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.


Leave a Reply

Stewardship Stories

Greg Musson, Gar Tootelian
StewardshipGar Tootelian, Inc.: Making A Difference In ‘The Valley’ And Beyond
October 5, 2015
For the Environmental Respect Awards program, sponsored by DuPont Crop Protection with assistance from CropLife® and FCI magazines, the Ambassador Read More
Dan Schaefer and Jason Solberg IFCA
StewardshipIllinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association: Tackling Water Quality Issues Through Partnerships
October 2, 2015
You’ve got to be doing something right if lots of people keep coming to you for advice. That’s what’s happening Read More
Crop InputsU.S. Court Finds EPA Erred In Approving Dow Insecticide
September 11, 2015
Yahoo News and Reuters are reporting that a U.S. appeals court ruled on Thursday that federal EPA regulators erred in Read More
StewardshipMaking A Difference In Ag Retail: 10 ‘Big Picture’ Things To Do In Less Than 15 Minutes
September 10, 2015
The summer of 2015 is in the books and kids are back in the classroom hitting the books. Summer flew Read More
Top 100 Articles
Southern States Co-op Storefront
CropLife 100Southern States: Always Ag Authentic
October 1, 2015
If people were to judge a book by its cover when visiting Southern States Cooperative’s (SSC) Richmond, VA, corporate headquarters, Read More
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
Latest News
DTS10 Sprayer Hagie
SprayersHagie Introduces 2016 DTS10 Self-Propelled Sprayer
October 6, 2015
Hagie Mfg. has introduced to the market the newest and most innovative member of its product family, the 2016 DTS10. Read More
Industry NewsSimplot, Agrium Execs Added To TFI Board
October 6, 2015
The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) announced the election of Garrett Lofto, president of the agribusiness group at J.R. Simplot Co., to Read More
Corn Field
Management‘Land Grabbing’ Grows As Agricultural Resou…
October 6, 2015
Since 2000, more than 36 million hectares — an area about the size of Japan — has been purchased or Read More
Mahindra Implement
Industry NewsMahindra USA Expands West Coast Presence
October 6, 2015
To meet the growing demand for Mahindra products,  Mahindra USA is expanding its West Coast facility with the opening of Read More
Corn Stover Stubble
Crop InputsNew Microbial Product Unlocks Nutrients, Reduces Costly…
October 6, 2015
Trash, stover, residue — regardless of the term, postharvest debris is increasing and causing more frustration and detriment to overall soil Read More
Precision AgPurdue Releases 2015 Precision Ag Services Dealership S…
October 5, 2015
In the spring of 2015, CropLife magazine and the Departments of Agricultural Economics and Agronomy at Purdue University conducted the Read More
Monsanto Sign
Eric SfiligojMonsanto And Syngenta: Stonewall Street
October 5, 2015
Recently, I was taking part in an industry-related golf tournament and happened to find a lost golf ball sporting a Read More
Greg Musson, Gar Tootelian
StewardshipGar Tootelian, Inc.: Making A Difference In ‘The Valle…
October 5, 2015
For the Environmental Respect Awards program, sponsored by DuPont Crop Protection with assistance from CropLife® and FCI magazines, the Ambassador Read More
Fiberglass Tank Workers at Precision Tank & Equipment
EquipmentPrecision Tank & Equipment: 50 Years Of Growing
October 4, 2015
Looking out onto the production floor of the fiberglass/stainless steel tank manufacturing facility in Ligonier, IN, David Hemming, president/CEO for Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsScience & Strategy Spur Syngenta’s Crop Protection …
October 3, 2015
Developing a crop protection portfolio is a lot of science and a little serendipity. “There are a number of things Read More
Dan Schaefer and Jason Solberg IFCA
StewardshipIllinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association: Tacklin…
October 2, 2015
You’ve got to be doing something right if lots of people keep coming to you for advice. That’s what’s happening Read More
LegislationFall Fertilizer Transportation Could Be At Risk With Po…
October 1, 2015
Failure by Congress to extend the deadline for the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) on the railroads could gridlock Read More
Weed ResistancePPO Resistant Pigweed Hits The Mid-South
October 1, 2015
If you’re a soybean grower already entangled in troublesome weed resistance in the state of Arkansas, Mississippi or Tennessee, you Read More
Weed ResistanceManagement Strategies That Worked In 2015
October 1, 2015
For better or worse, throughout many regions of the country 2015 provided the optimal growing season conditions for both crops, Read More
ManagementAn Update On CropLife America’s Meeting & The Outlo…
October 1, 2015
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj review last week’s CropLife America Annual Meeting and how crop protection companies believe next Read More
Patriot 4440 Sprayer close up
Weed ResistanceManaging Herbicide-Resistant Weeds: The Importance Of ‘…
October 1, 2015
As the problem of herbicide-resistant weeds has spread, crop protection product suppliers have charged their top researchers with coming up Read More
Adjuvants loading
Weed ResistanceAdjuvants Trending Up For Fighting Weed Resistance
October 1, 2015
Gone with the wind are the days when adding an adjuvant to the spray tank was looked at with major Read More
Case sprayer nozzle closeup
Weed Resistance8 Best Management Practices For Spray Drift Control
October 1, 2015
Dr. Robert Wolf, Wolf Consulting & Research, LLC, Mahomet, IL, is one of the leading experts in drift management strategies. Read More