Ritter Crop Services: At Home In Kansas

Ranco blenderIn most cases, ag retailers follow a predetermined path when growing their businesses. In a few instances, however, the road not taken is the one that leads to market prominence. Such is the case at Ritter Crop Services, headquartered in Marked Tree, AR.

ack in 2000, says General Manager Dan Kennedy, a sale of the retail operations was being considered. But, after two years of searching and finding no suitable buyers, company owner E. Ritter & Co. reconsidered its decision. Instead, E. Ritter doubled its commitment to ag retail and began an upgrade and expansion of the operations that continues to this day.

“When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing that a company would go from shopping a part of its business to making it a priority for growth and commitment going forward,” says Kennedy. “But then again, when you look at how long Ritter as a corporate entity has been committing resources, money, and people to our local area, it isn’t that much of a surprise.”

A Century In The Making

To appreciate this level of commitment to its home base, it’s helpful to look back at the 118-year history of Ritter’s ownership group. What is now Ritter Crop Services began as a mercantile business in 1889 started by founder Ernest Ritter. At the time, the senior Ritter also ran a railroad telegraph operation.

For the next few decades, Ernest Rit­ter started different companies in and around the Marked Tree area. Before he passed away in 1921, he had built a mini business empire in the town, running a trio of sawmills, founding the local telephone company, and building a cotton gin. Today, many of these businesses remain important segments of the E. Ritter family of companies. Other companies in the portfolio include Ritter Grain Services Co. and Ritter Oil Co., which sells bulk petroleum and lubricants.

Throughout his years, says Kennedy, the senior Ritter never passed up an opportunity to help his community grow and prosper. “Besides starting the telephone company so people in the area could communicate with their loved ones in other cities and states, Ernest also founded a water works and electric company,” he says. “He was always looking for ways to help the area. In fact, part of E. Ritter Co.’s mission statement talks about ‘strengthening our communities,’ and the company has always operated with this as a guiding force.”

From its mercantile roots, the first ag retail outlet gradually shifted its focus from selling all consumer goods and some farm materials to strictly providing crop inputs. At the beginning of the 21st century, Ritter Crop Services still maintained its one location in northeastern Arkansas, with overall crop input sales split into nearly equal percentages for fertilizer, crop protection products, and seed. The outlet also did some custom application work for the cotton and soybean growers in the area. The retail operation was run in conjunction with Ritter’s grain elevator business, sharing some employees and resources along the way.
“Because it wasn’t as profitable as grain, Ritter considered selling off the retail side of the ag business from 2000 to 2002,” says Kennedy. “But since the company couldn’t find a buyer, the decision was made to keep it and significantly expand this side of the business.”

New Facilities, New Acquisitions

As part of this new investment, Kennedy joined Ritter Crop Services at its Marked Tree facility. A new, more modern-equipped Marked Tree outlet was opened shortly thereafter, he adds, along with four more satellite locations throughout northeastern Arkansas between 2002 and 2006. This brought the total number of company facilities to five.

But Ritter’s owners realized this initial expansion would only go so far in securing the company’s market presence. “In 2005, the company conducted a strategic planning session to determine where it wanted the retail operation to be in five years,” says Kennedy. “The two things that were obvious to everyone were that, one, Ritter needed more critical mass and, two, a deeper grower-customer base, if it wanted to survive and grow.”

As fate would have it, Ritter was in luck in obtaining both market objectives. Early in 2006, Lawhon Farm Services — a six-outlet independent dealership located in nearby McCrory, AR — was considering a sale of its retail assets. According to industry rumors, Lawhon’s owners had decided to focus their attention and resources on the company’s existing seed business and on building up its fledgling ethanol plant group. Its retail group was the odd division out.

Of course, says Kennedy, Ritter Crop Services saw the picture in a completely different light. “This was a perfect fit for what our owners wanted Ritter Crop Services to become,” he says. “Lawhon had some well-established outlets in our section of Arkansas with dozens of loyal customers. The employee base at Lawhon also was top notch. It’s easy to add buildings to your operations if you want to, but you can’t always find people with the kind of hands-on, industry knowledge that worked for Lawhon. All around, this couldn’t have been a better opportunity for us to grow.”

Grow, indeed. When the deal was completed in the summer of 2006, Ritter Crop Services had more than doubled its size — from 5 outlets to 11, from 30 employees to 75. This added critical mass was sufficient enough to place Ritter on CropLife® magazine’s annual CropLife 100 listing in 2006 for the first time ever, landing the company at No. 40.

Despite its more impressive size, however, Kennedy emphasizes that Ritter Crop Services remains true to its background. “Being a small independent, we can move — and move more quickly — than larger retail operations,” he says. “We’ve been at this business for almost 120 years. We know our customers and they know us.”

In this spirit, he adds, the company has no plans to expand beyond its traditional northeastern Arkansas territory.

“We are not another UAP (United Agri Products), and we never will be,” says Kennedy. “Even with our strategy to grow the company during the next 20 or 30 years, our expansion plans don’t extend beyond a northeastern Arkansas focus. This is our comfort zone. These are the people Ernest Ritter was trying to help when the company got its start more than a century ago. Why should we change that approach now?”

