ARA: Wheat Growers is Retailer of the Year
“We have taken a lot of pride in trying to understand the needs of our customers who also own our company. We are providing superior service for their current needs, but also preparing for their emerging needs. I think we have done that quite well. We have put a tremendous amount of effort in keeping pace with the customers’ needs and making sure we are staying relevant to them. That takes tremendously talented people/employees. It is important that we are able to attract and retain the talented employees we have and need to serve our customers,” Locken said.
“About 80 to 90 percent of our growth has been internal from expanding existing locations. As the farmers’ needs and productivity increases, we’ve kept pace. We’ve gained market share by doing a good job of servicing the farmer and bringing the things of greatest value to them in their operations, I think,” Locken continued. “And then there has been between 10 and 20 percent of our growth that has been from unifications with other co-ops and acquisitions.”
Besides the employees, Locken gives credit to the co-op’s board of directors. “Our board of farmer members have been very progressive and as a farmer-owned cooperative, they understand the cycles in agriculture. They have always got a long-term focus, and that long-term focus goes to the next generation. They want to have this co-op in good standing for the next generation.”
There is mutual admiration at the co-op as the board of directors appreciates the co-op’s employees. Hal Clemensen, president of the Wheat Growers board, said, “I think our employees are some of the best anywhere and some of the most dedicated; some of the hours they put in are incredible.”
Focusing on the agronomy side, Clemensen expressed how valuable the sales agronomists that work with him have been for his farming operation’s success. “We have some of the best agronomists of any company in the upper Midwest as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “Our employees are Wheat Growers’ number one asset. The emphasis has always been on service.” In general, employees work with farmers to give them the most bang for their buck and best return on investment of crop inputs, he added.
Clemensen is an example of one of the progressive farmers referred to by Locken, Briggs and Clark. He utilizes the precision services offered by the co-op for both variable rate fertilizing and variable rate seeding/planting. Clemensen is one of many farmers wanting the co-op to lead instead of follow in providing precision ag services.
“Profits from our company, every dollar earned, goes back into the company as reinvestment or shoring up things to have a strong financial statement,” he said. “We are always looking down the road to improve our overall system, and as an example, building an elevator now costs $25 million, so we must have the financial strength in our balance sheet to take on projects of that nature.”
Clemensen said, “We are always planning ahead, and the question we ask in our board room is not how do we make more money but how can we provide more value and service to our membership because that is why the co-op is here.”