit kind of a breaking point where you can no longer just call and keep track of everything.”

Results


Communication to the Fields

Billing & Inventory Recordkeeping

Sustainability Backed by Traceability

Fast Changes on the Fly

Accessible Support & Company Transparency

Real-time Visibility

Communication to the Fields

More than anything, BWT relies on Conservis Work Orders to communicate easily and quickly to each of their custom growers. Their Work Orders indicate which hybrid is to be planted and what chemicals are to be sprayed. 

"It helps with our communication tremendously, and it's helped us. Believe it or not, so far, we haven't made a mistake yet this year.”

- Chris Green, Director of Crop Strategies at BWT Holdings, LLLP

The communication road is a two-way street in that Chris’ custom farmers rely on Work Orders as much as he does. “Conservis helps me a lot, and a good example is our Hagie [sprayer] operator,” said Chris. “He runs our sprayer that we're going to run over 30,000-40,000 acres, so he's got a lot of work orders staring at him in the face all the time. But if he can't find that work order, he will not even enter that field without calling me.” Chris appreciates that the farm management system holds both parties accountable, serving as another checkpoint in their procedures.

Chris admits that BWT still uses spreadsheets for some things, “But I would hate to use spreadsheets to run this whole operation,” he emphasizes. Mitch sees the value too. “From the back [office] side, it saves a lot of time,” said Mitch. He knows that with so many moving parts, it’s imperative to communicate consistently. There could be over a dozen growers planting at any one time, making it impossible for any one person to communicate orders via phone. “To keep it on track, to make sure everything gets done and we can cross that farm off the list, it's just a lot easier with a Work Order tracking system.”

Billing & Inventory Recordkeeping

While Chris believes that the top benefit of Conservis is the Work Order system, he feels a close second is the data they obtain for recordkeeping. “That is going to become extremely valuable to us as we continue to go forward because of the laws and records you have to keep,” said Chris. “But also, because we not only spray BWT ground, we spray some of our growers’ personal acres for them.” The company relies on Conservis data to bill their growers for precisely what is used in each field. "Maybe you had five or 10 acres that's too wet and you didn't spray that part. Well, we don't need to be charging for what he didn't get or vice versa.” 

Having easy access to reliable data that’s backed by the cloud is a big win for BWT. “It's all stored digitally,” said Mitch. “So, when we come to reconcile the bills at the end, we know exactly how many bags of seed went to each farm, what variety, how many gallons of starter and insecticide, because it comes right from the planter monitor.”

“It's a lot easier on the back office, allocating expenses to each farm.” 

– Mitch Hogrefe, General Manager at BWT Holdings, LLLP

The team uses machine integration through their John Deere equipment, removing the headache and potential error that comes with manual data entry. This means their as-applied and yield data flows right from John Deere Operations Center into the Conservis platform for full transparency.

Sustainability Backed by Traceability

With the future in mind, Brad and Meg Freking first founded BWT to feed the hogs that make up their primary business, New Fashion Pork. “With sustainability, you have to have traceability,” said Brad. He believes companies should be able to identify, record, and prove everything that’s gone into a product for full transparency. 

On the New Fashion Pork side, Brad’s system is totally designed around traceability, because if they have a pork recall at any point, they can trace that back as far as needed. “Predominantly, it's going back to the feed, and where those ingredients came from. So, internally with our own information system here, we have a very robust traceability system built into it. I believe Conservis does that on the row crop side, because anything we do to those individual farms is tracked in the system.”

“Unless you can identify, record, and understand what you're changing with the traceable system to be able to show to your end customers, you're really just blowing smoke.” 

– Brad Freking, Owner at BWT Holdings, LLLP

Chris too, has peace of mind knowing that the business’s historical data lives in the Conservis farm management system. “That traceability is there forever, and some of these things you got to keep for three years. So, we don't need to keep a separate copy of it. It's always there. If we ever get audited, we got the data.”

