Cooperatives: A constant in a changing industry

Old-photo-Noland-Farms020Outside the Illinois Agriculture Association (IAA) building in Bloomington is a bronze statue of a man pushing a plow. Inscribed on a tablet nearby is the quote: “to plow a furrow, you must look ahead.” I’ve always liked that statue, and think often of the meaning behind that statement. If we as a cooperative, as an organization, or as an industry are to accomplish anything, we must continue to move forward, to look to what’s next and adapt to ever-changing conditions.

An advertisement from the 1980s stated, “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile,” implying something new, different and cutting edge. As for today, I’d change that statement to, “It’s not your father’s agriculture.”

Our industry is changing at the speed of satellites, seed traits and social media. Agriculturists of today are using techniques and technology not even imagined when their fathers were young – and their children may very well find their niche using skills and equipment not invented today.

But something that hasn’t changed is the need for farmers to have trusted advisors, reliable service and top-quality products – and that is where cooperatives like GROWMARK and the FS member companies shine.

From our beginnings in the late 1920s, when Illinois Farm Bureau members organized to form local cooperatives to purchase fuel for the technology of the day – the tractor – to the GROWMARK System today, which does business in more than 40 states and is consistently ranked as one of the top five cooperatives in the United States by the National Cooperative Bank, we’ve certainly grown and adapted to the times. But we remain, always committed to the cooperative way of doing business and responding to the needs of our member-owners to help you be more efficient and profitable.

Agriculture is entering an environment with more risk and more volatility than we have seen in a while. Commodity prices are lower, the stakes of decision making are higher, and regulations seem more threatening every day. We support stewardship and sustainability efforts throughout our territory, especially here in Illinois where we’ve been instrumental in drafting the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy.

We’re also committed to the future. We understand the importance of teaching young farmers about the value of doing business with their local cooperative, and will continue to work closely with Farm Bureau and other organizations to identify and develop the agricultural leaders of tomorrow.

John Reifsteck farms in Champaign County and serves as GROWMARK Chairman of the Board and President.

The Farm Bureau has a long history of cooperation with electric cooperatives. Many electric cooperatives were established more than 75 years ago with the help of local, state and national leadership and support from Farm Bureau members. All the changes impacting agriculture — technology, regulation, volatility — are also shaking up the electric utility industry. Yes, electric cooperatives are also in a constant sea of change.

Despite the new challenges, as cooperatives “Our furrow is deep and straight, and the future looks bright ahead.”