One Co-Op

Wilco-Agriliance Bill Hubbell, Larry FergusonFor most ag retailers, the bringing together of two companies into a single business entity would be cause for some kind of high-profile recognition — issuing a press release or inviting the trade media to an open house, for instance. However, when Mt. Angel, OR-based Wilco Farmers formally combined the ag portions of its business operations with St. Paul, MN-based Agriliance earlier this year, most industry observers probably were unaware of the change. The newly combined cooperative’s grower-customers probably didn’t notice, either. And according to Bill Hubbell, general manager for Wilco-Agriliance LLC, that’s exactly the way it should be.

“One of our major goals for 2006 was to have a smooth transition with the joint venture, with little or no impact on our grower-customers, and so far, we’ve done that based upon everything we’ve heard from the field,” says Hubbell. “Wilco was already the sum total of one major consolidation almost 40 years ago and several smaller ones in the interim. The teaming with Agriliance just represents another chapter in our efforts to grow the cooperative and have it evolve for the future. From history’s perspective, we’ve already gone down this path before.”
Indeed, Wilco’s modern history starts with a similar coming together of cooperatives back in 1967.

According to Larry Ferguson, ag supply manager for the company, that’s the year that five separate cooperatives servicing the growers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley region — Valley Farmers, Donald Farmers, Stayton Farmers, Canby Farmers, and Mt. Union Warehouse — realized they could provide better service by combining their personnel and outlets. “All these companies had operated separately to that point, some for close to 30 years, constantly competing with each other for grower-customers,” says Ferguson. “But everyone realized that bringing everything together would enable the cooperative to grow faster while providing it with expanded resources and materials to get the job done.”

History Repeats Itself
In reality, he adds, the decision to join forces with Agriliance came about in a similar fashion. Wilco had already worked with Agriliance for several years, with Agriliance operating a service center out of Wilco’s headquarters facility in Mt. Angel and regularly supplying inputs for the cooperative to sell through its outlets.

On its own, Wilco had managed to rack up some very impressive numbers, seeing record revenue of $35 million for its ag business in 2005, serving a steady grower-customer base of 1,500. As Ferguson points out, “Wilco was doing just fine” without the need for a new business partner.

“But our company’s president/CEO, Doug Hoffman, was looking down the road and the future he saw wasn’t so bright,” he says. “One of our major competitors in the area, Woodburn Fertilizer, was acquired by Wilbur-Ellis about 18 months ago, so we now had a national competitor throughout the valley. To keep pace, Wilco needed to grow and continue to have a key supplier working with us to make that happen. That’s when the idea to formally bring our business operations together with Agriliance’s was born.”

Over a period of time, a deal was reached between the two ag retailers. Agriliance and Wilco formed a 50/50 joint venture with the agronomy business and Agriliance officially had its Chehalis, WA, outlet join the cooperative’s family of facilities.

In January 2006, the company was formally renamed Wilco-Agriliance to reflect the strength of both companies to their customers and suppliers. Now, Wilco-Agriliance personnel are working cooperatively with Wilco’s and Agriliance’s Coastal Division office in Memphis, TN, to establish the direction the new cooperative will take.

Obviously, we are thrilled to be able to add Wilco to our group,” says Jim Blome, vice president, Coastal Division for Agriliance. “In essence, it’s a similar arrangement to the one we made a few years ago with Alabama Farmers Cooperative. Wilco Farmers does a great job in the area with their members and we are very happy to be in a position to help them get to the next level when it comes to providing services and inputs to their grower-customers.”

Customers Come First

And as Hubbell points out, customer considerations are key to how Wilco-Agriliance has maintained its business throughout the decades. “We are very, very customer focused,” he says. “There are 241 different crops grown in our area — everything from corn and onions to grass seed and sod — and I won’t tell you we are expert in all of them. But there are a heck of a lot of them that our agronomists do know well, and that is what’s important to our customers so we can help them be more profitable.”

According to Hubbell, this highly diversified customer base is one of the main reasons Wilco decided to seek a partnership with Agriliance. “Besides needing agronomists that are expert in as many different crops as possible, you also need very specialized ag equipment to perform the varied custom application work that’s needed,” he says.

