In the Field: Catching Up with Belkorp Ag President Peter Young

Smart Apply is fortunate to be represented by sharp agriculture equipment dealers across North America and around the world. One of our early adopters was Belkorp Ag, a certified John Deere dealer led by President Peter Young. A native of Manitoba, Canada, he didn’t grow up in the agriculture industry. Instead, he spent 16 years of his career in financial management. We recently chatted with Peter about Belkorp Ag, their high-value crop customers and why they added the Smart Apply System to their product lineup.

SA: You started your career with KPMG as an audit accountant. How did you find your way to agriculture?
PY: I majored in business during college and became a Certified Public Accountant. Like many CPAs, I joined KPMG not because I wanted to be an accountant but because of the exposure I’d get from working with small to large companies in many diverse industries. And it was great; I traveled to clients across the U.S. and Australia. After five years of a very grueling career, I moved on to corporations and eventually into the ag equipment industry.

SA: You joined Belkorp Ag as CFO and in less than nine years, you climbed the ladder all the way to the top.
PY: I have literally done it all here at Belkorp Ag. I started as the chief financial officer, which makes sense with my accounting background, eh? But pretty quickly, I took over as vice president of sales and marketing and about a year-and-a-half later, was named chief operating officer. Five years after that, in January 2022, I was named president of Belkorp Ag.

SA: Belkorp Ag has seven high performing locations. To what do you owe your success?
PY: Part of it I attribute to our stores being located in California’s Central Valley and North Coast regions. Our climate gives high-value crop growers a big advantage over other states. But the real secret to our success is hiring people with a passion for agriculture and who are driven to helping growers be successful. We’re not simply selling equipment. We’re consulting with our customers so that we can bring them the best solutions in equipment and technology, which is changing rapidly. To be successful, we are expanding the skill sets of our team and recruiting people with broad and increasingly specialized backgrounds. That means traditional sales and service plus technicians and Precision Ag specialists who understand the new solutions like Smart Apply that leverage LiDAR, GPS, automation, and data.

SA:  When did you add your Precision Ag team?
PY: We’ve had a Precision Ag team for years but have really focused on building our team and resources over the last 12 months. That’s the key to adoption—having people who understand agtech, can teach customers how to use it and get all of the benefits. Last January, we brought on Connor Pate, who has deep experience in farming and orchard management, as our Precision Ag manager. This has allowed us to really focus on Smart Apply sales and support. Our Precision Ag team are Smart Apply System specialists who install the kit onto air blast sprayers, calibrate to individual growers’ operations and provide ongoing service. Connor and his team are really doing a great job.

SA: Which high-value crops does Belkorp support?
PY: The better question might be, what do we not support? California is the largest producer of grapes and second largest producer of citrus. California also grows 80% of the world’s almonds. Our biggest sectors here at Belkorp Ag are almonds, walnuts and wine grapes. We serve the highest value customers and the highest production vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced Counties. We also have customers in citrus and pistachios. It’s never boring here!

SA: What issues are your specialty crop growers facing?
PY: In California, water is the number one issue and labor comes in a close second. Our customers are also keenly aware of commodity prices. Nuts have been challenged the last 24 months, but with some overseas markets opening back up to U.S. growers, we are hoping to see nuts rebound.

SA: Is sustainability important?
PY: Sustainability is important, specifically water. Our customers want to be both profitable and sustainable, and that’s where Smart Apply comes in. It’s a big win when you can reduce chemical use, water use, and costs using the system.

SA: Belkorp was an early adopter of Smart Apply. What attracted you to our precision spray and data system?
PY: Actually, it was one of our vineyard customers, Trinchero Family Estates. They had seen the Smart Apply System at a trade show. We worked with Trinchero and Smart Apply to do the initial trial in a 600-acre vineyard of Cabernet sauvignon grapes in May 2021. The chemical savings in the first spray were significant—over 50%—early in the season when the vines were less dense. The second spray saw a 30% reduction in chemical use. Precision spraying also results in less drift and run off of chemicals. Based on this trial, Trinchero purchased several Smart Apply Systems and Belkorp Ag became a dealer. Since then, we’ve sold to other vineyards and to growers of almonds and cherries with more in the pipeline.

SA: How have growers responded?
PY: When they see the chemical savings, growers say Smart Apply is a no brainer. They appreciate how easy the system is for operators to use—once it’s set up, they simply press a button and go. They also like the ROI. A Smart Apply System pays for itself in one to three years depending on the operation.

SA: What is the silver bullet that makes your specialty crop grower customers say, “I gotta have a Smart Apply System?”
PY: Hands down it’s seeing the system in action. It’s the easiest way to tell the story. That’s why we host as many fields trials and demos as we can. When customers see how differently the Smart Apply System sprays—with precision to individual trees or vines—and then see how much they can save on chemicals, they’re sold. They also appreciate the data component that digitally documents each spray session.

The demos are fun, too. We call Cory Booher (of Smart Apply) our rock ‘em, sock ‘em demo guy. He does one or two passes with the Smart Apply System on one of our air blast sprayers and growers immediately see the value. The demand for demos is so great, our PrecisionAg manager, Connor Pate, is now doing Smart Apply demos on his own.

SA: What’s your response to the Deere acquisition of Smart Apply?
PY: I was a bit surprised as I didn’t know it was in the works. That said, the fact that Smart Apply is now a Deere precision ag solution and backed by Deere makes it much easier to sell. Customers are taking a harder look at Smart Apply, which will help our sales pipeline.

SA: In closing, do you think growers have an obligation to adopt technology that protects the environment?
PY: With my background as an accountant, I’m pragmatic. Any equipment has to make sense financially. If there’s a benefit to the environment, great! Smart Apply makes sense to adopt because it ticks two boxes, operations and sustainability. That’s why I like selling and supporting Smart Apply.

The Smart Apply Intelligent Spray Control System is helping growers of specialty crops transform their operations and the world for the better. To learn more about our precision sprayer and spray data reporting and analytics, visit our website. To find an authorized dealer around the world, check our dealer directory.