Leave a Reply

CropLife 100 Stories

CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Acquires Lemon Ag Services
August 4, 2014
The acquisition of Lemon Ag fits BRANDT’s aggressive corporate strategy of providing superior agronomic advice and services for customers in central Illinois. Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis To Relocate Agribusiness Division To Denver
July 16, 2014
The move Eastward will allow Wilbur-Ellis’ Agribusiness Division to be more accessible to relevant geographies and is expected to enhance communication and collaboration among the division’s nearly 3,000 employees. Read More
CropLife 100Map: Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings Acquisitions In 2014
May 29, 2014
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings continues to expand its agricultural retail distribution business through these key acquisitions in 2014. Read More

Top 100 Articles

CropLife 100CHS: Driving Momentum To Help Farmer-Owners Grow
December 11, 2014
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, must capture new opportunities to Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT, Verdesian Ink Distribution Agreement
December 9, 2014
The agreement grants BRANDT the exclusive right to sell and market Verdesian’s patented Steric chemistry in the Turf and Ornamental and eastern U.S. ag markets under the BRANDT Reaction product line name. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: The Colors Of Custom Application
December 5, 2014
Although many color spray rigs are in the yards of the nation’s top ag retailers, the majority of them still come in only a few shades. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Invests In Meridian Agriculture Distribution
December 4, 2014
Meridian will provide retailers with supplier-branded products and numerous opportunities to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: Entering A New Seed Era
December 4, 2014
The seed category has been re-vitalized during the past few years, and more good news (and varieties) are headed the industry’s way in 2015. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: The Depressed State Of Fertilizer
December 3, 2014
Following downright giddy growth earlier this decade, fertilizer sales have fallen back down to earth the past two years. Read More

Latest News

FertilizerGlobal Fertilizer Market: Cloudy With A Chance Of Sprin…
December 22, 2014
While spring demand in the Northern Hemisphere will prevent prices from slipping significantly, Rabobank believes that lower farmer margins will incent farmers to be more prudent in fertilizer application. Read More
Management2014: Looking Back, Looking Forward
December 22, 2014
Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss key emerging issues from the year past that retailers will be watching closely in Read More
FungicidesAlfalfa Expert: Root Rot More Widespread Than Previousl…
December 22, 2014
Once thought of as a wet-soil disease, aphanomyces root rot is more widespread than many realize. Read More
Seed/BiotechKaren Arthur Joins AgriThority As Seed Treatment Produc…
December 19, 2014
Prior to joining AgriThority, Arthur directed research and development programs, overseeing laboratory and field research, to build the Valent U.S.A. seed treatment portfolio. Read More
EquipmentJohn Deere To Sell Crop Insurance Business
December 19, 2014
Deere & Co. has reached a definitive agreement to sell its crop insurance business, subject to regulatory approval, to Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. of Iowa. Read More
Crop InputsNufarm Fills Regulatory VP Position
December 18, 2014
Nufarm announced today that Rob Schwehr has been promoted to the position of Vice President of Innovation & Regulatory Affairs for Nufarm Americas. Read More
Seed/BiotechReport: China Approves Viptera Corn, U.S. Officials Awa…
December 17, 2014
Chinese authorities have informed some agriculture industry officials the government has approved U.S. imports of a type of genetically modified corn developed by Syngenta. Read More
FertilizerMonty’s Plant Food Brings In New Sales Rep
December 16, 2014
Monty's Plant Food Company has hired Warren Kearns as its newest Sales Representative for the South Carolina area. Read More
EquipmentHagie Wins 2014 CropLife IRON Product Of The Year Award
December 15, 2014
The self-propelled sprayer maker has a hit on its hands with the new STS Series model. Read More
Syngenta
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Sees China Approving Contentious GMO Corn Soon
December 15, 2014
Syngenta will make an announcement when it receives official documentation from China that Agrisure Viptera corn, known as MIR 162, has been cleared for import. Read More
Crop InputsVerdesian Life Sciences Names Vice President Of Communi…
December 15, 2014
Amy Bugg will oversee the execution of all promotional strategies for the corporate brand and the complete product portfolio. Read More
StewardshipFarmers, Retailers Attend 4R Certification 4U Workshop
December 15, 2014
More than 160 farmers and ag retailer attended the “4R Certification 4U” workshop December 12 to learn more about the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship, water quality research in the area and cost-sharing opportunities. Read More
Matt Hopkins10 Best New Agriculture Apps For 2015
December 15, 2014
These new agriculture apps are certain to help ag professionals do their jobs more efficiently in 2015 and beyond. Read More
ManagementARA Learnings, Retail Buying Intentions: Welcome To Cro…
December 12, 2014
This informal video program puts news and events effecting retailers into context, and features Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Herbicide-Tolerant Technology Closer To Commer…
December 12, 2014
The final EIS moves Monsanto one step closer to the introduction of Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton and Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans, paving the way to provide access to dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton. Read More
Seed/BiotechUSDA Issues Final Environmental Impact Statement On Her…
December 12, 2014
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is issuing a final environmental impact statement on varieties of cotton and soybeans that have been genetically engineered for resistance to several herbicides, including the one known as dicamba. Read More
CropLife 100CHS: Driving Momentum To Help Farmer-Owners Grow
December 11, 2014
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, must capture new opportunities to Read More
LegislationARA Applauds CFATS Passage Prior To Holiday Adjournment
December 11, 2014
The streamlined bill provides a four-year authorization of the CFATS program and guidance to DHS on key issues of chemical facility security Read More