Viewpoint

To manage change, lead it

Written by Ernie Verslues on .

You don’t need me to tell you it was a challenging year for agriculture. It truly was for everyone involved—from the farm gate to retail suppliers like MFA. For corn farmers in many areas, drought turned a promising year into something we’ll be glad to have past us. Thankfully, late-season rain made soybeans a better prospect. Some livestock farmers had to negotiate the drought by reducing herd size. Some held on to all of their animals, but everyone will enter the winter season in a regional hay and forage shortage.

And that’s just the weather. The season was full of market-moving news about tariffs—and the markets moved in the wrong direction.

If you have been in the agriculture business long enough, you don’t look at a year like this and think, “Why did it happen?” You look at every year and think, “Why not?” I don’t mean that to sound pessimistic. It’s just the idea of accepting risk.

All of us in agriculture face risk. For MFA, the results of this growing season along with other current events will carry over to next year. We will have lower grain volume due to reduced harvest. Our suppliers tell us tariffs will raise the cost of agronomic inputs, and trade wars may continue to hold exports hostage, reducing prices. At the same time, a robust general economy is making transportation scarce and costly.

That’s the short term. The longer view reveals other challenges such as the disruption that comes to agriculture from technological changes.  

Remember that in 1960, each farmer fed 26 people. Today, one farmer feeds 155 people. In 1960, there were 3.7 million farms in the United States. Today that number is just over 2 million. And those farmers are employing technology at a breakneck speed.

Modern genetic technology gives livestock producers the option to zero in on traits that help build their herd, right down to the sex of offspring. Auto-steer in tractors and planters with auto-shut-off and variable-rate seeding capabilities help growers get the most agronomic return from every inch of land.

That trend isn’t slowing down. Investment in these kinds of row-crop technologies doubled last year compared to the previous two.

These technological changes tend to become cultural changes over time. Fewer farmers covering the same amount of land leads to a different set of needs. That phenomenon isn’t new to MFA, but it’s something we have to continually evaluate going forward.

MFA is built on a tradition of understanding how to serve its member-owners. You have seen us change to fit your needs over the years, and we must continue.

As farmers, you approach disruption in the marketplace by making strategic decisions both in planning and in daily activities. MFA is doing the same to partner with you in ways that deliver an array of solutions that help you succeed.

To do so, we will continue to identify the best products and services available and deliver them in ways that specifically benefit your operation. We take pride in our leadership in that arena.  

Providing agricultural products and services is a capital-intensive proposition. At MFA, we know we must push ourselves to always seek operational efficiencies, from how we improve facilities to how we place equipment in the trade territory and how we deliver products to the field. That’s our commitment as stewards of your patronage and investment as member-owners. It’s what we have to do to provide the service required in today’s agricultural business.

These commitments demand resourcefulness and innovation. An agricultural cooperative cannot continue to operate tomorrow in the same ways it does today. The world is moving too quickly.

In the coming months, you will see a new emphasis on MFA’s sales approach. We are working on initiatives that will provide opportunities for e-commerce, including a position with CommoditAg, an online cash-and-carry crop protection provider.

You will also see changes in how we structure our sales and service operations to better serve each customer.

At MFA, we know change is inevitable in the agricultural marketplace. That’s why we plan for it. One thing that won’t change is the spirit of our mission. We will continue to focus on empowering MFA employees to provide value-added services and expertise to you, our member-owners. 

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