How does information help farmers determine the price of their products? Berno van der Geest of Agri Information Partners (AIP) went to talk to Jaap Botma, the chairman of the VTA (the Dutch arable farmers association) about providing information to arable farmers. Jaap is more than satisfied with the system they have chosen. ‘‘I think it’s fantastic that we can view our data and add new information from any device and in any place.”
Arable farmers want to sell part of their potato, onion or grain crops themselves on the open market. “Trading freely on the open market is in their DNA” says Jaap Botma. The VTA enables their members to exchange the necessary information so that they have a better negotiating position in the market.
And the primary advantage of this is that the information is very up to date. “What’s more, our members can see what’s in the pipeline. And this helps the farmers devise a better sales strategy. Having access to this information means that our farmers have a financial advantage.”
Having access to this information means that our farmers have a financial advantage.
Based on a good information system
The VTA gathers transaction information from the 750 affiliated growers. These growers represent approximately 30% of the acreage dedicated to potatoes and onions in the Netherlands. The members also manage a large proportion of the celeriac and carrot production. “This gives a good impression of the total market,” explains Jaap Botma.
Jaap has been chairman of the VTA since 2014 and was an active grower himself until 2010. With his agricultural and administrative background, he knows the Dutch arable farming situation inside out. Besides Jaap, there are four other board members who are active arable farmers. Jaap finds being chair very rewarding. “We have quite a small committee and this means it’s not too difficult to agree about strategy and how to proceed.”
Sample harvests and stock-taking
How do the members collect the necessary data? They do the first step themselves. Growers harvest a sample of a potato field, for example, to determine the expected crop volume. They also make an inventory of stocks, and distinguish between what has already been sold and what is still available.
Some 150 to 200 members commit to collecting this information voluntarily. They record the actual information in the system, stating the variety, quantity, price and some other characteristics too. “This is done anonymously, but in practice, we often know who has entered the transaction,” Jaap explains.
Some 150 to 200 members commit to collecting this information voluntarily.
First of all, our members share this information via the VTA system with our other active data gatherers. More than a week later the information is also shared with other members and the press.
For this purpose, the association publishes various newsletters: every week for potatoes and every two weeks for onions. The newsletters contain all relevant information about the markets in the Netherlands, Western Europe and sometimes the USA. “We also monitor prices on the potato futures market for our members,” says Jaap. “In addition, we have a monthly newsletter that focuses on grain and includes figures for the global grain market.”
A good information system is essential for the VTA to collect all the data. The farmers need a user-friendly way to register their details. And naturally, they also need an easy way to access this information again.
“For this reason, we replaced our system in 2016,” Jaap explains. “We had lengthy talks with three possible suppliers and in the end we chose AIP. The key considerations for our choice were our impressions of the new system, the costs and the continuity.”
We introduced the system step by step. “Once we had made our choice we started to specify our exact requirements,” Jaap explains. “The software package was delivered in phases, and at each stage a small group of members piloted the system. Testing the system in this way proved to be invaluable because we could still make small changes to suit our needs. Communication with AIP in this phase was excellent.”
The main advantage of the new system is that members can access it at any time and from anywhere using their computer or smartphone. This is incredibly convenient for our members.
We enjoy working together with AIP. ‘’We work together with people who are highly skilled technicians and who fully understand the functionality. You can make good working agreements with these pleasant people.”
Jaap particularly appreciates the honesty and transparency in the relationship. “And if there’s something wrong, then the AIP people respond quickly to resolve the issue. And this is something we at VTA consider very important.”
We work together with people who are highly skilled technicians and who fully understand the functionality
Plans for the future
We asked Jaap what VTA’s plans are for the software in the future. “We don’t have any specific plans for expanding the system at the moment, even though that is technically feasible,” says Jaap. However, the VTA is in talks with its Belgian sister organization. “They would like to merge their transaction lists with ours, so perhaps this would be an additional feature for the future.”