ARA: Wheat Growers is Retailer of the Year
It has meant a lot of changes at the co-op to annually handle more than 170 million bushels of grain today. Grain volume and the necessary facilities really changed because corn yield averages are around 150 bushels per acre compared to 40 bushels per acre for wheat. All those corn acres have required changes in fertilizer facilities and the handling of fertilizers.
Local facilities provide fertilizer services which are complimented by large-scale deliveries that come from four mega fertilizer sites or hubs. Custom application is a major part of the fertilizer service, and variable rate application is a focus for many farmers and the co-op.
Wheat Growers began to dabble in precision agriculture software and technology about 10 years ago. “Today, we feel it is one of our core competencies,” said Steve Briggs, senior vice president of agronomy and corporate marketing. Adoption of precision technologies has jumped into warp speed in the last couple years.”
The co-op has focused on staying ahead of its customer-owners with cutting-edge technology, but that isn’t easy, Briggs noted. “The farmers in this part of the country, particularly in our trade territory are very, very progressive. They will adopt new technologies rapidly if there is value in it for them.”
“For us to stay up to speed with farmers and the way they are thinking, we have had to invest heavily,” Briggs said.
The co-op has invested millions in precision agriculture. Wheat Growers’ specially equipped rolling stock is regularly updated. MZB Technologies of Watertown, S.D., was acquired in 2011, and it “is really the back office engine that runs our mapping and prescription recommendations for our precision ag business at the farm level,” Briggs explained.
A telemetry system to keep track of all the rolling stock, trouble shooting equipment problems and also transferring data directly from applicators to dispatch hubs worked out quite well in 2012 testing and is anticipated to be trade territory wide within a year or two.
FOCUS ON 10 YEARS
For many at Wheat Growers a large part of the change coincides with the hiring of Dale Locken in 2002 as chief executive officer of Wheat Growers. Locken grew up on a farm in the area and then moved away for about 25 years after graduating from college, but he stayed deeply involved in agribusiness mainly working for seed suppliers, basic crop protection and fertilizer manufacturers.
Locken claims it is coincidence that improvements are traced back 10 years because the co-op was doing well prior to his arrival and “the financial health of agriculture has been the best ever the past 10 years and getting progressively stronger.”