An Interview with Jon Hoek, President of Summit SmartFarms
Two common industry issues: labor and information overload. To alleviate any issue, you need an actionable plan. We’ve partnered with Summit SmartFarms to help us identify and assess human capital from an actionable and analytical perspective. They understand the value of our data driven culture and what we are working to build, and they have integrated those factors into the foundation of the program we are developing.
Jon and I sat down and discussed what we have been working on.
The human factor is one of the hardest and well-known challenges for our industry. From a nucleus operations perspective, we need highly skilled employees in our data collection process and making day-to-day farm decisions as their choices and selections are extremely impactful down the line for our producers. Each selection is vital to ensure that we are getting the outcomes that we want. Jon, where do you start in developing a program to address these challenges?
Jon: Culture before content, you have to get the culture right. Your other key buckets — driving for continuous improvement, furthering innovation and building a pipeline of leadership — are closely tied to that cultural understanding and opportunity. One thing we focus on in building processes and training programs is driving retention. With a high turnover rate, you are constantly looking for people, and some of the onboarding can go to the wayside. This leads to confusion and frustration in our workforces. We need to develop good people and find a way to keep them.
Statistics say it takes two years to be 100% at your job; when you are constantly hiring, you have people not currently at their full potential. Our work with the training program is critical to get people up to speed faster.
The other side of the challenge is making sure our people have the information and data they need in real-time so they can do the best possible work. Today, a lot of information in a production system isn’t done in a traceable form. To be really effective, there needs to be real-time data flowing — the information our employees need where and when they need it. The training on using that data has to be presented in a way that is consumable by our people. That’s the only way we can move metrics.
“As production people, we have to stop being afraid of technology and change in our farms.”
The goal is to make people’s lives easier. This system should help create efficiency for our teams to give them more time to work on the most important tasks. Jon, how do we roll this out to employees?
No technology alone will solve the problem, it is a matter of application. We place a great deal of emphasis on delivery. Often, training is meeting in an office with the expectation that they can walk into the barn and execute. We need to be providing the information where they will be using it — at the slat level. This is critical to providing them with real world examples. We also don’t focus our time and resources on developing these programs solely to make our lives and our employees’ lives easier — but to increase results and make us better.
The final piece is measuring our effectiveness. We are developing tools to measure our performance as we would any other production metric. This has a twofold reason: first and foremost, it allows us to provide coaching, feedback and compliments to our teams; secondly, it allows us to learn along the way. What is working? What do we need to do better? We need to be able to measure our progress, both the good and the bad.
“Training as a production metric is a quality control and scientific rigor discussion, and we are putting our money where our mouth is.”
If we do that, we have this robust training program, we’ve got checks and balances, we’ve got processes so that the right decisions are made at the right time, so the right indexes are considered, and we’ve got turnover down at our nucleus level farms. It takes an ecosystem approach to provide our teams the resources that they need, and elbow to elbow conversations with deep levels of trust with leadership to make significant changes. We have such a great industry and a noble task of creating protein — we have to provide great opportunities and experiences to keep the best people.
I completely agree. A core piece to Acuity is that we value partnerships in the industry in many segments to help us find “the right solution.” By honing in on this partnership, we can create a program that excels in our operation instead of buying a short-term answer off the shelf. I am passionate about the industry and see a big future ahead. Our ability to continuously move the needle toward better metrics comes down to data and people — if we can leverage the two correctly, we will deliver the value our producers and consumers both deserve.
Jon was raised in the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, where his grandfather inspired him to pursue a career in agriculture. He earned a degree in Agricultural Production with a concentration in Swine Management.
For ten years, Jon and his family owned and operated a farrow to finish swine enterprise. Jon worked at Belstra Milling Company for 20 years in a variety of roles, concluding as Vice President of Pig Production. He co-founded Summit SmartFarms with Ed Bahler in 2019 to service the protein industry as a people-centric innovation broker, developing and assembling technologies for result optimization.
Learn more about Summit SmartFarms here.