Close to 21 million American farmers produce, process, and sell food and fiber products, and nearly US$136 billion in farm goods were exported in 2011. Chief among these producers is the Land O’Lakes cooperative, which has been a part of the American landscape for nearly a century.
An iconic brand, Land O’Lakes has grown far beyond its roots as a small cooperative of dairy farmers with forward-thinking ideas about producing and packaging butter. Supported by a variety of technologies, including Oracle Exadata and Oracle Exalogic, Land O’Lakes has become a Fortune 500 company and is now the second-largest cooperative in the United States, with annual sales of more than US$14 billion. Over the years, Land O’Lakes has expanded its operations into a variety of subsidiaries, including WinField Solutions (WinField), which provides farmers with a wide variety of crop seeds and crop protection products, and Purina Animal Nutrition, which provides farmers and ranchers with a wide variety of animal nutrition products.
Location: Arden Hills, Minnesota
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The dairy and farm product giant has been a user of Oracle’s JD Edwards EnterpriseOne enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications for more than a decade, and the Oracle footprint extends across Land O’Lakes and the WinField and Purina Animal Nutrition subsidiaries. “We’ve been a longtime JD Edwards EnterpriseOne ERP customer across multiple divisions,” explains Mike Macrie, vice president and CIO at Land O’Lakes. “Our growth into our current Oracle footprint began about four years ago, when we invested heavily in Oracle’s technology platform and applications.”
For example, back in 2010, Land O’Lakes introduced Oracle’s Demantra demand planning applications and Oracle Transportation Management, which the company promptly integrated with its existing JD Edwards EnterpriseOne system to improve shipping and delivery operations. In the case of WinField, the company began focusing more heavily on the Oracle technology stack—including Oracle Exadata, Oracle Exalogic, and the Oracle WebCenter platform—to handle some of the complexities of the seed business.
Like the Land O’Lakes dairy products business, WinField functions as a wholesaler: it sells seed and crop protection products and services to local co-op members who, in turn, sell to farmers. To support the operation, WinField has grafted an array of Oracle technologies together with existing proprietary systems. This includes the R7 Tool—an interactive web-based, mobile platform that aids agronomic decision-making—and the company’s web-based seed ordering system, Connect3.
For more than a decade, Land O’Lakes has been running Oracle’s JD Edwards EnterpriseOne to meet the enterprise resource planning (ERP) requirements of Purina Animal Nutrition, one of the largest producers of animal feed, and WinField, a business that sells crop protection solutions and seed to farmers. In 2006, the company’s dairy foods division was hindered by the lack of integration between its business units, so it combined its 12 manufacturing plants, 40 third-party warehouses, and 23 contract manufacturing facilities on a single instance of its JD Edwards EnterpriseOne and Oracle Transportation Management solution.
Land O’Lakes plans to upgrade the dairy foods division’s JD Edwards EnterpriseOne environment in the next 12 to 18 months while moving the application tier onto Oracle Exalogic and the back-end Oracle Database instance onto Oracle Exadata. “With everything we’ve already got in place, combined with future Oracle investments, we think we’re going to get all the performance we need for our growing environment,” says Tony Taylor, director of technology services at Land O’Lakes.
What makes seed sales unique and challenging is that they are directly tied to seasonal purchasing. “There’s somewhat of a Black Friday in the seed business,” explains Tony Taylor, director of technology services at Land O’Lakes. “WinField is a US$5 billion company that sells all of its seed during about a six-week period of time.” With such a hugely compressed sales cycle, speed and efficiency in the online ordering experience are essential. Add to that heightened customers’ expectations, and if transactions are running in minutes rather than seconds, customers aren’t going to use that system.
To support its co-op members, WinField uses Oracle Endeca Information Discovery technology in its Emerald Extras Equinox program, which helps co-op members better understand behaviors and patterns in the farming market. “We can glean information that tells us, for instance, who has bought 1,000 acres of seed but maybe has bought only 500 acres’ worth of protection products such as herbicides, granular micronutrients, adjuvants, and seed treatments,” explains Macrie.