Fast Changes on the Fly

The BWT team works with an agronomist who helps create annual crop plans. They implement different chemical and seeding programs, while growing conventional corn as well as Roundup Ready corn, so there’s a lot of planning involved. But as we all know in ag, conditions and weather are constantly changing, causing plans to evolve. This requires a flexible system that is built for making changes on the fly.

Mitch considers what it would be like to work without a system like Conservis. “To get a written plan out to all of our guys, and try to change things on the fly, it's impossible when it's written down,” said Mitch. He sees value in having a large team all referencing one system that updates automatically. “If you can look at something and see a change, it's a lot easier.”

“If we want to make a chemical or rate change, all we have to do is cancel or change a work order, send it out, and it goes to what the updated plan is,” said Mitch. “It makes it a lot easier to change on the fly, having something app based.”

“Another thing that's great is I can go in and change a work order so easily. Especially this spring when the weather kept kicking us by the seat of the pants, and we needed to change chemical programs. It’s so easy going in and changing it. It's simple.” 

- Chris Green, Director of Crop Strategies at BWT Holdings, LLLP

Since 2019 was such an incredibly wet year, Chris relied heavily on Conservis to modify his field activities. “We had several fields this spring that we didn't have time to get the pre on, but we finally got a window and chance to plant it,” said Chris. “Then we adjust the program because we didn't get the pre on, and Conservis helped greatly manage all that.”

Accessible Support & Company Transparency

Prior to Conservis, BWT was using a competitor’s farm management system. “With the other company that we were using, we never saw a face,” said Mitch. “We were always on the phone with them, but now with Conservis, we see a face four or five times a year and you're always a phone call away. If we've got issues, you have really helped out with resolving any problems that we've had.” 

“How many companies can you go to and sit and talk to the CEO for two hours in the evening? It was great just picking his mind, and him sharing what they're doing and what they're looking at.”

- Chris Green, Director of Crop Strategies at BWT Holdings, LLLP

“My experience with Conservis’ support team has been awesome because they have all these people that you can contact 24/7, and I haven't needed it,” said Chris. “I call Alex (Conservis customer support rep) and guess what? He either answers the phone or he calls me back very soon.” It’s not uncommon for Chris to spend one-on-one time with Alex. “That's extremely valuable. They've been awesome to work with, very open minded, very flexible. They try to figure out what you need and help you.”

"Conservis being independent means a lot to me because you're not biased. I mean, your people at Conservis are very open minded, they listen, ask questions, continue to update their program, and they continue to improve their program,” Chris said. “And they continue to try to help us all that time. And I just believe that if it was associated with a bigger company or with a different motive to sell something, there's parts of that you wouldn't get.” 

BWT appreciates that Conservis is focused on innovation through the eyes of their growers and has no loyalty to anyone but the grower. Chris has attended Conservis’ customer summits, loved hearing about future innovations from the CEO and acknowledges that this level of company accessibility is a rarity today.

Real-time Visibility

Chris relies on Conservis to provide real-time visibility to what’s happened on each field. “My favorite part about Conservis… and I may do this at midnight at home, I may do this at 5am in the office, is to see what happened the previous day,” said Chris. “Again, we have 15 growers everywhere. I kind of know what's going on, but not always.” He checks the platform to know what’s been planted, harvested and what field activities have taken place, all without direct contact with growers.

“It's extremely valuable to us to see that has been done, so we can go to the next step. Especially in the fall when we have harvest, manure hauling, and field work to do.” 

- Chris Green, Director of Crop Strategies at BWT Holdings, LLLP

From there, Chris maintains an ongoing report for upper management on the status of his fields. “If I'm going to update that every day, I need that data,” said Chris. “Conservis does that extremely well for me.”

“Where Conservis has saved us tremendously is we raise some conventional corn,” said Chris. “There’s been times I've had the wrong program in there and I don't know what I put on that farm. I can't remember… I can go into Conservis really quick and see what I did tell them to put on there.” Prior to Conservis, there were times that Chris requested the wrong inputs on a field and it ended up killing the crop. With the insights that Conservis provides, this should not occur.

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