In addition, Hubbell says that annually an average of 14,000 acres has been coming out of the traditional ag production in its service territory. “To survive in this kind of market environment, we will have to adjust to these kinds of changes, and the alliance with Agriliance provides us with some of the opportunities to do this.”

Take crop protection products, for example. For several years, Wilco has marketed its own line of brands along with offerings from basic manufacturers, post-patent producers, and suppliers such as Agriliance’s AgriSolutions line. The reason for this vast product mix was simple: grower-customers growing 241 different crops regularly use hundreds of crop protection products to manage them effectively.

“Although we were a member of Agriliance’s customer base and the company ran a service center out of our headquarters, there was still no guarantee we could always get the products we needed to supply our grower-customers every time,” says Ferguson. “That’s pretty much a given now that we are 50% owned by them.” In addition to a more guaranteed supply situation, he adds, Wilco will also benefit from having access to Agriliance’s inventory management capabilities with AgriSolutions products.

Down the line, Hubbell thinks that Wilco-Agriliance will also begin using some kind of computerized information system for traceability purposes. “Canneries and some of the other food producers that our growers work with have been demanding recordkeeping for the crop protection products for several years,” he says. “But now, they are starting to ask for information on what crop nutrients were applied to the crops as well. So we are looking at ways we can help growers have instant access to this kind of information electronically, with real-time delivery perhaps.”

More Crop Protection Options

Besides working more closely within the Agriliance family of brands and services, Hubbell believes another key to Wilco-Agrilance’s future is cultivating its relationship with the basic crop protection product manufacturers. The reason for this ties back to the crop diversity inherent to the Willamette Valley. “For our area, there’s all this special labeling required on crop protection products, but most of these products tend to be targeted at growers in the Midwest, so the labels don’t work for our customers,” he says. “We often need our chemical suppliers to add a supplemental label to these products so they can be used in our region.”

The situation has become more precarious in recent years, he adds, as EPA has stepped up its product reviews, sometimes removing chemistries from the market that had been used by local growers for years to stay competitive. “Last year, a product called Ronilan (vinclozolin) used to control white mold in beans was removed from our market by EPA,” says Hubbell. “That increased the cost of control by two to three times per acre. We need the basics working with our growers and our crops to continue to be able to give us more options.”

Moving forward, Hubbell expects 2007 to be a pivotal year for Wilco-Agriliance as a company. “Now that we’ve lined up our business with Agriliance, Wilco-Agriliance will spend much of the coming season evolving and testing new market opportunities that are different than those we’ve focused on traditionally,” he says. “We are looking to work more with some of the specialty crops that are grown in the valley and the landscape business. We will continue to grow our core business with our grower-customers. With the alliance with Agriliance on our side, I believe will be in a much better position to expand and defend our market turf.”

