The words urban renewal and retail crop protection service are seldom spoken in the same breath, but for the 2007 Mid South Regional Environmental Respect Award-winning business, the two are synonymous. Ritter Crop Services is a large part of the business and visual scene of downtown Marked Tree, AR, a Mississippi River Delta community of 2,800. Once the site of an abandoned, bankrupt local cooperative, the property was acquired in 2004 by E. Ritter and Co., the parent company of Ritter Crop Services.
“We saw a chance to turn this lemon into lemonade,” explains Ritter Arnold, president of Ritter Agribusiness. This “lemon,” according to Arnold, had several environmental issues including fertilizer, herbicide, and petroleum contamination. In 2001, Ritter Agribusiness negotiated both evaluation and cleanup of the contaminated land prior to purchase and construction of the new business location.
Construction of the new facility located adjacent to downtown Marked Tree signaled the start of a nearly meteoric rise in market penetration as Ritter Crop Services grew from one to four to 11 retail locations in just four years.
Growing Up On Agriculture
Josh Gallion, location manager, literally grew up with the business while officially signing on as a crop consultant after college in 1998. “My father hauls fertilizer for Ritter,” explains Gallion. “One day I was riding in the truck with my dad and thought, ‘agriculture is always going to be here.’ I graduated and I’ve been here ever since.”
The 31-year-old location manager remembers when fertilizer, crop protection, and grain storage were all located in the same facility. According to Gallion, new construction includes environmental designs and best management practices that far exceed current state regulations.
“In 2004 we built a new dry fertilizer building that keeps storage and blending under roof,” explains Gallion. “This new operation serves all of our retail sites and has improved both environmental safety and efficiency,” he says. “In our old facility we had two blenders and each load was created ‘by hand’ from a blend sheet. Now we keep the blender loaded and everything is done electronically.”
There are also two new areas to handle crop protection products. All of the non-bulk products are stored within a concrete containment system treated with a sealant to prevent chemicals from infiltrating the concrete. The bulk products are dispensed from an area within an additional containment system. The recent addition of a new seed treating area rounds out the major site construction.
“Thanks to the civic pride of E. Ritter and Co.,” writes Sozzi Wight Williams, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, “our community has a charm most small Delta towns no longer have.” This is a fitting tribute to the 2007 Regional DuPont Environmental Respect Award winner.