At the 2012 Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) annual conference and expo, the ag retail industry celebrated the achievements of many in the industry and recognized them with specialized awards.

ARA honored Wheat Growers, a cooperative with headquarters in Aberdeen, S.D., as the 2012 Ag Retailer of the Year at the conference. The award is sponsored by Monsanto, ARA and AgProfessional magazine, and is recognized as a symbol of the very best in the industry." Dale Locken, Wheat Growers’ CEO, accepted the award.

Wheat Growers has more than 600 employees working at 37 different locations in South Dakota and North Dakota, providing service to more than 5,500 member-owners in a 50-county area.

"This is an award earned by our employee team," Locken said. "Our employees work extremely hard every day to meet and exceed our customers' expectations. The ARA Retailer of the Year award recognizes their aspiration to provide superior service for our customers with safety and profitability in mind."

ARA Awards: ARA honors the industry’s finestARA also recognized Ken Manning, senior vice president of Northwest operations for the agribusiness division of Wilbur-Ellis, with the Distinguished Service Award. This ARA award honors an individual member of the association who has gone above and beyond the traditional responsibility to support the ag retail industry and the association, making the industry better for all.

Manning served as ARA’s chairman in 2009 and was an active ARA board member serving on several committees from 2002 to 2011. His leadership and expertise helped the organization reach many public policy achievements and led to the development of other services for ARA members.

Manning was board chairman when the previous ARA President and CEO Jack Eberspacher passed away. He led the organization through the challenging months after and helped the association find new leadership.

Outgoing Board Chairman, Billy Pirkle presented Jim Thrift with the Jack Eberspacher Lifetime Achievement Award. Thrift is ARA’s former vice president of regulatory affairs and corporate relations.

Thrift officially retired from ARA in the summer of 2012 after serving ARA for nine years. While working for ARA, Thrift used his more than 40 years of agriculture industry experience to assist ARA members with specific business and regulatory challenges.

Prior to his work with ARA, Thrift held various executive management, marketing and sales positions within the ag industry, primarily at American Cyanamid and BASF.

This award is presented annually to an individual whose talents and accomplishments have fundamentally advanced the agricultural retail industry and have been acknowledged for accomplishments over the course of their career.

A new award added this year was the AgGateway and ARA Technology Award. Winfield Solutions received the award for its R-7 tool, which is a precision farming solution that enables variable-rate prescription for seed, crop protection and crop nutrient applications. As the winner of the contest, the company explained its product during a Technology Breakout Session on Nov. 28. All ARA members were invited earlier in the year to submit nominations for a new technology to be featured during a breakout session. The membership then voted on ARA’s website for the winner. AgGateway presented Winfield Solutions with a $1,000 check to the charity of Winfield’s choice.

What has become an annual award presented by the AGCO Application Equipment division during the conference and expo, is the Operator of the Year Award. Mark Sharitz, director of marketing for the division, introduced the four finalists and the award winner, Glen Slabaugh, applicator operator for Clunette Elevator Co. in Leesburg, Ind. The winner each year is chosen based on his commitment to the profession, performance in the field and community involvement.