Highlights from first day sessions at ARA’s 2013 conference

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MIAMI -- Although the official start to the 2013 Agricultural Retailers Association’s Conference and Expo was Monday, Dec. 2, the general session and speakers started on Wednesday, Dec. 4. Daren Coppock, president and CEO of ARA, welcomed attendees to this year’s conference, “Play Like a Champion: Winning Strategies for Ag Retail.”

Bill Whitacre, president and CEO of J.R. Simplot Company, provided attendees with the keynote address looking at an overview of hot topics facing the ag industry. These topics included the ag value chain, sustainability, efficiencies, Big Data, and relevancy to the customer.

Following the keynote address were ARA awards for the Ag Retailer of the Year and the ARA Jack Eberspacher Lifetime Achievement Award. Morral Companies won the Ag Retailer of the Year Award while Ford West, former president of The Fertilizer Institute, received the award for his lifetime achievement in the industry.

 Other awards given out Wednesday morning included the AGCO Operator of the Year, which was presented to Tony Randolph of Southern States. In addition, Coppock presented Kelly Jones, ARA’s office administrator and associate director of membership, with an award for five years of service to the association. Richard Gupton, ARA’s senior vice president, public policy and counsel, received an award recognizing his 10 years with the association.

Later, Dave Downy of Purdue University, moderated a panel discussion of ResponsibleAg. Panel members included Johnny Council, president and CEO of the Lyman/Tremont Group; Billy Pirkle, senior director at Crop Production Services; and Bart Pescio, president of Yara North America. The panel discussed the challenges of coming up with a way to develop a standard platform of guidelines for the ag retail industry. The fear is if the industry doesn’t step up and be proactive, government may step in and create unreasonable and unrealistic rules and regulations.

Coppock updated attendees on the strategic goals of the association going forward and reviewed some of the new programs implemented in the past year.

Wrapping up the morning general session was Captain Mike Abrashoff, author of “It’s Your Ship.” He explained how he turned one of the worst crews in the Navy into one of the best. He provided examples of how he took the time to get to know the crew, their families and their goals. Over time he helped the crew reach their goals by implementing programs that helped further their education. Along the way, he earned their trust and respect. Abrashoff explained that the same principles he used to turn around one of the worst crews into one of the best can be applied to any business. He reminded employers to be compassionate.

After lunch, attendees could choose from two breakout sessions to attend. One was the Breakout Session: Becoming A Destination Employer and the other was Fertilizer Industry Macro Trends.

In the breakout session, Fertilizer Industry Macro Trends, Lauren Williamson and Stephen Mitchell from Argus FMB provided an overview of various fertilizer market segments, including a look at past trends, current influences and possible future developments. Snapshots included a look at nitrogen, phosphates and potash. In nitrogen, urea is expected to remain the main price setter. Not all proposed fertilizer plant expansions will likely happen as the market is changing with several unknown factors leaving the market and prices volatile.

Mike Smith, co-founding partner and president of Ag 1 Source, and Mark Waschek, Agronomy, Seed, Crop Production and Grain, for Ag 1 Source presented the second breakout session: Becoming A Destination Employer. They talked about their three-legged stool of becoming a destination employer – hiring, engagement and retention – and the supports to reinforce success – communication, onboarding and recruiting. They stressed that salary or compensation is not the reason that the majority of employees leave a company for another one. Eighty-five percent of employees’ leaving is because of some aspect of a poor relationship with their supervisor.

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