St. Clair Service Co.: Serving With Spirit

St. Clair Service Otten

It was built in 1931 to serve the growers of St. Clair County by ensuring a safe environment, governmental compliance and agricultural education for youth. In 1981, St. Clair Service Co. was relocated to a new site, three miles outside of the Belleville, IL-city limits, and just 19 miles from St. Louis and North America’s largest river system.

But the everyday challenges that came with proximity to a big city and a highly regulated watershed only served to deepen its commitment. In 1998, Location Manager Francis Vahlkamp accepted the National Environmental Respect Award for his company’s outstanding environmental initiatives.

Fourteen years later, the next generation continues to carry out the cooperative’s now 81-year mission. Service to agriculture that has brought this retailer the 2012 Spirit of Respect Award.

Changing With The Times

“In the past 15 years,” says Christopher Otten, location manager and safety coordinator at St. Clair, “there have been 7,000 new homes constructed in a radius of 25-30 miles around us. We are in constant vigilance of maintaining our site with the utmost concern of safety for the environment and respect for our surrounding neighbors.”

One of the biggest changes the facility has seen since its win in 1998 is the use of technology.

“Agriculture today is a business and a lot of it is about technology,” says Vahlkamp.

According to Otten, to keep up with the pace, St. Clair now has computers in all their cabs, and offers variable-rate technology to their customers. A second anhydrous ammonia tank, new containment dikes, a 30-thousand gallon water tank in the fertilizer shed, a HAZMAT Unit on site and four additional sprayers round out the most recent improvements.

But while physical plant upgrades are necessary to maintain safe and effective operations, the skill with which these tools are used is more important to Otten.

“Safety training is an absolute ongoing thing you have to do,” says Otten. “If I get hurt or sick from breathing in this or that, what did it cost me? A lot.”

Training at St. Clair Service is intense, beginning in January and extending throughout the year. It is conducted by job description providing each employee with specific skills that allow them to become experts in their area.

Otten explains that the company’s record of more than 500 days without incident can only happen when employees are paying attention to the details.

“They’re taking the extra 30 seconds before they do something to say ‘is that right or wrong?’ If you take the time to do that, you’ll know if something doesn’t look right.”

“A” Is For Agriculture

“Do you know what color of milk comes from a brown cow?” asks Vahlkamp, speaking to a room full of first graders. Hands fly in the air. “Chocolate!” one student answered. A chuckle for some, but a representation of the disconnect between the next generation and the food that keeps them alive.

“It’s about agriculture,” Vahlkamp explained. “Young kids do not understand where the food comes from. They don’t understand how the farmer is making things better for them.”

Sharing the ABC’s of ag has been a mission since the company’s inception. After Vahlkamp retired from managing St. Clair in 2005, he remained actively involved in Ag in the Classroom, a program run by the Illinois Farm Bureau. This year, according to Vahlkamp, they will reach approximately 7,000 children.

In addition to 30 years of Ag in the Classroom, St. Clair, with Vahlkamp’s help, conducts field and facility tours and works with local high schools to share agriculture’s message of safety.

“Agricultural spirit is involved in knowing, understanding and getting with all the people to let them know that we’re doing the very best we can,” says Vahlkamp.

Vahlkamp, Otten and the first graders. Three generations with different ideas and knowledge about crop production. What’s important, Otten says, is to keep the message out there.

“What are we trying to do?” says Otten. “It’s not all about making money. You have to look at the grassroots. Why do I grow crops? It’s to help feed the world. If you can take somebody out of a big city who hasn’t seen anything but concrete their whole lives, and you bring them out to the farm and see that glow, it’s an amazing feeling I can’t even explain. They realize that ‘hey, agriculture is what takes care of this.”

Dedication and commitment at this level is not easy.

“You may not feel like you’re making a difference but if you get one person to get that light bulb go off in their head you’ve made the biggest difference you can ever make.”

Now that’s the spirit.

Note: For more information on the Environmental Respect Award program, which is sponsored by DuPont, click here.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Stewardship Stories

StewardshipMichigan Agriculture Leaders On Toledo Water Ban: We Want To Be Part Of The Conversation
August 8, 2014
Leaders of Michigan agricultural organizations said Thursday that the government should not have a “knee-jerk reaction” based on last weekend’s water ban in Toledo due to fertilizer run-off in Lake Erie. Read More
StewardshipBayer Lands Honor For Bee Care Center, Other Initiatives
June 3, 2014
Bayer Corp. has been named a 2014 Responsible Care Company of the Year by the American Chemistry Council, thanks in large part to its Drive Toward Zero initiative and North American Bayer Bee Care Center. Read More
StewardshipStrip-Tillage: A Sustainable Effort
March 3, 2014
As sustainable agriculture grows in popularity, interest in custom strip-tillage is growing. Read More
StewardshipCTIC Granted Nearly $500,000 To Examine Benefits Of Cover Crops
October 17, 2013
The Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) has received a $482,000 Conservation Innovation Grant to study the benefits of cover crops. Read More

