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

NutriSphere-N Application
Crop InputsVerdesian: NutriSphere-N Making A Water Quality Difference In Midwest
November 18, 2016
Farmers sitting on the largest aquifer in the United States have learned a thing or two about managing nitrogen (N) Read More
Crop InputsOhio State Researchers Announce Progress on ‘Phosphorus Signature’ Monitoring
October 27, 2016
Researchers at The Ohio State University are investigating new techniques to detect organic phosphorus compounds in water samples from the Read More
Stewardship4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program To Launch Across Ohio
October 26, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program will expand the voluntary retailer program to the full state of Ohio, allowing nutrient Read More
4r Nutrient stewardship
StewardshipNominations For The 4R Advocate Program Due October 31
October 24, 2016
Nominations for the 4R Advocate program are due to The Fertilizer Institute by October 31, 2016. The program recognizes agricultural Read More
Trending Articles
Mike Stern
Precision AgClimate Corp. CEO Talks Retailer Support For Digital Ag
December 1, 2016
CropLife Magazine’s sister publication, AgriBusiness Global, recently sat down with Mike Stern, CEO of The Climate Corp., following the Monsanto subsidiary’s Read More
Precision AgTrimble Debuts End-to-End FMIS Platform
November 28, 2016
October’s inaugural PrecisionAg Vision Conference left this author with many thoughts and things to ponder in the coming months. Probably Read More
CHS Primeland
CropLife 100The 2016 CropLife 100 Report: Reviewing The Many Bulls And Bears Impacting This Year’s Marketplace
November 28, 2016
For virtually all of 2016, the nation was wholly focused on the big Presidential election. Some folks aligned themselves with Read More
Monsanto sign
Crop InputsMissouri Governor Meets With Bayer CEO To Discuss Monsanto Merger
November 21, 2016
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon visited Bayer AG global headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany, on November 18 to discuss the proposed Bayer-Monsanto Read More
STS16 2017
SprayersHagie Manufacturing Releases 2017 STS16 Sprayer To Market
November 16, 2016
Hagie Manufacturing LLC’s largest full season applicator is now available with enhancements for the 2017 model year. Hagie is officially Read More
Wilco
CropLife 100Valley Agronomics, Wilco-Winfield To Form New Agronomy Joint Venture
November 11, 2016
Valley Agronomics LLC, headquartered in Rupert, ID, is a joint venture between Valley Wide Cooperative and Winfield Solutions, LLC. Wilco-Winfield, Read More
Latest News
Crop InputsARA 2016: 5 Developments Worth Monitoring Into 2017
December 6, 2016
You can pretty much set your watch to it (do people even still wear watches? I know I do…but I’m Read More
Tim McCardle, ARA Chairman
CropLife 100BRANDT COO Named ARA Chairman
December 5, 2016
BRANDT EVP and Chief Operating Officer Tim McArdle has been named chairman of the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) during a Read More
Crop InputsWilbur-Ellis Receives ResponsibleAg Certification At Mo…
December 5, 2016
Wilbur-Ellis Co., a recognized leader in precision agriculture technology and the distribution of crop protection products, announces the ResponsibleAg certification Read More
Young Corn Closeup
Eric SfiligojThe Read On 2017 For Agricultural Fortunes Is Anybody’s…
December 5, 2016
As I (and others) have written in recent months, the nation has just experienced one of the most offbeat election Read More
Acceleron B-300 seed coating
Crop InputsThe BioAg Alliance Launches New Yield-Boosting Microbia…
December 5, 2016
As part of their commitment to develop and commercialize innovative microbial solutions for farmers through The BioAg Alliance, Monsanto Co. Read More
ManagementCorn and soy planting update; Takeaways from Climate Co…
December 2, 2016
AgriBusiness Global Editor Dave Frabotta Joins Paul Schrimpf for a discussion of global corn and soybean planting trends, and a Read More
Radish cover crop taproot
Crop InputsSoil Health Institute, Datu Research Receive Grant To E…
December 1, 2016
The Soil Health Institute (SHI) and Datu Research have announced a $626,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation to quantify the Read More
Mike Stern
Precision AgClimate Corp. CEO Talks Retailer Support For Digital Ag
December 1, 2016
CropLife Magazine’s sister publication, AgriBusiness Global, recently sat down with Mike Stern, CEO of The Climate Corp., following the Monsanto subsidiary’s Read More
ManagementAg Industry Comes Together To Address Climate Change
December 1, 2016
Addressing climate change — and more specifically, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture — can only be achieved through collective Read More
Young soybean field
HerbicidesLiquid Formulation Valor EZ Herbicide Available For 201…
December 1, 2016
Valent U.S.A. Corp. has released Valor EZ; a liquid formulation of the company’s leading herbicide, Valor. Named Valor EZ Herbicide Read More
Key Cooperative Marcus Construction Steel Building
ManagementThe Value Of Cooperatives In Modern Agriculture
December 1, 2016
Editor’s Note: Jaxon Mullinnix of  Lone Tree, IA, was recently named the Iowa state winner of the 2017 GROWMARK essay Read More
AGCO Operator of the Year Tony Kornder
SprayersAGCO Names Tony Kornder Operator Of The Year
December 1, 2016
AGCO Corp. names Tony Kornder with Genesis Growing Solutions in Le Sueur, MN, the 11th annual Operator of the Year. Read More
Chris Henney OABA
ManagementOABA Industry Conference To Provide Outlook For Future …
November 29, 2016
The upcoming Ohio AgriBusiness Association Industry Conference is packed with widely-respected speakers and industry professionals, sharing their expertise on a Read More
Corn
InsecticidesMajor Review Finds Neonic Poses Low Risk To Aquatic Inv…
November 28, 2016
A major new ecotoxicological review and risk assessment has been published in the peer-reviewed literature and concluded that registered crop Read More
EquipmentGSI Details New Grain Drying Efficiency System for Coop…
November 28, 2016
Grain elevators and ag co-ops are always looking for ways to increase their energy efficiency to help improve profitability. For Read More
Precision AgTrimble Debuts End-to-End FMIS Platform
November 28, 2016
October’s inaugural PrecisionAg Vision Conference left this author with many thoughts and things to ponder in the coming months. Probably Read More
AGCO AgControl system
Precision AgPrecision Ag Technology: Rate Control For The Times
November 28, 2016
It’s not surprising that the need for more economical, effective application is driving the demand for the latest rate controllers Read More
ARA
Eric SfiligojTaking The Industry’s Pulse At ARA
November 28, 2016
When most of you read this particular column, many of the industry’s key folks will probably be spending at least Read More