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
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 100Pinnacle Agriculture Acquires Minnesota Retailer
April 14, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings, LLC, ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100,  has successfully acquired Liebl Ag, LLC in Ada, MN.  Read More
CropLife 100CHS, Aurora Cooperative Complete Fertilizer Storage, Grain Shuttle Loading Facility
April 13, 2015
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading cooperative and ranked No. 5 on the CropLife 100, and Aurora Cooperative (ranked No. 21) Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK Acquires Missouri Refined Fuels Terminal
April 2, 2015
Bloomington, IL-based GROWMARK and Magellan Pipeline Co. have entered into an agreement in which GROWMARK will acquire the refined fuels Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Acquires South Dakota Retailer
April 2, 2015
Wilbur-Ellis Co.’s Agribusiness Division, a recognized leader in precision agriculture technology and the distribution and marketing of plant protection, seed Read More
CropLife 100The McGregor Co. Closes Smith-Kem Acquisition
April 2, 2015
The McGregor Co. — ranked No. 16 on the CropLife 100 list of largest U.S. ag retailers — has completed Read More
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
Latest News
StewardshipTFI Announces Renewed Financial Commitment To Fertilize…
April 24, 2015
Today, The Fertilizer Institute’s (TFI) President Chris Jahn announced that TFI and over 100 partners will more than double existing Read More
Industry NewsMACA Names New Ambassador Coordinator
April 23, 2015
The Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) has named Michelle Kilper as its new Ambassador Coordinator. Michelle is a graduate of Read More
ManagementAg Retailer’s Role In Local Policy Making; Raising The …
April 23, 2015
CropLife’s Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj review their recent travels, precision ag efforts in Washington, DC, and the role of Read More
TMX-2050 In-Cab Display Launch Run Screen
Precision AgIn-Cab Computing 2015: Connectivity, Compatibility Take…
April 23, 2015
In terms of in-cab computing solutions for the agriculture market, companies like Case IH, Topcon, Trimble, John Deere and Raven Read More
USDA
StewardshipUSDA Outlines Building Blocks For Climate Smart Agricul…
April 23, 2015
Today, the USDA has announced a comprehensive and detailed approach to support farmers, ranchers, and forest land owners in their Read More
Industry NewsArysta LifeScience Welcomes New Territory Sales Manager
April 23, 2015
Arysta LifeScience North America recently announced the addition of Kaitlyn Acaster to the Canadian sales team. Acaster will fill the Read More
Crop InputsMarrone Bio Innovations Opens New Research Greenhouse
April 23, 2015
Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. (MBI), a leading provider of bio-based pest management and plant health products for the agriculture, turf Read More
Crop InputsDuPont Acquires Taxon Biosciences
April 23, 2015
DuPont has agreed to acquire Taxon Biosciences, Inc., a leading microbiome discovery company. This acquisition will build on DuPont’s in-house capabilities Read More
Farmer on tablet
ManagementStudy: Consumers Don’t Care If U.S. Farmers Feed …
April 23, 2015
“We’re feeding the world” is a mantra often used by those involved in farming and food to build support for Read More
Industry NewsCorporate Responsibility Magazine Names Monsanto One Of…
April 22, 2015
Corporate Responsibility Magazine (CR Magazine) named Monsanto Co. to its 100 Best Corporate Citizens List for 2015. This is the Read More
FertilizerSpring Nitrogen Management: Form And Timing
April 22, 2015
Most corn producers have planned their spring nitrogen program for 2015, and many have already started to implement their program. Read More
FMC 3Rive 3D
Industry NewsFMC Corp. Completes Acquisition Of Cheminova
April 22, 2015
FMC Corp. has completed the closing of its acquisition of Cheminova A/S, a multinational crop protection company based in Denmark Read More
SoftwareSyngenta Expands AgriEdge Excelsior Nationwide For 2015
April 22, 2015
Growers across the country can now take the guesswork out of improving their farm’s production, land value, farm stewardship and Read More
Cornfield near Sioux City Iowa
HerbicidesU.S. Regulators May Start Testing Food For Glyphosate R…
April 21, 2015
U.S. regulators may start testing food products for residues of the world’s most widely used herbicide, EPA told Reuters’ Carey Read More
FungicidesBRANDT Adds Zonix Biofungicide To Portfolio
April 21, 2015
BRANDT has added Zonix biofungicide to its rapidly expanding line of organic and sustainable products. Zonix is a contact fungicide that Read More
ManagementMissouri Experts: Spring Planting Slow Start Won’…
April 20, 2015
In the first of the agronomy teleconferences with Extension specialists, University of Missouri Extension climatologist Pat Guinan said the slow Read More
Carl Casale of CHS
Industry NewsCooperative CHS Reports Net Income Of $471.5 Million Fo…
April 20, 2015
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, has announced company net income Read More
Industry NewsCHS Insurance Names New Director Of Sales
April 17, 2015
Bryan Lewis has been named director of sales for CHS Insurance, the nation’s largest agribusiness insurance broker and full-service insurance Read More