ARA Conference Focused on the Future of Ag Retail

Left to right: 2017-2018 Chairman John Oster, 2018-2019 Chairman Troy Johnson, and President and CEO Daren Coppock ( Zimmcomm Media )

In late November, the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) hosted its 2018 Conference and Expo in Boca Raton, Fla. Approximately 600 industry leaders came together for an action-packed agenda that included keynote speakers, breakout sessions, the honoring of industry leaders and a busy expo. The conference concluded with the installation of Troy Johnson of Wilbur-Ellis as the next chair of the ARA board of directors.

“I could not be more proud of what ARA accomplishes each year on behalf of its membership,” Johnson says. “Protecting ag retailers’ freedom to operate is what ARA is all about. Each year, it seems new challenges surface, and the board and staff will continue work to tackle each for the good of the industry.”

Johnson succeeds John Oster of Morral Companies. Each chairperson serves a one-year term.

“Serving as the organization’s chairman has been an honor,” Oster says. “I take pride in the ag retail industry. We do something that makes a difference for every person on this earth. We have to feed the growing population, and working together, I know we can do it.”

Johnson shared with attendees his commitment to the association for the coming year and outlined goals that include continuing to strengthen and broaden the membership and keeping the association’s mission front and center in all activities.

“I look forward to serving on behalf of all retailers—regardless of size, geography or ownership,” says Johnson. “I’m committed to ensuring everything we do is representative of the entire ag retail industry.”

Programming Highlights Industry Trends

The conference opened with ambassador Darci Vetter presenting the workshop “Trade, Tariffs, and Their Impact on American Agriculture.” A former chief agriculture negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and under secretary at USDA, Vetter provided a unique and experienced point of view.

Chuck Magro, CEO of ARA member Nutrien, gave the opening keynote address and conversation with ARA president and CEO Daren Coppock. Magro shared insights on the ag economy and related industry trends.

John Spence, author of Awesomely Simple, presented principles for business success and a bonus workshop session to turn ideas into action.

Tejas Bhatt, senior director for food safety innovations for Walmart, gave the keynote “A New Era in Food Transparency Powered by Blockchain.” He shared Walmart’s vision for using blockchain to enhance food safety. Bill Northey, USDA under secretary for farm and foreign agricultural service, closed the conference.

The ARA policy team led a breakout session that covered the results of the midterm elections, farm bill negotiations and other action of note regarding legislation and regulation in the past year. Scott Downey of Purdue University led a breakout session on delivering mega value for mega growers. The final session was a launch party for the Sustainability Programming for Agricultural Retailers and CCAs initiative, which will be known as SPARC.

Honoring Industry Leaders

Throughout the conference, ARA and its partners presented several top honors to the best of the best in the agricultural retail industry, including:

Larry Yargus was honored with ARA’s highest individual honor, the Jack Eberspacher Lifetime Achievement Award.

William (Billy) F. Willard Sr. and Bob Willard were presented with the ARA Distinguished Service Award for their support of ARA and the ag retail industry.

Simplot Grower Solutions was named the 2018 Retailer of the Year, an award sponsored by Bayer and presented in partnership with AgPro.

ARA member Valley Agronomics LLC received the Precision Impact Award. The award is presented by Proagrica, AgPro and ARA. [

ARA member Helena Agri-Enterprises was celebrated for its Dillsboro, Ind., location being honored with the Ambassador of Respect Award for North America. ARA member Nutrien Ag Solutions also had locations named as regional winners in the Environmental Respect Award program.

The 2019 ARA Conference and Expo will be held Dec. 3 to Dec. 5, 2019, in New Orleans, La.