With a footprint that roughly spans from Indianapolis to Louisville to Cincinnati, Premier Companies was named the ARA Retailer of the Year. And its CEO, Harold Cooper, recently joined Clinton Griffiths on Agritalk Radio.
Cooper shared he started in ag retail in 1981, and until 2019 he thinks that first year had been the most difficult in terms of the variables of the growing season.
“We really didn’t get started until June 5, which is when prevent planting starts in this area,” he says. He shares how a year like 2019 demonstrates you “need every man or machine on deck” otherwise the jobs won’t get done in the tight time frames.
To help their farmer customers be able to adjust to the wrinkles mother natures throws into every growing season, the co-operative has invested in structuring its facilities differently.
“We are building efficiency and more storage of product closer to the farm,” Cooper says. “We’ve built greater speed to get that product moved out.”
In their crop protection business specifically, he thinks their customers’ demands have changed, and they’ve responded to that with a new perspective.
“We used to view farmers’ sprayers as competition to us,” he says. “Today, we would say, we can do 30% to 35% of the spraying of weeds and we need to help farmers do that other 65%. So, we do a lot of hot mixing now as we help farmers load their own sprayers and serve their sprayers.”
The focus on the customer has led the co-op to realign its business over time—including less investments in grain storage and livestock feed.
But one area the company continues to help farmers bring into focus is the evolving potential around precision agriculture and sustainability initiatives.
“We'll do 700,000 acres of grid soil sampling every year. And over two thirds of that we have precision equipment that puts on variable rates of potash and phosphate as we drive across the field, lime is another big one that we really do place only what's needed,” Copper says.
“We've done the same thing with nitrogen. When you talk about 2019, it makes a big difference when you split your nitrogen applications and you start assessing your crop health, your potential for yield, and apply again, only what is really going to be helpful or beneficial to that crop,” he continues.
And looking ahead, Cooper draws a lot of inspiration for the next phase of innovation from consumer demand.
“It’s fun for me to see the interest from the consumer, especially back to row crop agriculture, of what are we doing, and are we doing it well,” he says.
Premier Ag uses TruTerra from Land O Lakes to help farmers have a platform to help make production decisions and as a communication and data tool to report back their measured success.
“We don't want to use more than we need. We want to make sure that we're good stewards of what we have. But some of that has to be for the right financial reason” Cooper says.
And another way the company is deploying sustainable practices is with its own facilities.
“This isn’t just what Premier is doing, but our industry is,” Cooper says. “For example, at our newest facility, it was built last February on a 40-acre site. And every last drop of water on this site drains to one small retention pond with grass waterways. We can account for every bit of water on this site, which can be demonstrated to ourselves and the public that nothing is getting away from us.”