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 100CHS To Acquire Illinois River Energy Ethanol Plant
May 1, 2014
CHS has signed an agreement with Sinav Ltd. to acquire 100% of the company's stock, which includes Illinois River Energy, a 133-million-gallon-per-year ethanol plant at Rochelle, IL. Read More
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100BRANDT Commemorates National Ag Day
March 20, 2015
The Illinois agriculture community gathered at BRANDT global headquarters on March 18 to celebrate National Ag Day behind this year's theme Sustaining Future Generations. Read More
Wheat Growers, North Central Farmers Elevator Pursue Merger
CropLife 100Wheat Growers, North Central Farmers Elevator Pursue Merger
March 3, 2015
Two CropLife 100 retailers — South Dakota Wheat Growers (ranked No. 11) and North Central Farmers Elevator (No. 19) — have entered into a Letter of Intent to unify the two companies into a newly named cooperative. Read More
Growmark Group
CropLife 100GROWMARK In 2015: Back, To The Future
March 2, 2015
The nation’s third largest ag retail organization is simultaneously moving forward while remembering its past. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Expands Sanders Brand In The South
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle has acquired Hopkins Seed and Chemical in Qulin, MO, which expands the company's Sanders brand to nine Southern states. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Launches New Providence Agriculture Location In Indiana
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings — ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100 — has established a new retail location in New Castle, IN, which will operate as part of Pinnacle's Providence Agriculture brand. Read More
Carl Casale of CHS
CropLife 100Cooperative CHS Returns $518 Million To Owners
February 23, 2015
The 2015 cash return to owners is based on CHS net income of $1.1 billion, the company's second highest on record. Read More
Latest News
HerbicidesNew EPA Glyphosate Restrictions Leaked To Reuters
April 1, 2015
U.S. regulators will put new restrictions on the world’s most widely used herbicide to help address the rapid expansion of Read More
FMC 3Rive 3D
Seed/BiotechFMC’s 3RIVE 3D Turns Heads
April 1, 2015
As winter trade shows tend to go, Commodity Classic tends to be a pretty big deal. You’ve got all the Read More
Nachurs Alpine Solutions, Liquid fertilizer, micronutrients, facility
MicronutrientsYara Launching YaraVita Procote Liquid Micronutrients
March 31, 2015
Yara North America, Inc. broadens its fertilizer coating offerings with the introduction of YaraVita Procote, oil-based micronutrient liquid suspensions that Read More
Industry NewsINCOTEC Board Member To Retire
March 31, 2015
JanWillem Breukink has decided to retire from his position on INCOTEC’s Board of Directors, effective April 1, 2015. This was Read More
MicronutrientsAgrium Deals Michigan Micronutrient Facility To Cameron…
March 31, 2015
Cameron Chemicals, Inc. has announced today that it has entered into a definitive agreement with Agrium Inc. to purchase the Read More
Industry NewsH.J. Baker Creates, Fills New Pacific Northwest Sales P…
March 30, 2015
H.J. Baker announced today that Gary Bingham has joined the company’s Crop Performance Division to further deepen its sales portfolio Read More
Algal blooms
StewardshipStudy: Algae From Clogged Waterways Could Be Used As Bi…
March 30, 2015
Water-borne algal blooms from farm fertilizer runoff can destroy aquatic life and clog rivers and lakes, but scientists are reporting Read More
Young corn plants
Stewardship4R Nutrient Stewardship Summit Coming To DC
March 30, 2015
The annual 4R Nutrient Stewardship Summit will be held on May 12 in Washington DC. The summit will include a full Read More
FungicidesSyngenta Suing Willowood Over Azoxystrobin Fungicide
March 27, 2015
Syngenta announced today that it has sued agrochemical maker Willowood, LLC., for patent and copyright infringement, as well as unfair Read More
ManagementRetail Week: The Future Of Mycogen Seeds; The 4Rs At Na…
March 27, 2015
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Matt Hopkins discuss recent trips, including a look at the future of Mycogen Seeds at Dow Read More
Eric SfiligojMonsanto Hears The WHO
March 27, 2015
Another challenge to the safety of glyphosate, and the responses from supporters and opponents, calls to mind a classic Dr. Seuss story. Read More
Industry NewsMonty’s Plant Food Expands Sales Team
March 27, 2015
Monty’s Plant Food Company, a leader in natural soil enhancement and  plant fertility products, has hired Andrew Bullock as a Read More
Crop InputsSyngenta Louisiana Plant Poised For 2015 Production
March 26, 2015
As the 2015 planting season gets underway, growers across the country will need crop protection products to combat pests and Read More
Lake Erie Nutrient Stewardship
LegislationOhio Lawmakers Finalize Phosphorus Restrictions
March 25, 2015
State lawmakers on Wednesday finalized new rules designed to curb toxic algal blooms on Lake Erie, calling the regulations a major step forward in addressing the problem. Read More
Spreaders17 Fertilizer Spreaders For 2015
March 25, 2015
Manufacturers shoot for versatility and accuracy in this year's crop of fertilizer spreaders. Read More
Industry NewsMonty’s Hires Mid-South Product Consultant
March 25, 2015
Monty's Plant Food Co. has hired Matt Woodring as a Product Consultant for portions of Central Kentucky and Tennessee.    Read More
StewardshipMapShots Integrates With DriftWatch
March 23, 2015
Growers and agricultural providers using AgStudio FARM and AgStudio PRO can now view vital information about specialty crops and apiaries through a recent integration with the DriftWatch Specialty Crop Site Registry from FieldWatch, Inc. Read More
Crop InputsWorld Health Organization Report Contradicts Scientific…
March 23, 2015
A new report from the World Health Organization has classified glyphosate with a “2A” rating as a probable carcinogen, a Read More