Raising The Bar

When you get really familiar with something, you begin to take it for granted. It’s human nature — everyone is so busy, and our senses are so regularly bombarded with e-mails and crises and challenges from every front, it takes something significant to get us to sit up and take notice.

We’re no exception around here … when we’re in the groove cranking out copy, or sending out e-mails, or talking to you on the phone, it takes something big to shake us out of the zone. But when the Environmental Respect Awards program comes around and it’s your time to take a full day out of the schedule to review entries and help with the judging process, that’s a big thing. 

I never tire of being involved in the program, and I particularly appreciate the opportunity to dissect and consider nearly every entry submitted from across the country. This year, I sat across the table from CropLife America’s Allan Noe and shared the judge’s room with Jack Eberspacher of the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA), Ford West of The Fertilizer In­stitute, Dan Kennedy of Ritter Crop Services, Scott Firlus of Wisconsin River Agrono­my, and Roger Rorhbough from sponsor DuPont Crop Protection.

We had 49 self-audit packages to review this year, and enthusiasm was high. With the marked improvement in the general ag economy, it is clear that retailers are in the mood to celebrate their achievements. In total, 20 retail outlets received state Environmental Respect Awards, and from these 20, five regional winners were selected to represent retail excellence in Washington, DC, and honor a National winner.

I’ve observed in recent years of judging that getting to the regional level is less and less about having the facility in order and up to spec. In general, state and governmental regulations  have set a bar high enough that in order to stay in business and compliant, “excellence” has become the minimum standard. (I should also give a nod to industry consolidation, which has pushed out facilities not up to snuff.) There’s still a continuum of achievement, but it’s a lot shorter these days.

Where I see a measurable difference with regional finishers is the intangibles, or what we like to define as “spirit.”  Top finishers have always had some level of involvement in the communities in which they do business, but the level of commitment continues to rise among regional winners. The regional winner I visited, Posey County Co-op, sits in the southwest corner of Indiana near the Illinois border. It is involved in both state associations, as well as ARA and a number of county-based foundations and groups. It also has two Certified Crop Advisers (CCAs) on staff who have won state-level CCA of the Year honors. The organization has also reached out to children to help enhance the image and accessibility of ag to young people.

General Manager Jim Swinney put it this way: “Our company benefits greatly from the communities of which we are a part. We have an obligation to these communities to contribute to the aesthetics and quality of life, be it in the form of good facilities, good equipment, safe and courteous personnel, or the donations of time and funds.”

This is the kind of commitment that not only wins awards, but the trust of the community as well. Congratulations to all of you!

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