Getting to Know You’re Customer

By Fred Manz – Insource

When I was around 10 years old, I thought I wanted to be a farmer. Both of my grandfathers were farmers, as were many of the people who lived around me in rural Ohio. AIso, I just thought cows were cool. But my dad was an elementary school teacher, and I wasn’t raised on a farm. So, while I grew up surrounded by crop fields in a very rural setting, I didn’t know very much about farming.  I knew that if it didn’t rain for a long time, that was bad, and that farmers drove planters in the spring, and combines in the fall.

Fast-forward to August of 2020, when I started working at InSource. Being new to the company, and to the world of contract manufacturing, one of the first things the team did for me was go through an overview of the customers that we served. The goal was to get me out to meet the major customers that make up our business. I quickly became aware of the various industries we serve, and being new to them as well, I set out to educate myself more about the part we played in those spaces.

The agriculture industry makes up the largest part of our business.  Our customers in this space are dedicated to helping farmers responsibly use limited resources (land, water, etc) to ensure the maximum yield can be produced for a given field. They’re using data gathered from electronics mounted on ag equipment to achieve this. This data helps farmers make better decisions on which type of seed to plant on which soil type, in the most accurate way possible. At the end of the season, data is gathered as the crop is harvested, which gives the farmer a complete picture of what’s happening in his fields. 

And this is where InSource comes in.  Our expertise in electronics and wire harnesses means that we get the privilege of participating in this annual ritual that’s been going on for as long as man has walked the earth. Many of our customers come to us with an idea for a piece of electronics, or a harness, and they depend on us to design, optimize, and build the product for them.

In my desire to learn more, I set out into the field in the spring, armed with a pen, a notebook and a drone, to learn more and capture some footage of the process. My first stop was to visit Ian Miller, farmer and precision ag dealer at Wenninger Seed in Paulding County. Ian gave me a tour of their facility, and walked me around a corn planter, showing me where the products that InSource builds are used.

In this case of corn planters, the focus is on making sure that a kernel of corn is dropped at the right depth and spacing for the soil type, while minimizing skips and doubles. All of this is making sure that nothing goes to waste. Doubles waste seed, and skips mean that a portion of land wasn’t used to its food-producing potential.  Planting a seed too shallow or too deep means that stalk won’t get its best shot at life. Ian was a very gracious host, and it was awesome to see our product firsthand, and to shoot some footage of the planter.

That fall, I reached out to a local Paulding County Farmer so that I could get some eyes on the other end of the process: harvest. Ed Schlatter is a lifelong Paulding County farmer, who currently farms with his 2 sons, Evan and Caleb. Their combine is also outfitted with some of the products that InSource makes for our customers. In this case, we got the opportunity to sit in the combine, and watch the in-cab touchscreen as it displayed real time BPA (bushels/acre) data. The corn was being harvested in a field not five miles from where the electronics were manufactured.

I must admit, that prior to these experiences and my time at InSource, my understanding of farming was probably a little dated. It was very eye-opening to see first-hand as each field is treated not only as a place to plant and harvest crops, but also to harvest data. Only now am I beginning to understand the power of the tools that farmers are using today as they seek to be good stewards of the “fruited plain.” Today’s modern farmer is becoming a data scientist, treating each season as a controlled experiment, and getting more detailed feedback than has ever before been possible.

I’ve quite outgrown my childhood dream of farming. I found a different career path that serves me just fine. But I’m also delighted that the path I have taken has brought to a place where I get to play a small part in the crucial role farmers play in making sure there’s food on the tables of the world. Hats off to Ian, Ed, and the thousands of others like you. InSource hopes to be right here, making tools that make your job easier and smarter.

Please feel free to jump on the InSource website to see some footage we captured during my “field trips.”