In the Orchard: Catching Up with Hutson CEO Josh Waggener

In early March, Hutson, a fast-growing John Deere certified dealer in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee, became Smart Apply’s newest authorized dealer for our Intelligent Spray Control System.The timing couldn’t have been better as this region, particularly the State of Michigan, has a robust specialty crop industry. While we’re impressed with their #1 ranking in cherries, Michigan is also #3 in apples. We recently chatted with Hutson CEO and President Josh Waggener on his dealership, his customers and why he added the Smart Apply System to his line of PrecisionAg solutions.

SA: Hutson is a billion-dollar+ John Deere dealer spread across four states. To what do you owe your success to date?
JW: We communicate monthly, weekly, daily that we will never sacrifice our team for numbers. The focus has been and will continue to be on driving a high-performing company culture. We’re focused on behaviors and norms we’d deem acceptable (kindness, acceptance, empowerment) and unacceptable  (micro-management, putting yourself above the team). Being consistent with this message has been a foundation for a strong dealership experience, employee retention, and for sets us up as an employer of choice.  We often lead our store reviews with a reminder that the responsibility of the leadership is not to obsess about the results of the team, it’s to obsess about creating great teams.

SA: You recently became an authorized dealer of the Smart Apply System for Michigan. What was behind your decision to add our precision spray and data solution?
JW: Our team is truly focused on adding as much economic value to every acre as possible. This means not only increasing crop yield, but also reducing input cost. Partnering with Smart Apply allows us to do just that by giving access to a market-leading spraying control system that is already field-proven to our high value specialty crop customers.

SA: Is Michigan more of a specialty crop state rather than row crops? What are your customers growing? 
JW: Michigan’s agriculture industry is very diverse. As far as crop coverage is concerned, the two largest crops for Michigan are corn and soybeans—approximately 4.5 million acres. Michigan is the country’s fifth largest dairy producer, and also specializes in sugar beets, potatoes, edible beans, cucumbers, celery, carrots, and cabbage to name a few. However, it’s important to note that Michigan is also the fifth largest producer of specialty crops, such as cherries (first in the nation), apples (third in the nation) blueberries, floriculture (third in the nation behind Florida and California), grapes, peaches, Christmas trees, and many more.

SA: What’s on the minds of your specialty crop growers? Is it costs, MRLs, sustainability, exports, the European Union’s pending 50% limit on chemicals?
JW: Yes, yes, yes, and yes. All of these items are important, though the most consistent feedback we get has been around lower cost, higher yields and sustainability.

SA: What excites you most about the Smart Apply System, the precision spraying or the data collection and analysis?  
JW: Both are equally as exciting, though I would currently lean towards the precision spraying. To get the science-based decisions our producers need to make, multiple on-going observations along with data collections are required to give an accurate picture of the complexity of these specific crops over the long haul, but precision spraying will instantaneously reduce chemical spend and also results in a more friendly environment.

SA: What will motivate your specialty crop growers to add Smart Apply Systems to their air blast sprayers? Is it saving money, reducing chemical use or improve overall sustainability?
JW: ALL OF THE ABOVE!! And the great thing about the system is all of these things should happen immediately.

SA: Do your grower customers appreciate that Smart Apply is sold as a kit and they don’t have to buy another air blast sprayer?
JW: Too early to tell at this point, we’ve just become a partner, but we will move aggressively into this space. That said, it’s always good to give customers options like upgrading their existing air blast sprayers or add the Smart Apply System to a new sprayer.

SA: Smart Apply’s spray data solution was recently integrated with the Deere Precision Ag Operations Center. What is the value to your customers? Why should they be excited about this?
JW: This is a very major win for our customers. The integration will allow them to efficiently analyze historical work and give direction on future business decisions. These benefits will make it easier to confirm and document actual savings realized by using the Smart Apply Intelligent Spray Control System.

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.