The tight U.S. labor market and uncertainty about corn and soybean prices are dual challenges for U.S. farmers and food producers. Compensation costs are up, making it tough for many companies to find skilled workers. And, while overall feed prices are down slightly, international tariff talk is unsettling and fueling uncertainty throughout the industry.
That’s why Fieldale Farms, a Baldwin, Ga.-based poultry producer, is using analytics to improve its margins where it can. Here is a look at the company’s efforts and results.
Fieldale Farms is a family-owned business with $1 billion in revenue and 4,800 employees. It produces about 3 million broilers per week under the Springer Mountain label and supplies chicken to national players such as Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Publix, Ahold and Stop & Shop.
Fieldale Farms faces many of the same challenges others in the industry are facing right now, one being finding the right employee to do the job. Poultry production requires certain skills that can be difficult to find, and Fieldale needs to make adjustments, such as salary increases, to set itself apart. That, of course, impacts the company’s margins.
Similarly impacting margins are fluctuations in the grain markets. Corn and soymeal make up most of the feed Fieldale uses for its chickens, accounting for about 75% of the cost of the feed product. While the price of corn has been fairly steady, the price of soybeans has been rising lately.
In addition to the industry challenges, Fieldale needs to keep track of a lot of data within the organization. One example is yard time. This is the amount of time birds spend in line to be processed after they are brought from the farm and weighed. The longer the yard time, the more weight the birds lose, so the goal is to keep yard time down.
Fieldale Farms had a decades-old system in place, which produced reports, but was far too time-consuming. The company needed something that was faster, nimbler and could track data to better optimize processes and improve margins.
The company’s main goal was to find an analytics solution that would:
- Make it easier to get the information it needed, and to get that information more quickly.
- Provide insight into key areas such as yard time to make impactful improvements.
- Analyze all of its general ledger information in real-time, from one place.
Fieldale Farms found the functionality it needed with the Diver Platform and the General Ledger Advisor from Dimensional Insight, Burlington, Mass.
The General Ledger Advisor allows Fieldale Farms to view its financial data in real time, without having to wait for a monthly report to be produced. Due to the success of General Ledger Advisor, as well as previous experience with Diver Platform, Fieldale Farms soon implemented Diver as well.
“Having worked with the technology, I was sold on it,” says Tony Maturo, operations controller at Fieldale Farms. “And, then seeing the positive results from GL Advisor—that combination of the two pushed us to becoming full-fledged Dimensional Insight customers.”
Soon after deploying Diver, Fieldale Farms upgraded to Diver Platform 7.0, which includes Dimensional Insight’s Spectre technology. Spectre is built on columnar database technology to enable faster processing times and improved performance for queries.
With Diver, Fieldale Farms set up a daily yard time report with the goal of reducing the time that chickens are processed. That, in turn, would improve the profitability of each chicken. Using this report, Fieldale Farms was able to reduce yard time by 30 minutes, which is a 13% reduction in time.
“Diver allows us to be able to quickly identify things that look out of sort,” says Maturo. “Having the information strung together in a way where instead of going and printing out four or five different reports and doing a comparison and looking for patterns, it’s all there for you on one screen. With Diver, you can click through and quickly see what might be right and what might be off. That allows you to make decisions and adjustments in a timelier manner.”
Fieldale Farms uses Diver to keep track of some of the same data it has always tracked, but in a more efficient manner. That includes transportation data like cost per mile, internal transfers between plants and freezers, customer sales volume and finance data. Once Fieldale Farms upgraded to Diver Platform 7.0, it was able to refresh data more quickly. Instead of a 2- or 3-hour process that it ran overnight, it could refresh data more quickly, meaning the company has access to data in close to real time.
“We’re able to get information out to all of our managers as soon as the information’s updated,” says Maturo.
In the past, he says, it took a few days to create a spreadsheet, where people would then come back and ask questions about the data being presented.
“Now, they can drill in and see the answer to some of their questions right away,” says Maturo.
All told, Fieldale Farms estimates that by using Diver and General Ledger Advisor, the organization is saving the cost of two FTEs, or about $170,000 a year. The savings mean that Fieldale Farms was able to pay back its product costs in one year, and it currently achieves a 5-time return on its maintenance costs annually.
Fieldale is already looking ahead at how it can use Dimensional Insight’s development platform, Workbench, for a large enterprise resource planning initiative. The organization also thinks Dimensional Insight’s Measure Factory, which centralizes control of business rules, could be the answer to its struggle to control definitions.
“Right now, our measures are poorly defined and scattered all over the place,” says Andrew Rudeseal, information systems manager at Fieldale Farms. “We really have to get that process under control and have a centralized place to define all of our metrics, get everyone on board with those metrics and then maintain them.”
The other issue Fieldale Farms faces is the fact that the more people see Diver and what it can do, the more people want to use it. So the company is looking at purchasing more licenses, so more people in the organization can use Diver.