Through its partnership with GEOSYS, WinField uses the R7 Tool to gather and analyze huge volumes of imaging data, which it uses to help farmers make smarter agronomic decisions and ultimately gain higher yields.
WinField also drills down into information that, for instance, displays details in January about a particular farmer who typically purchases seed and products in November but has not yet ordered. This provides WinField the information it needs in order to perform proactive outreach to farmers to find out if they simply haven’t had time to place an order. “We’re able to help farmers and our co-op members, even in cases where we’re not sure whether it’s going to directly benefit Land O’Lakes or WinField,” says Macrie. “Because this is truly a cooperative system, these are the people we work for, and we’re willing to invest in them.”
Prior to implementing Oracle technology and applications, WinField was struggling with its legacy web-based sales portal. “It was one of our first custom-built applications, and it was a customer-facing application for WinField,” says Taylor. “It didn’t have a lot of the functionality we were looking for, so we rebuilt it around the Oracle framework, which includes Oracle Database 11g Release 11.2, Oracle Exadata and Oracle Exalogic, and Oracle Endeca applications, leveraging our JD Edwards EnterpriseOne ERP back end for order processing.” WinField also built the front-end order entry component through its Connect3 system, making it accessible through Oracle WebCenter.
According to Taylor, the expansion of the Oracle footprint continued at both WinField and Land O’Lakes as a byproduct of Oracle’s own integration strategy. “The continued integration strategy of Oracle is attractive to us, because it not only addresses the application tier but also goes down through the technology stack,” says Taylor. “It made a lot of sense for us to leverage the Oracle stack through and through, and eventually that evolved all the way into engineered systems.”
WinField considered all of its technology options—regardless of its existing Oracle investments—when it conducted a series of business intelligence technology evaluations, testing other solutions against Oracle Exadata. “When we started to deploy Oracle business intelligence, we had it sitting on our standard HP-UX back end, running our Oracle Database instance, and immediately we started to experience very slow performance in some of the analytics and queries,” notes Taylor. “We had this really great tool, and we were giving our customers some really great insights, but because the performance wasn’t there, they were just ready to drop it and quit using it. Through all that testing, we couldn’t get the performance we desired with any solution other than Oracle Exalogic and Oracle Exadata.”
When WinField went live with its Oracle business intelligence solution, it had its application tier on Oracle Exalogic and the database tier on Oracle Exadata. “Since we went live, we’ve scaled that environment probably to a user base that has tripled in size, and the system continues to hold up and perform very well,” says Taylor. “WinField is now benefiting from a transaction and analytics environment that is approximately 15 times as fast as it was with its legacy environments.”
Both Macrie and Taylor are supportive of taking their Oracle investment to the next level. “We’re considering investing in Oracle Exalytics,” says Macrie. “With the underlying technologies of the Oracle application platform, we see Oracle Exalytics as a competitive advantage, because it’s completely integrated and optimized and built to outperform other industry solutions.”
Macrie feels strongly that Oracle Exalytics also has the potential to outperform the improvements already gained with Oracle Exalogic and Oracle Exadata. Moving to Oracle Exalytics would also free the Oracle Exalogic environment for Land O’Lakes to begin virtualizing with Oracle VM. “Our strategy is to virtualize the Oracle Exalogic box and use it as the ERP application platform going forward,” he says.
Land O’Lakes and its subsidiaries also view the Oracle platform as a powerful consolidation system. “We can essentially do more with less on these engineered systems than we can on traditional platforms,” Macrie says. “The same operations on this integrated platform require less CPU, memory, and floor space than if they ran on a nonintegrated platform.”
Both Macrie and Taylor see a great future at WinField with Oracle products. “I think there’s real value in what Oracle is doing in the end-to-end integration—from the hardware platform and engineered systems through the middleware stack and up through the applications,” says Taylor. “If you’re an Oracle customer today and you’re not using the combined strength of the total solution, I think you’re missing an opportunity.”
Photography byLuke Ellis-Craven,Unsplash