The operation earned the 2013 ARA Retailer of the Year.
The Morral Companies started in the retail fertilizer business 50 years ago and has advanced into being a premier manufacturer and wholesale fertilizer supplier as well as a full-service agricultural retail operation.
Actually, on the manufacturing side, the companies are involved in much more than liquid and dry fertilizer manufacturing for crop production. Some of the other products manufactured are for turf and lawn care, ice melting and diesel engine DEF.
“If you look back at our original retail business, it grew into the wholesale business because we had the technology to do other things,” said Daryl Gates, president and CEO of Morral Companies.
There are about 75 full-time employees between the Ohio companies’ two locations—Morral and Caledonia—north of Columbus in the Lake Erie watershed. It is a company in steady growth that only had about 50 employees four years ago.
Recent expansion of the liquid facilities at Morral has the company storing more than 11 million gallons of liquid fertilizer, and a dry fertilizer expansion at Caledonia has the company increasing its dry storage hub operation to 15,000 tons of storage.
RETAIL CUSTOMER FOCUS
“We work very closely with our retail customers. It’s not about selling that ton of fertilizer or that gallon of chemicals; it’s about making sure that our customers receive the inputs that they need for every acre—the way they’re prescribed,” said Jay Hildreth, Caledonia facility plant manager.
Besides all forms of fertilizer and micronutrients, Morral Companies sells seed and crop protection chemicals. It also provides a wide variety of custom application services with a large fleet of applicators.
“We’re able to provide a plethora of products that benefit customers throughout the growing season,” said Lee Sundermeier, sales manager. “It allows us to be out there in the field, in front of the farmer, when they may have issues around disease, insects, specific weeds—that aren’t being controlled—and help provide solutions to those problems.”
Tim Jordan, agronomy sales, said, “We’re very fortunate to have customers that are very progressive. They’re always on the leading edge, and they’ll come to us with ideas and questions, then let us kind of run with the ideas. It works very well, too … So, no two operations are the same, you sit down, discuss what each individual’s goals are, their soil types, their ultimate goals and then we can find from our wide array of products something that fits.”
Farmer Fred Culver said, “If they don’t have an answer, they will find an answer. Usually, they have most of the answers. They’re a super bunch of guys to work with.”
Don Ralph is a farmer who has done business with the Morral Companies for the entire 50 years the company has existed, and calls doing business with the companies “an excellent partnership.” He said, “Morral does more than just be a retailer. They’re interested in the environment and the water quality issues that we’re facing now. They’re up front. They’re selling those ideas to producers out here that need to understand this.”
4R PROTOCOL DEVELOPED
The Morral Companies’ employees are proud of their involvement in promoting the 4R program of right fertilizer, the right rate, the right timing and use in the right place. An advisory committee of “nutrient service providers of the western Lake Erie basin,” including Morral employees, did an audit protocol for 4R recommendations. The Caledonia operation was one of four pilot audit fertilizer suppliers in 2013.
Certification of using 4R protocol is important for quality of water going into one of the best U.S. lakes for growing fresh-water fish. The lake has been grabbing a lot of attention about nutrient runoff causing algal bloom in the relatively shallow portion of the lake.
“If one of our customers wants to put fertilizer on his ground, he comes to us, and we make a recommendation. We trust that he will follow that recommendation, or we will apply according to that recommendation. And this will enable him to be 4R certified because he’s using a facility that is certified,” explained John Oster, sales specialist. “When you’re certified, it means that you comply with the tri-state fertilizer recommendations for the states of Ohio, Indiana and Michigan on the application of fertilizer to the soil. So, we believe we can accomplish maximum economic yield with the minimum environmental impact, and we can do our share to clean up the lake. There are many issues going on in that lake, but agriculture does take responsibility, and this is a way we’ve decided to go.”
Oster continued, “What you have to understand is that all macro and micro nutrients in a cropping system have to be in balance. So, when they are, then they’re all available to grow that plant. So, sometimes it isn’t the best to cut back. Sometimes you have to add, but you have to do it according to the prescription and according to the tri-state recommendations.”
Chris Dunn, seed specialist, said, “By us becoming forerunners and adapting some of these new technologies and new processes, I think it shows to our growers that we’re here to help—that we’re willing to try something new to help them out.”
The retail side of the business is a big focus as emphasized by CEO Gates. “We always say we’re leading the way with quality. We’ve got a lot of young guys in our retail side of our business that are really good with technology, and that’s really helped bring the farmer from where he was 50 years ago to where we’re at today.”
The company has had numerous technology advancements on its manufacturing and packaging sides of the business in its 50 years, too.
“We got into the slow-release nitrogen business back in the 80s, and we are kind of a pioneer in getting some of the major lawn care companies started … Because we wanted to utilize labor back then, we also got into the ice melter business, and that helped because we had urea. And because we still handle a lot of urea, we decided that the DEF business would be a good regional business … We’re set up where we can package anything from a quart to a mini-bulk on the liquid side. And on the dry side, we do a lot of different packaging, too.”
But Gates exudes his pride in how the company continues to stress serving retail customers with products and service, community involvement and leadership, all of which earned it the 2013 Agricultural Retailers Association Retailer of the Year Award. The company will not be setting on its laurels. Gates said, “The precision agriculture side of our business is growing by leaps and bounds every year.”