Trending Articles

EquipmentAdvance Your Technology IQ At MAGIE
August 13, 2014
The Midwest AG Industries Exposition (August 20-21) is the place you need to be to see, study and evaluate how new advances in the equipment, operations, crop protection and fertility sectors can help your business prosper. Read More
HerbicidesScouting Key To Next Season’s Soybean Herbicide Program
August 12, 2014
When growing soybeans, growers need to think ahead to stay one step ahead of weeds. That means examining weed threats and evaluating which herbicides work best. Read More
StewardshipMichigan Agriculture Leaders On Toledo Water Ban: We Want To Be Part Of The Conversation
August 8, 2014
Leaders of Michigan agricultural organizations said Thursday that the government should not have a “knee-jerk reaction” based on last weekend’s water ban in Toledo due to fertilizer run-off in Lake Erie. 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
Eric SfiligojThe Resurgence Of Crop Protection
August 4, 2014
Plenty of new offerings over the next few years should see a rebirth for the crop protection products category in terms of market share. Read More
LegislationUSDA Implements Key Farm Bill Crop Insurance Provision
July 30, 2014
The new Supplemental Coverage Option, available through the federal crop insurance program and set to begin with the 2015 crop year, is designed to help protect producers from yield and market volatility. Read More

Latest News

CropLife 100GROWMARK CEO To Retire
August 22, 2014
GROWMARK chief executive officer Jeff Solberg has announced his retirement effective September 15, 2014. Read More
InsecticidesDuPont’s Prevathon Approved For Dry Beans
August 22, 2014
DuPont Prevathon insect control powered by Rynaxypyr has received EPA registration for foliar use on dry bean crops, including dried shelled peas and beans. Read More
ManagementNCGA DuPont New Leaders Program Enters Sophmore Season
August 20, 2014
The National Corn Growers Association and DuPont are pleased to announce the second year of the NCGA DuPont New Leaders Program. Read More
FungicidesVerdesian Links Up With Mitsui, Hokusan
August 20, 2014
Mitsui Chemicals Agro, Inc., and Hokusan Co., announced the signing of an exclusive licensing agreement allowing Verdesian Life Sciences global access to its patented technology for suppressing mycotoxin contamination in wheat and barley. Read More
SprayersUniversity Of Illinois Introduces New Spray App
August 18, 2014
University of Illinois Extension has released a new smartphone app for making sprayer-related calculations. Pesticide Spray Calculator, or Spray Calc, Read More
Crop InputsSyngenta Names New Manager Of Federal Government Relati…
August 18, 2014
Laura Wood Peterson has joined Syngenta as manager of federal government relations, based in Washington, DC. Read More
ManagementExpert To Discuss Farmland Value, Rent At Farm Science …
August 18, 2014
While cropland values in Ohio increased in the past two years, they have remained flat in 2014, declining in some cases, according to an Ohio State University agricultural economist. Read More
EquipmentDeere Announces Factory Layoffs
August 18, 2014
Deere & Co. has announced it will reduce the size of its manufacturing workforce at some agricultural equipment factories in response to current market demand for its products. Read More
HerbicidesNew DuPont Afforia Herbicide Gives Crops A Clean Start
August 18, 2014
DuPont Afforia is a preplant herbicide for soybeans and other field crops that provides excellent burndown and residual control of many challenging weeds, such as marestail and waterhemp. Read More
Equipment21 Products Showcased At MAGIE 2014
August 18, 2014
The annual Midwest AG Industries Exposition is upon us. Here is CropLife IRON's look at some of the products visitors can expect to see at this week's event. Read More
EquipmentAGCO Seeks Nominations For 2014 Operator Of The Year
August 15, 2014
Ag retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada are encouraged to nominate their best applicators. Read More
EquipmentAdvance Your Technology IQ At MAGIE
August 13, 2014
The Midwest AG Industries Exposition (August 20-21) is the place you need to be to see, study and evaluate how new advances in the equipment, operations, crop protection and fertility sectors can help your business prosper. Read More
ManagementCropLife’s Buyers’ Guide Issue Now Availabl…
August 13, 2014
One of our most read issues of the year — the August Buyers' Guide — is ready to download on the iPad. This popular issue features equipment for "In The Field," "At The Plant" and "In The Office." Read More
WebinarsWebinars On Demand
August 13, 2014
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
HerbicidesBASF: Fall Burndown Benefits Go Beyond Weed Control
August 12, 2014
While unpredictable weather may delay application timing of spring herbicides, more growers are adding a burndown application in the fall Read More
HerbicidesScouting Key To Next Season’s Soybean Herbicide P…
August 12, 2014
When growing soybeans, growers need to think ahead to stay one step ahead of weeds. That means examining weed threats and evaluating which herbicides work best. Read More
StewardshipNitrogen Efficiency Supports Environmental Stewardship
August 12, 2014
As growers prepare for another harvest, it’s important to consider how nitrogen stabilization not only supports healthy plant growth but also fosters environmental stewardship. Read More
Seed/BiotechMycogen Seeds Introduces 19 New Corn Hybrids For 2015
August 12, 2014
Many of the new hybrids feature Mycogen's SmartStax Refuge Advanced technology for maximum protection of the genetic potential and planting convenience. Read More