MFA: Preparing For A New Century

The MFA management team includes (from left): Craig Childs, Vice President of the Agri Services division; Bill Streeter, President and CEO; and Brian Griffith, Senior Vice President/Corporate Operations.
The MFA management team includes (from left): Craig Childs, Vice President of the Agri Services division; Bill Streeter, President and CEO; and Brian Griffith, Senior Vice President/Corporate Operations.

Over the past century, agriculture has evolved in ways that were unimaginable back when the cooperative movement first gained steam. Equipment, agronomic practices and food processing sophistication, to name a few, have indelibly changed the way production agriculture operates.

But the one undeniable constant amid the revolutionary changes on both sides of the crop production channel is the people. From the farmers, who serve as both consumer and participant in the cooperative structure, and the managers and employees who must run an effective and responsive operation, the roles people play in a successful cooperative are arguably more important than they have ever been.

So it should come as no surprise that MFA Inc., a Columbia, MO-based cooperative that is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2014, is keenly focused on employee development and recruitment, as well as continuous improvement in farmer relationships as a means to building a sustainable future for the company.

MFA today is the dominant retail presence in Missouri, ranking ninth on the CropLife 100 retailers ranking nationally and featuring 185 total locations including both company-owned and affiliate stores. MFA locations can also be found in eastern Kansas, southern Iowa, northern Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma. More than 45,000 farmers and ranchers are served through MFA locations.

MFA offers a full suite of ag products through its retail network, including branded and private-label crop protection, seed and animal feed and fertilizer. On the business side, the cooperative offers grain marketing services and credit solutions. Agronomic services include the Nutri-Track precision farming program, which combines georeferenced soil testing and yield monitoring with crop rotation, tillage practice, soil characteristics and crop removal data to track and document soil nutrient levels. The data becomes the basis for variable-rate application of crop nutrients.

Leading MFA today is Bill Streeter, a veteran of more than 40 years with the cooperative and who took the helm after the tumultuous 2008 fertilizer crash that sent so many retail operations reeling. His confidence and unflappable demeanor led MFA out of those dark days, and set the tone for a bright future. His key management team features long-time MFA managers Craig Childs, vice president of the Agri Services division which oversees the retail operations and who assumed the role in 2011, and Brian Griffith, senior vice president/corporate operations, who took on the position in 2009.

Training Within

The MFA mission statement is grounded in the core tenets of the traditional cooperative, and its culture and tradition are valued and ingrained throughout the business. But what’s unique at MFA, and driven from the top, are its initiatives aimed at training current employees and developing new talent. Streeter has infused his passion about the need to ensure current employees are equipped with tools and training to allow them to perform at maximum effectiveness and efficiency and to bring in the best new talent available.

It starts with empowerment. “If we can explain to our employees what we want done, then we let them do it,” says Streeter. “It will turn out better. They know if they have a better idea, they are empowered to fine tune and modify a process to make it better.”

It continues with a deep understanding of the MFA system. “We’ve tried to make everyone understand that MFA is a system, and that every action and decision affects every other part of the company,” says Streeter. “We must manage the company as a system.

“We as a company have always done a very good job at product training, sales training, and at understanding customers and customer relationships,” he continues. But creating more understanding about the challenges, opportunities and dynamics of the various departments, as well as agriculture in general, has taken center stage.

“The senior team got together and developed a comprehensive training  program that includes financing within the company, securing capital, lending relations and global markets and other topics of importance to MFA,” says Streeter. “For example, we’re not a company that operates in global markets, but we want our people to understand it. If we want to start ordering fertilizer today, and it originated in the Middle East, you need to understand that you can’t pick up the phone and expect the load the next day.

“We want our finance people to understand why the stores want to do the things they want to do,” he continues. “We want our HR people to understand what our field employees do. This is not cross-training as much as it is a thorough understanding of everyone’s function within the company, whether it is purchasing, marketing, manufacturing or custom application. Brian, Greg and I are hell bent on heading down the employee development path. We are in the people business. Our urea is not any better than anyone else’s, so it all boils down to quality people.”

Aggressive Recruitment

In conducting interviews with potential job candidates in recent years, Griffith has been struck by the number of college students who genuinely have no idea what sort of career they want after graduation. “The interview process has been very eye-opening to me in that a lot of college students do not really know what they want to do when they graduate, even if they are a junior or a senior. They knew they wanted to be in agriculture but had no specific area in mind,” he says.

This reality only served to bolster the success of MFA’s inaugural internship program, the MFA Ag Experience, in 2013. Students who enter the program may have found themselves pounding a couple of seed signs in the ground over the course of the program, but that was the rare exception. The 11 recruits to the Ag Experience program quickly found themselves deeply immersed in some aspect of the cooperative business.

