It takes teamwork to rise above our challenges

In March, a team of MFA staff traveled across the company’s trade territory to conduct district membership meetings. This is an annual process and a governance function the cooperative uses to elect members to the MFA Incorpo­rated board of directors. Our fiscal year begins in September, so March district meetings are also a good time to provide members with a mid-year report on operations.

Having been a part of these meetings for a number of years, I can tell you to count on familiar themes: Weather. Market volatility. Ag cycles. People. Change.

You are familiar with this catalog of topics because they’re perenni­al challenges to agriculture. This year, though, world events have managed to bring nearly all these challenges to us at once.

Supply chain shocks and labor shortages from COVID had already pushed volatility into the market. Conflict in Ukraine threw it into overdrive.

We’ve been executing a plan to address disrupted supply for more than a year at MFA. You could hear it in action during presentations at the district meetings. There was considerable discussion about price and availability of the products you need to farm.

Obviously, the market for crop inputs is challenging right now. Planning helps us to minimize shortages and, where needed, offer alternatives. That’s a result of a pro­active approach from MFA’s supply division, which put MFA in a good position across many categories. Still, Black Swans among the Black Swans—drought in the Pacific Northwest, for example—can mean spot shortages of products such as cover crop and grass seed.

I won’t detail too many specifics about product supply here because of the fluidity of the situation. But I will point out one thing made clear by the past season. Everyone benefits when customers have early conversations about input needs. We appreciate those conversations.

Intertwined into supply-chain challenges are other economic factors driving up costs. Unabated inflationary pressure has pushed fuel and building supply prices skyward. Fuel prices and labor availability continue to push freight prices. Now that the feds have de­cided inflation must be addressed, availability of “cheap” money is about to end, and interest rates will factor higher into business costs. Meanwhile, the qualified talent pool for many industries isn’t large enough to meet employment de­mand, pressuring wages upward.

As you know from your opera­tion’s financial reports, these are costs businesses can’t avoid, and they will tug at profitability.

That outlook was part of my message at the district meetings. I followed it with a reminder of MFA’s value proposition: “To improve producer capabilities and profitability.” It’s what cooperatives are built to do, and it’s what you expect from us.

I mentioned previously that when MFA and its members communicate early about inputs, both parties benefit. The benefits of communications stretch beyond that. Communication is central to our value to you. When MFA staff build relationships with you based on an in-depth understanding of your operations and goals, we can help improve profitability. That includes working to minimize costs in years of challenging supply situ­ations or market volatility.

For MFA’s part in that relation­ship, we will continue to adapt and evolve with your goals. We will center it around teamwork. And we will focus on financial manage­ment and growth, maintaining a talented workforce, and continuing to improve our facilities, processes, products and services.

I often point out that people are the fundamental asset of any com­pany. As it is for most businesses right now, it’s difficult for MFA to find qualified candidates for open positions. Moreover, agriculture employers face an additional chal­lenge of workforce demands such as remote work, increased wages or fewer hours. There is no “virtual” alternative for many of our posi­tions. But we’ve upped our game at recruitment and training. We’ll continue to grow it.

As I told members at the district meetings, these focus points are symbiotic, but it all begins with teamwork. Teamwork drives prof­itability, which drives our ability to invest in our operations and talent.

We’re blessed to have a culture and employees who are passionate about agriculture. I’m proud of what the team does and its com­mitment to improving producer capability and profitability.

That’s why we are here.

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