Electronic signatures now available with Cargill AgHorizons | TSLN.com

Electronic signatures now available with Cargill AgHorizons

Loretta Sorensen

Without ever leaving the corn or soybean field, farmers selling grain to Cargill AgHorizons can now complete their transactions online using an electronic signature.

The company’s two-phase program to roll out the service to farmers throughout the nation’s heartland – except in Ohio, where regulatory approval is still pending – was completed March 17, 2009, when the ability to use electronic signatures to secure grain contracts was made available to Nebraska and South Dakota customers.

Jeff Klock, Cargill AgHorizons database marketing product manager, says it was farmers requesting a more convenient process and better access to records, who stimulated development of the program.

“Tech-savvy farmers are always looking for convenient, timesaving online tools,” Klock says. “Every farmer probably has his own record-keeping method, and this provides them with a complete history of their transactions. Viewing grain contracts online is pretty standard in the industry. Being able to complete the transaction, though, is unique to Cargill.”

Obtaining the approval of the USDA and each state agency to use the electronic signature as a legally binding transaction has taken some time and required that Cargill AgHorizons demonstrate willingness to provide farmers with every possible opportunity to thoroughly understand their grain contracts.

“As far as I know, the idea of using electronic signatures has been proposed by some other companies in the past, but the USDA wasn’t comfortable with the process,” Klock says. “Our program puts a PDF copy of the contract agreement in front of the farmer so they have the opportunity to read and review it and know exactly what they’re signing before they complete the contract. That approach convinced the USDA that the farmer was being treated fairly. The process is virtually the same as handing them a hard copy of the contract.”

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Once a farmer accepts a contract, a simple click confirms the action and a written verification of the transaction is e-mailed to them. The electronic contract remains in their file so they can print it out if they choose. It will remain in their online file for at least two years following the transaction.

“It’s a simple process,” Klock says. “I’ve observed some farmers who were walking through the process and once it’s completed they invariably say something to the effect of, ‘That was so easy.’ During our pilot stage, we completed approximately 10,000 online grain contracts using electronic signatures. During that time we’ve been registering farmers to use the online access to records and electronic signature, once that became available.”

Growers can view past and present contracts, scale tickets, and settlements online. Klock says response to the program has been very favorable, but adds farmers need to understand that some things remain the same.

“We are not buying grain online,” Klock says. “Farmers should continue to work with their local Cargill farm marketer to originate a new grain sale. They are much better equipped to assist producers in implementing their grain marketing strategies and selecting the most appropriate grain contract(s).”

As the electronic signature program developed, Cargill AgHorizons began investigating the number of grain contracts and related printed materials it was issuing to customers. Numbers ranged from just a few to well over 400 mailings per year. One farmer received 600 grain transaction-related mailings in a one-year period.

“We didn’t realize that we and the farmers were handling that much paper,” Klock says. “This process is much more efficient for them, and it’s certainly more environmentally friendly since now we’re printing and delivering much less paper. They won’t have to find a place to keep the contracts, find an envelope, pay for postage, sign and send them back. It’s a much more efficient program for them.”

Farmers who wish to make use of the electronic signature program can contact their local elevator, complete a simple form and begin using the online tool.

Given the heavily transactional aspects of selling one’s grain, Klock says that the electronic signature capability is proving very popular so far with producer customers, though he doesn’t anticipate that the program will be utilized for any other Cargill products at this point. He does, however, expect more farmers to take advantage of the program.

“For farmers who are selling grain online, it’s a significant benefit,” he says.

for more information on the program, visit http://www.cargillag.com