Each was assigned a project with direct relevance on MFA’s day-to-day operation. At the end of the summer, each intern was asked to present the scope of the project, and the results or findings, to senior management.

“We learned a lot from them,” says Childs. “It is amazing how tech-savvy this younger generation is, and the great things they brought to the table.”

The payoffs were immediate: Six of the interns came back to work part-time for MFA during the semester they were in college this year, and four were hired in December following graduation. “There could be another two or three that we end up hiring when they graduate,” says Griffith.

One compelling example: An intern developed a feed and mineral software tool that would calculate the benefit of specific feed and ration options to ranchers, including cost per pound for production. The intern is one of those hired on full-time at MFA.

“Hiring people out of college used to be a 50/50 proposition at best,” says Streeter. “This program allows us to spend more time getting the right people.”

And the word is spreading. In the first year, the number of applications was only slightly higher than those brought on board. In Year Two, MFA leadership sifted through 80 applications to fill 15 positions. At the recruitment event, “outside of Monsanto we had the longest line,” says Streeter. “Our interns are going back to their schools and talking about our program … it’s all been word-of-mouth.”

Developing Leaders

The retail establishment is often the largest business in the rural community, and as such is relied on for providing leadership that extends to the community at large. MFA has made it a point to cultivate the younger generation of its farmer patrons through its cooperators program.

“We identify agriculture producers in our trade territories who are the up and comers,” says Streeter. “Producers who could fill leadership roles in rural communities in which they live, or potentially in our MFA governance structure as an advisory board member.”

Young farm couples are brought in for an educational session where they are exposed to ag economy experts and learn more about MFA. “We challenge these younger people to get involved in leadership roles at the county level, be it the Farm Bureau, or farm credit, or school boards or the water district,”  says Streeter. “Classes are held every two years, and include anywhere from 25 to up to 40 participants.

Training Camp

On the agronomic side, MFA made a big investment by launching its Training Camp in 2012. Training Camp is a field test site for proving out new and existing products and practices on corn and soybeans. Each season of testing culminates in a Training Camp field day where MFA staff and customers are invited to watch, listen and learn. The first event in 2012 drew 330 people, and last year, 438 were in attendance.

The test plots have been invaluable for testing MFA’s MorSoy and MorCorn Seed offerings, as well as fertility practices and recommendations. It’s also been a boon for running trials on the soon to be released dicamba and 2,4-D-tolerant varieties that are nearing release.

“Weed resistance is a huge issue that got serious here in Missouri about four years ago, and in 2012 it was like a bomb going off,” says Childs. “We’re going back to weed control products and strategies dating to the 1990s.”

And the challenge is by no means all agronomic — application professionals have had to go back to school on tank rinsing and rig cleanout. “We’ve been focusing on this at the Training Camp, making sure we are ahead of the curve,” notes Childs. “The volatility is not as big a concern to us as the cleanout, especially with rubber and plastic hoses. We’re very concerned with cross contamination.”

The challenges facing all retailers are great, but there is a promising future for great retailers. Using its century of experience and reputation, and a significant investment in its people, Streeter is confidently leading the cooperative into the next 100 years.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

