I am writing this column, knowing full well that the subject of the column will likely not enjoy it at all. Humility is a virtue that runs rampant in agriculture, so this is not unusual. But this is a story I am compelled to tell. Sorry in advance, Allen — I can’t let you retire too quietly.
I had about a half-dozen years in as an editor here at the magazine, which sounds like a lot until you consider that I was a largely clueless city kid with a lot to learn about a quirky industry. So when Allen Summers called our office in the mid-2000s, asking to share some news, I didn’t have a real appreciation for what he was about to do.
Allen, working closely with his wife, Susan, had spent a decade and a half building a business called Asmark, a provider of risk management services and products to the agricultural industry. Over that time, the company had built up a library of intellectual property: educational training materials, software programs and compliance assistance materials, services, and systems. All of it is designed for use by the ag retailer.
At that time we ourselves were looking at the possibility of engaging in dealer training programs through the CropLife® brand, so we were a little taken aback when Allen told us what he wanted to do: Form a nonprofit company out of all the Asmark assets and provide the organization’s myriad resources via an outfit called the Asmark Institute.
So, the question for me, the cynical reporter was, what’s in it for him? As it turned out, his intentions were every bit as genuine as they appeared. I don’t remember his exact words at the time, but it went something like this: “The industry has given me the opportunity to build a business, to provide a service, and create a livelihood for my family and my employees. Now, I want to give back.”
Since the founding of the Asmark Institute in 2005, we’ve had the privilege of working with Allen and his staff on a variety of projects over the years, and have helped to disseminate information and support educational efforts.
We witnessed and engaged in the buildout of the Training Center in Bloomington, IL, and participated more fully in the Safety School in August. CropLife magazine has also gotten to work with Asmark as it took over administration of the ResponsibleAg program.
We’ve also leaned on Allen and Asmark during some difficult times, including the aftermath of the West Fertilizer disaster in Texas, as we looked to provide guidance and information to the ag retail industry.
It’s a tremendous legacy that Allen Summers leaves behind. We’ve actually known of his plans for a few years, but he built in plenty of time to ease out of his leadership role, knowing that his institutional knowledge could not be imparted overnight.
We at CropLife want to thank Allen and Susan for their contributions to the ag retail industry, and for the passion they demonstrated in bringing clarity to complex but absolutely essential aspects of retail operations. Your work helped make everyone operate safer and more environmentally responsible.