Viewpoint

There can be constants in the waves of change

When you look at any coopera­tive that has remained in business for very long, you’ll see an evolu­tion. That’s common sense. Times change. A cooperative must evolve with its members. It’s how we evolve that matters.

The evolution of a business is often viewed through the shorthand of technology. As an agricultural cooperative with a long history, MFA’s evolution has been part of some significant milestones.

We were around when horse­power on the hoof changed into the proliferation of horsepower via tractors. Now we help farmers with tools that communicate with satellites.

Think about that sequence of events. Horses to satellites. It’s ex­pansive technological change, and it forever altered agriculture. So have other Big Picture leaps such as breakthroughs in chemistry and biotechnology. And there will be more—things that are too hard to predict from today’s vantage.

From a cooperative’s perspective, though, we have to view every change and business evolution through a constant that fulfills our mission: How will we lever­age change to deliver value to our member-owners?

That constant consideration involves the fundamentals of cooperation. Since 1964, we’ve been celebrating October as Coop­erative Month. I point it out on this page because it’s a good framework to consider the value a cooperative can deliver, not just on your farm but in a larger sense.

Cooperatives are based on seven principles that include:

  • Voluntary membership
  • Democratic member control
  • Member economic participation
  • Autonomy and independence
  • Education, training, and infor­mation
  • Cooperation among cooperatives
  • Concern for community

Those seven lines are more than philosophical principles. They are principles in action. They are part of the value you get in exchange for participating in a cooperative. Ultimately, the cooperative business model means you have a stake in the business and how it should de­liver value now and in the future.

Of course, not all change is a pro­gression toward favorable results, and the future isn’t always clear.

In the past few years, we’ve seen that nature can deliver body blows of change via devastating drought or world-upending pandemics. We’ve seen that human nature can follow its base instincts to usher in change and upheaval through war. Or, worse, it can be a combination—2022 took the potential for a toxic cocktail of conflict, inflation, drought and a fragile supply chain and turned it into reality.

As a result, MFA has endured many of the recent challenges you are well familiar with by now. We have watched volatility in plant food prices and availability. Our strategically placed receiving facilities, forward-thinking pur­chasing plans and staging ability throughout the trade area helped get fertilizer where farmers needed it and when they needed it.

We have dealt with supply chal­lenges in crop protection products. Our relationships and the buying power we bring as a sizable cooper­ative helped keep acres covered. It might not have been the first choice of weed control on every acre, but we supplied a product that would do the job and the agronomic ex­pertise to change plans on the fly.

Like everyone, MFA has found transportation difficult, whether that’s finding drivers or the run-up in fuel prices. We have doubled down on efficient hauling and focused on how to attract talent to our driver pool. Even so, fuel costs affect our bottom line.

Successfully navigating those issues required the assets we have in place, the staff insight about the industry, and our team’s hard work and dedication.

When I examine our efforts in the past two years, I believe we have delivered value to our mem­bers and are poised to carry on the job at hand.

One of the ways we’ll do that is by continuing to refine how we approach our busiest times and how we can more effectively serve agronomic needs. Sometimes that’s new facilities with increased capacity and the latest technology. Sometimes it’s dispatch and com­munications platforms that make existing infrastructure and rolling stock more efficient. Or it might be finding new ways to get a spectrum of feeds delivered effectively.

Whatever the next changes bring, our approach will be to deliver value that fits your farm.

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