CropLife 100 Stories

Crop InputsLand ‘O Lakes, United Suppliers Finalize Merger
August 24, 2015
According to a press release on August 24, owners of United Suppliers, Inc. and members of Land O’Lakes, Inc. “have Read More
West Central Cooperative, Jefferson, IA
CropLife 100Iowa Cooperatives To Explore Unification
August 19, 2015
The boards of directors at two of Iowa’s leading farmer-owned cooperatives yesterday signed a letter of intent to study the Read More
CropLife 100Southern States Coop Hosting Drone Flight This Friday
August 3, 2015
Southern States Cooperative — No. 9 on the CropLife 100 — is hosting an FAA-approved drone demonstration at Grandview Farms Read More
CropLife 100Aligned Ag Distributors Adds Four New Owners
July 30, 2015
Aligned Ag Distributors LLC has announced the addition of four new customer/owners to Franklin Holding Co. LLC. They are: The Read More
Top 100 Articles
Crop InputsLand ‘O Lakes, United Suppliers Finalize Merger
August 24, 2015
According to a press release on August 24, owners of United Suppliers, Inc. and members of Land O’Lakes, Inc. “have Read More
West Central Cooperative, Jefferson, IA
CropLife 100Iowa Cooperatives To Explore Unification
August 19, 2015
The boards of directors at two of Iowa’s leading farmer-owned cooperatives yesterday signed a letter of intent to study the Read More
CropLife 100Southern States Coop Hosting Drone Flight This Friday
August 3, 2015
Southern States Cooperative — No. 9 on the CropLife 100 — is hosting an FAA-approved drone demonstration at Grandview Farms Read More
CropLife 100Aligned Ag Distributors Adds Four New Owners
July 30, 2015
Aligned Ag Distributors LLC has announced the addition of four new customer/owners to Franklin Holding Co. LLC. They are: The Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Purchases California-Based Specialty Crops Retailer
July 20, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings has successfully acquired California-based NH3 Service Co.  Operating as part of Pinnacle’s Performance Agriculture brand, the new locations Read More
Asmus Farm Supply liquid fertilizer facility features 20,000 square feet
CropLife 100Slideshow: Asmus Farm Supply Shows Off Its New Liquid Fertilizer Facility
July 15, 2015
Asmus Farm Supply, Rake, IA, recently added a new liquid fertilizer facility to its company operations. The new liquid fertilizer Read More
Latest News
StewardshipOgallala Aquifer At Risk
September 4, 2015
The Ogallala Aquifer, with total water storage capacity about equal to that of Lake Huron in the Midwest, is the Read More
Valley Irrigation variable rate irrigation
StewardshipNebraska Getting Water Conservation Right
September 4, 2015
A precipitation map of Nebraska looks startlingly like a rainbow, with each colored band marking a different level of rainfall. Read More
Crop InputsBayer CropScience: A Decade Of Innovation
September 3, 2015
BLAMS! It’s not a sound effect from the pages of a Superhero comic book. Instead this nifty acronym is used Read More
ManagementReviewing MAGIE 2015
September 2, 2015
CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj talks what he saw at the recent Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) show. Read More
Melissa Olds Dow AgroSciences
Crop InputsDow AgroSciences: Highlighting The Past, Present & …
September 2, 2015
In general, media events held by large agricultural suppliers tend to focus primarily on what plans the company has in Read More
Mobile tablet
OpinionTaking Data Head On
September 2, 2015
As you read this column, I’m hoping that if you picked up the phone and gave me a call, you’d Read More
Young soybean field
Industry NewsArysta LifeScience Announces New Business Unit Head For…
September 1, 2015
Arysta LifeScience North America announces the addition of Rico Christensen, Business Unit Head, North America. Christensen will have responsibility for Read More
Wilbur Ellis Pink Soybean Seed Treatment
Crop InputsWilbur-Ellis Goes Pink With Soybean Seed Treatments For…
September 1, 2015
This past year, proceeds of pink-dyed soybeans treated and sold to Wilbur-Ellis seed customers in Chester, SD, went to two Read More
SprayersNORAC Active Wing Roll Slated For More Sprayers
September 1, 2015
NORAC Systems, a member of the Topcon Positioning Group, announces the release of Active Wing Roll for RoGator, Apache, New Read More
Syngenta Sign
FungicidesSyngenta’s Newest Fungicide Receives EPA Approval
September 1, 2015
Syngenta announced today that its newest succinate dehydrogenase inhibitor (SDHI) fungicide – Solatenol – has received registration from EPA and Read More
Flooded corn in Indiana
Crop InputsDelaying The Fertilizer Decision
September 1, 2015
Comments gathered from several retailers recently evidenced a classic good-news-bad-news scenario. Good news is prices and supplies of nitrogen, phosphate, Read More
StewardshipBee Buffer Strip Initiative Seeks 100 Ohio Farmers
August 31, 2015
The U.S. Bee Buffer Project, an initiative of the Pollinator Partnership (P2), Burt’s Bees and The Burt’s Bees Greater Good Read More
2015 ShowStopper Award, MAGIE
EquipmentA ShowStopper From Case IH: The Patriot 2250
August 31, 2015
For nine years now, visitors to the yearly Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) show have been tasked with not only Read More
Crop InputsMonsanto, FMC Expand Roundup Ready PLUS Platform
August 31, 2015
FMC Corp. and Monsanto Co. announced today an expanded agreement to continue their participation in the Roundup Ready PLUS Crop Read More
Deere Nutrient Applicator
Eric SfiligojThe Good & Bad News From MAGIE
August 31, 2015
As I write this column, I’ve just returned from the annual Midwest AG Industries (MAGIE) trade show in Bloomington, IL. Read More
CPS Morenci receiving its 4R certification
StewardshipCPS Morenci Becomes First Michigan Facility Certified I…
August 31, 2015
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that Crop Production Services, Inc.’s facility located in Morenci, MI, has been Read More
EquipmentDeere Announces Soucy Track Distribution Alliance
August 28, 2015
John Deere announces an alliance with Soucy Track to sell and distribute products through the John Deere dealer channel. “This Read More
FertilizerFall-Applied Phosphorus: A Rooted Investment
August 28, 2015
As commodity prices decrease and input prices continue to rise, farmers are seeking more efficient strategies for meeting a high Read More