Continuing our series looking at the people who make Bright Maize a success, here we speak to Laura Drury – Commercial Manager
Managing change is the kind of challenge which Laura Drury relishes. She recently took over as commercial manager at Bright Maize, tasked with leading the company through the next phase of its 30-year history. She runs a small, close-knit team. “Bright Maize has always seen the value in maintaining the best possible customer service. My task has been to maintain this ethos, while bringing on the changes that are necessary in any evolving business”. Laura’s main innovative work for Bright Maize has been in the field of marketing the company. She has introduced new digital marketing practices such as social media and this blog. Laura sees herself and the company as being the bridge between the farmer and the seed producer, always striving to understand and satisfy the needs of the farmer – what they want out of the seed they buy – whilst at the same time understanding the point of view of the seed producers and the difficulties they face in satisfying demands. The farmers want good quality seed suited to specific environments and, of course, a good price which inevitably means R&D and production costs for the supplier. Bright Maize works alongside suppliers by trialling their new seed on site. Farmers are invited to inspect the trial fields. Laura’s aim is to ensure that the bond between seed producer, seed merchant and farmer is a close and productive one.
At this time of year Bright Maize is very much into reviewing and forward-planning. Most of the harvest is done, so it is the time to check with farmers how successful the seed has been, and, if necessary, suggest or agree on any changes in orders for the coming year. It is also the time to check with the suppliers what seed will be available next year, and set up a pricing strategy, so a smooth supply chain is ensured. The company also plans next year’s trials of new varieties at this time. It has a network of trial plots across the country, offering a range of different environments so varieties of seed can be trialled and matched to specific conditions.
Laura tells us that one of the biggest challenges that the company is facing now is Brexit. Bright Maize’s main seed supplier is Mas Seeds, a cooperative French company based in South-West France, but seed comes from other producers as well. The UK, Laura says, is not European seed producers’ biggest market, so she says it is important for UK seed merchants such as Bright Maize to step up to the plate early, to ensure a good supply of the right seed is in place by the end of the year, in case there are post-Brexit issues after 1st January. Seed is normally ordered in October or November. This year the company is working with producers to ensure they get 80% of their seed delivered before the 31st December. Bright Maize works hard with suppliers to maintain its integrity as an independent seed merchant, marketing its own specific, carefully selected, and trialled portfolio of seed, delivering the best quality to the client.
Brexit may be the biggest challenge now, and an unusual one, but other challenges are perennial in nature. There are inevitably issues with crops where the weather – that ever-present variable – is concerned. This year’s hot dry summer will for some farmers mean reduced yield, and other issues, such as corn borer infestation in the crops. Wet and cold summers create different problems. It’s a case of trying to supply the seed that copes best in UK weather conditions. Not always an easy task, but Laura is convinced that Bright Maize’s technical, scientific approach ensures that farmers get the best product from Bright Maize.
Diversification is a buzz word in agriculture as farmers strive to survive in an ever more competitive market. Laura has recognised that these challenges apply to companies like Bright Maize too. The company is continuingly updating and assessing its grass seed mixtures and silage inoculants and has recently become a distributor of the all-in-one Oxygen Barrier Silage Film from ARK Agriculture, helping farmers to get the maximum end result from their crop. Small steps, but there’s more to come, she says.
Laura tells us that the best part of her job is getting out on location – meeting farmers, checking their crop yields, and discussing how yield could be improved. She also has a close relationship with the seed producers and is keen to learn about the growth qualities of individual products. In this way she is well able to match the product to the client. It’s all about developing productive relationships, she says.
Laura has had a varied career. She started off with a 10-year stint working in pharmaceuticals. She then had time off bringing up children, before taking a sharp career turn, working for Countrywide Farmers as a moist feed trader and product manager for over 5 years. She then returned to the healthcare domain, working for the Talley Group in Romsey, where she was an international account manager. Laura feels that the job with Talley, which involved travelling the world and experiencing different business cultures, gave her great personal growth and stood her in good stead for her next and current job at Brights, where she is frequently working alongside foreign seed suppliers. She comes from a rural background, growing up in Steyning, Sussex, but not an agricultural one. Her father was a mechanic by trade, though she feels he is a farmer at heart. He has a collection of 42 old tractors and farm machinery, and when Laura was younger, he was always taking the family off to agricultural rallies and shows where he would display his machines and chat for hours with farmers about the bygone days of farm machinery.