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

Greg Musson, Gar Tootelian
ManagementOpinion: Shaking Your Perspective in Ag Retail
May 12, 2017
Some of you I’m sure have encountered our recently retired salesman extraordinaire, Dan Bellanger. He worked in the industry for Read More
Stewardship video screenshot
ManagementNew Video Raises Awareness of 2,4-D Stewardship
April 24, 2017
A new public service video developed and produced by the 2,4-D Research Task Force, in conjunction with the American Soybean Read More
ManagementThink You Know Water? Take WinField United’s ‘Unchartered Waters’ Quiz Via NatGeo
March 22, 2017
Water is among our most precious resources, and arguably the hardest working, with just one percent available for human use, Read More
Nebraska landscape Photo courtesy of Richard Hurd
ManagementNebraska Water: Another Opportunity To Sell Value
March 8, 2017
Keith Byerly has been an Advanced Cropping Systems (ACS) Manager with York, NE-headquartered, No. 13-ranked CropLife 100 retailer Central Valley Read More
Trending Articles
Migrant farm workers
LegislationTrump: Immigration Crackdown Won’t Impact U.S. Agriculture
May 16, 2017
President Donald Trump said he would seek to keep his tough immigration enforcement policies from harming the U.S. farm industry Read More
AGCO Ratliff featured
Eric SfiligojRemembering Robert Ratliff
May 15, 2017
With all the fast-paced happenings in agriculture this spring, with multiple mergers in the works and planting season in full Read More
Case sprayer nozzle closeup
EquipmentSpray Application: A Nozzle Renaissance
May 2, 2017
If you had asked four-decade ag veteran Mark Bartel, President of Wilger Inc., just a few years ago what lay Read More
ManagementWashington Update, Dow-DuPont Earnings, and the Passing of an AGCO Legend
April 27, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about the latest Beltway news, crop protection company 1st quarter numbers, and the Read More
Crop InputsFlying Under the Radar No More, FMC Goes Big
April 13, 2017
Describing FMC as “under the radar,” admittedly, is probably a stretch. But in a snap of the fingers, FMC upped Read More
Young Corn Plants
Crop NutritionStill Hunting Yields
April 1, 2017
There’s no denying it — the agricultural marketplace today is undergoing a fundamental shift in fortunes. Not too many years Read More
Latest News
ManagementTrip Report, PSM R.I.P, and Ag’s Reaction to Federal Bu…
May 25, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about their recent travels, the end for Process Safety Management (PSM), and how Read More
Corn soil
LegislationARA Member Testifies Before Senate Ag Committee
May 25, 2017
Agricultural retailers stand on the front-lines of the American economy. As trusted advisors to America’s farmers, ag retailers are uniquely Read More
Young corn plants in soil
Crop InputsFortenza Insecticide Seed Treatment Receives EPA Regist…
May 25, 2017
Fortenza seed treatment insecticide from Syngenta has received registration approval from the U.S. EPA for use on corn and cotton Read More
ManagementFarm Market iD’s Agriculture Database Now Covers More T…
May 25, 2017
Farm Market iD, farmmarketid.com, has announced the release of its 2017 Annual Update of its farm and land database. The Read More
Food IT Fork-to-Farm
Precision AgThe Mixing Bowl Event Connects Technology, Food, and Ag…
May 24, 2017
For the fourth consecutive year, The Mixing Bowl presents FOOD IT, under the theme “Fork to Farm.” Action-oriented entrepreneurs, industry Read More
Photo credit: The United Soybean Board/The Soybean Checkoff.
Seed/BiotechKansas State University Researchers Find New Pathogens …
May 24, 2017
A single seed seems so simple. Put it in the ground, give it some care, and you’ve soon grown food. Read More
Soybean Field
HerbicidesNew Dicamba Herbicide Premix Coming Soon from Syngenta
May 24, 2017
Syngenta has announced the name of its new herbicide featuring the active ingredients of S-metolachlor and dicamba. Upon registration by Read More
Eric SfiligojMonsanto ‘Picks Its Battles’ by Nixing Deere Deal
May 23, 2017
Having been in the trade journalism game since the mid-1980s, I remember several watershed moments during my career. One of Read More
FungicidesSyngenta Launches New Seed Treatment Fungicide
May 22, 2017
Syngenta has announced the launch of PLENARIS seed treatment fungicide for the control of downy mildew in sunflower. PLENARIS contains Read More
Corn close up
Crop InputsMonsanto’s First HPPD Herbicide Garners EPA Appro…
May 19, 2017
Monsanto announced today that EPA has federally approved Harness MAX Herbicide, the first herbicide in the Monsanto portfolio to provide Read More
ManagementPrecision Planting Deal, China Developments, and Enviro…
May 18, 2017
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Dan Jacobs discuss the latest news on John Deere’s now dead deal for Precision Planting, China’s Read More
Soybean aphid leaf
InsecticidesMulti-state Research Reveals IPM Best Option for Treatm…
May 17, 2017
About 89.5 million acres of soybeans will be planted across the U.S. in 2017 — a record high, according to Read More
GROWMARK-2017-Interns
CropLife 100GROWMARK Names 2017 Summer Interns
May 16, 2017
Forty-two college students are exploring agricultural career opportunities this summer as GROWMARK interns. They are working at FS member cooperatives Read More
Migrant farm workers
LegislationTrump: Immigration Crackdown Won’t Impact U.S. Ag…
May 16, 2017
President Donald Trump said he would seek to keep his tough immigration enforcement policies from harming the U.S. farm industry Read More
Flooded corn in Indiana
FertilizerBoth Wet and Dry Conditions Threaten Nitrogen Loss
May 15, 2017
The weather is notoriously unpredictable, leading to challenges for planting, harvesting and applying the nitrogen (N) your corn crop needs. Read More
farmer Kip Tom
Precision AgAg Tech: On the Cusp of Something Big?
May 15, 2017
The investment and ag-tech sectors’ continuing courtship of agriculture, smoldering for three or four years now, was well in evidence at Read More
AGCO Ratliff featured
Eric SfiligojRemembering Robert Ratliff
May 15, 2017
With all the fast-paced happenings in agriculture this spring, with multiple mergers in the works and planting season in full Read More
Greg Musson, Gar Tootelian
ManagementOpinion: Shaking Your Perspective in Ag Retail
May 12, 2017
Some of you I’m sure have encountered our recently retired salesman extraordinaire, Dan Bellanger. He worked in the industry for Read More