Retailer of the Year: On The High Ground

Having emerged from a merger and constructed a brand-new headquarters, CEO Harold Cooper used art to set the tone for the two-year-old Premier Companies. In particular, three art installations can help tell the company’s story and highlight its future priorities. 

For achievements in business innovation, customer service, environmental stewardship, use of technology and industry leadership, Premier was named the Retailer of the Year for 2019 from the Agricultural Retailers Association. The award is also sponsored by Bayer and supported by AgPro. 

Premier Ag sees success in holding the high ground. In Cooper’s office, two paintings are hung—one slightly above the other. They are scenes from the Battle of Fredericksburg, where the Confederate army’s position on the high ground led to its overall advantage and victory in the battle, and these pieces are literally hung at the same angle at which the armies were positioned. 

“We want to own the high ground—let others try to knock us off the hill,” he says.

Premier Companies was formed in 2017 with the merger of Jackson-Jennings Co-op and Premier Ag Co-op. Agronomy sales make up about 25% of the business, which also includes propane, a 150,000-head hog operation and a refinery and convenience store division. 

“We want to be perceived and known in this trade area by suppliers, farmers and the community—as the folks seeking better solutions, better ideas; and have the skill set to sort through that and bring things that have relevance and value,” explains Cooper. 

The merger was a catalyst for big physical changes in the business’ retail footprint. Premier Ag consolidated from 16 facilities to three hubs and five satellite offices. 

“When you see a marketplace change, you have to act. We are building for speed, efficiency and capacity,” Cooper says.

Quick Look At Premier Ag

  • Its roots date back to 1927 when it was founded as a co-op.
  • Today’s company formed in 2017 with the merger of Jackson-Jennings Co-op and Premier Ag Co-op.
  • After the merger, the company had 16 agronomy facilities, which were consolidated to three main service facilities and five satellite supply locations.
  • Its current footprint stretches from Louisville, Kentucky, to Indianapolis to Cincinnati.
  • It has nine ag retail facilities—all of which are ResponsibleAg-registered—and eight are certified.
  • It has six corporate values: reliable, integrity, legacy, community, excellence and leadership.
  • Premier Ag’s motto is “Making More Possible.”

One example is a new hub in Boggstown, Indiana, which was a $10 million investment. Another facility in Cortland, Indiana, doubled fertilizer capacity from previous totals. 

“We want to do the right thing for the farmer and the environment. And we’re dedicated to the environment, employees and our customers,” says operations manager Eric Hoene. Of the fertilizer applied by the co-op, 75% is variable-rate applied.

The new facility footprint was designed with a strategy to serve the customer as best as possible today and in the foreseeable future.  

“For example, at Boggstown, we have enough product on hand to get through a two-week run,” explains Scott Sharp, vice president of crop nutrients and operations. He shares the Premier team can spread fertilizer up to 16 hours a day, but the terminals are only open for eight. So the additional storage provides for enough product to be on hand to not disrupt customer delivery. 

The cooperative has invested in more split-bin applicators so that two-thirds of the machines are now able to apply more than one product in a pass. Additionally, all loadout areas are under roof to mitigate the environmental impact. 

Particularly as its facilities grow in scale, safety is another focus. All facilities are registered and most are certified with ResponsibleAg. 

“We want to have good working relationships with emergency responders. I don’t want to meet them for the first time at an emergency,” explains Jerry Boger, director of safety and risk management. “We want to give them an awareness and knowledge of our products, business and facilities.”

Premier has focused on growing alongside the farmers it serves. The second painting that illustrates Premier’s business is a commissioned painting depicting the agrarian life in southern Indiana close to the time of the company’s founding in 1927. This unique painting is hung in the “Threshing Room,” a conference room on the first floor, and it shows a threshing crew along with images of family and a community church. 

“We don’t do mission statements—we lead by values,” Cooper says. “And we have to be sure the farmer sees us as a unique way to bring value that isn’t available anywhere else.”

Premier restructured its sales team to place reps closer to farmers. Twelve agronomy advisers are separate from operations and work directly with farmers on seed, chemical and fertilizer choices. 

Another way Premier is growing with its farmer-customers is embracing e-commerce, and two of its warehouses are part of the CommoditAg network.

“It’s incumbent on a cooperative to have a farmer-owned choice available in all of their farm business needs,” Cooper says. 

Premier has pledged to continue to evolve. As a third highlight of the art installed at the company’s headquarters, there’s a series of four murals. They depict a farmstead across time in the products and services offered by Premier, spanning from the oil truck in the first painting to some areas still yet to be painted suggesting the unknown in the future. 

With its investments in facilities, focus on stewardship and commitment to compliance, Premier is recognized as a leader for being proactive and responsive. 

“Premier exemplifies what it means to be a good steward,” says Matt Pearson, fertilizer administrator for the Indiana state chemist. “It takes leadership like Premier Ag to raise the bar for the industry.” 

Additionally, Premier was one of the first co-ops to pilot and adopt Land O’Lakes Sustain. 

“There will come a time when there is the advantage to farmers who have monitored their inputs and their acres. And there will be a differentiated advantage over those who don’t,” says John Romines, vice president, commercial sales, WinField United. 

In every facility, Premier has established a “Trax Lab,” which is a room dedicated to precision ag. 

“That conversation needs to happen with everyone. It’s not a product. It’s a philosophy we follow,” says Nate Kemp, manager of the precision ag program.  

All Trax Labs are connected to the operations teams, so if need be, as decisions are made files can be wirelessly transferred via Raven Slingshot to the field for an application in an hour or less.