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A choice time to grow

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Hepler, Kansas Agchoice spotlight

AgChoice at Hepler, Kan., is a growing location. Sales are up. A new retail store is up, and, if you talk to manager Jess Daniels, up is the general direction this southwest Kansas ag retailer is headed.

altThe retail location had traditionally been an outlet for fertilizer, crop protection products and seed, but in 2010, the location added farm supply products and feed.

“When we started selling farm supply, it opened the door to a new set of customers,” said Daniels. New farm supply customers became row-crop input customers, and vice versa.

“We started simple,” Daniels said. “In farm supply and feed, we just focused on the customers we already had. The way we’ve built relationships is to focus on our core strengths.”

“Right now, one of the best things we’re able to sell our customers is the fact we have a full line of MFA products,” said Daniels. He said MFA’s product line along with local service brings benefits to producers that are hard to find elsewhere. “And our philosophy has always been that if it benefits the farmer, we want to sell it.”

With growth in volume came the need to upgrade facilities. A new retail building and warehouse opened in early 2012, providing much-needed room for customers and employees. “When we built the office and warehouse, it was a real boost for our employees. We’d been working out of a cargo container for a warehouse, and a tiny office space.

alt“It was a boost for the whole community,” said Daniels. “We’re in a remote area. When you put up a building like this one, people drive by and see it as something new, something growing.”

Southeast Kansas had its second consecutive drought summer in 2012. Yields in 2012 actually increased. “We had decent beans this year,” he said. And we had 50- and 60-bushel corn compared to 5 bushels [in 2011].”

Livestock producers are improving pastures as a way offset high priced feed grains. “Pasture fertilizer and pasture weed control sales have really grown,” said Daniels.“We’ve also gone from zero feed sales to 4,000 tons per year.”

Farm supplies like gates, posts and wire have gone from a $15,000 in sales to more than $300,000,” he said, pointing out that some of that growth is a function of proximity and convenience.

“We have a chance to help local producers save time and money by keeping their purchase local,” said Daniels. “Before we built up our farm supply, farmers around here might have to drive 30 miles to get supplies. It’s 25 or 30 miles to anywhere from here.”

Because farmers are used to the drive, big-box farm retail stores in bigger towns are a major competitor for AgChoice. But it can work the other way around.

“Two days ago a customer came from Fort Scott and bought 9 rolls of wire and a pallet of fence posts,” said Daniels. “He drove 30 miles to get here. He liked our selection. And he liked our service.”

Good service also means Hepler AgChoice is putting a lot miles on both road rigs and field equipment.

“We pick up row-crop business on the fringes. We’ll run over to the Missouri line. We’ll go about 60 miles to get our services and products to the customer.”

altDaniels pointed out that Hepler is among top anhydrous sellers in the MFA system. And, Hepler AgChoice manages to push 10,000 tons of dry fertilizer through a facility that only holds 600 tons at a time, another sign of growth, but one that reveals one of the challenges faced at Hepler.

“We push our equipment and facilities to the max,” said Daniels. That’s growing pains. The good kind.

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