VIEW FROM THE TOP
75 YEARS OF COOPERATIVE INNOVATION
Editor's Note: Bill Davisson has served GROWMARK, Inc. as chief executive officer since 1998. He began his career at GROWMARK in 1970 with positions including controller, VP of finance and VP of member services.
GROWMARK is a federated regional cooperative founded in 1927 that provides agriculture-related products and services to member cooperatives in the Midwest and Ontario, Canada.
AM: How is GROWMARK observing its 75th anniversary?
BD: We are celebrating '75 years of Cooperative Innovation' throughout 2002 with a wide range of activities that include media events, historic displays, a commemorative Web site (www.fssystem.com), employee celebrations, original artwork creation, printed pieces, advertising, and, of course, the content of our Annual Meeting in August. This has been an educational and exciting process of reviewing our proud history. Our unchanged commitments to cooperative principles and to the best interests of our members serve as a firm foundation for our vision 'to be the best agricultural cooperative system in North America.'
AM: What is GROWMARK doing to ensure many more years of prosperity?
BD: Our efforts begin with devoting significant resources to employee training and development. Ours is a people business - providing business solutions that address farmers' needs through highly trained and dedicated people. Certification programs that we have developed for professional salespeople in our product areas (agronomy, energy, and buildings/grain systems) support this commitment.
Information technology is also a key tool in furthering our mission to improve the long-term profitability of our member-owners. This supports our precision farming efforts through GPS systems and cropping recommendations to maximize the efficiency and profitability of crop production. Risk management tools and production-financing programs are also part of the package to enable member cooperatives to serve the needs of customers.
As one of the means to enhance shareholder value, we have made a commitment to grow our businesses in a variety of ways, including:
• grow our core businesses in our core geography;
• expand geographically;
• focus on value-added products and services, including specialty grains;
• be opportunistic in looking for acquisitions and alliances that enhance current businesses or bring new business ventures; and
• promote new market opportunities like retail fueling, commercial fuel sales, farm stores, turf programs and renewable fuels.
AM: What role will co-ops play as agriculture's structure changes?
BD: Cooperatives have been impacted greatly by consolidation, but their value as member-owned corporations continues to be as vital as in 1927. Just as with farmers, the number of cooperatives is much smaller than a decade ago, and those remaining are larger. Our focus is always on member needs. So as their needs change, so do our co-ops. That's the beauty of cooperation - it never goes out of style! Cooperatives' role in the future of agriculture will be profound because local ownership and control is a business structure that works.
AM: How is GROWMARK using the Internet to enhance sales and marketing?
BD: The first way GROWMARK is using the Web is a business-to-business application called e-supply. This is an automated, Internet-based ordering and information system between GROWMARK and our member cooperatives. It equips local cooperatives to place orders electronically and obtain information about those orders around the clock, every day. Currently, about 40 percent of our annual dollar volume is ordered via e-supply.
GROWMARK also provides Web-hosting services for FS farm supply cooperatives. Each local co-op manages the content of its own site, which is linked to all other FS co-op sites and to GROWMARK via a Web site, www.fssystem.com. The local Web sites contain links to the 'back-office' software common to most Midwest FS co-ops. This is a unique and proprietary feature of our value-added initiative. We continue to make improvements in this application, one of which now equips producers to read the levels of liquid fuel and propane tanks from remote locations.
We also published an e-catalog to support our local co-ops' retail store business in Ontario, Canada. This is an electronic listing of all items and prices that are available from GROWMARK and our vendors. AM