In the late 1920s, Illinois Farm Bureau members realized the need for reliable, affordable fuel for their new tractors. They joined together to form the first predecessor cooperatives of today’s GROWMARK system.
When it started out, GROWMARK had nine participating counties. The success of the cooperation led the original nine and the leaders of the Illinois Agricultural Association (now known as the Illinois Farm Bureau) to grow their vision, forming Illinois Farm Supply in 1927, intended for state-wide purchasing.
Today, GROWMARK is a regional cooperative providing agriculture-related products, services and grain marketing in 31 states and Ontario, Canada. The ever-familiar FS trademark is owned by GROWMARK and is used by affiliate member cooperatives to serve 250,000 members in North America. It employs more than 7,000 people. As for membership, farmers join their local FS cooperative, which in turn, invests in GROWMARK.
From the operational side, GROWMARK offers a diverse portfolio: seed and agronomy products, fuels, lubricants, grain systems and financing. These are considered values to the farmer, helping each member manage risk, improve profitability, enhance competitiveness and simply make for easier farming.
“I believe that GROWMARK and other cooperatives are successful because of the people who work for and have ownership in them,” says Dan Kelley, GROWMARK Chairman of the Board and President. “Even though all business is built on relationships, cooperatives take those relationships to another level, combining resources to reach and exceed a common goal. Because each cooperative is owned and controlled locally, members have a voice in maintaining ethical business practices, sound operations and a strong commitment to their communities.”
GROWMARK has seen significant growth through the years, experiencing several mergers. In 1980, a long-held agreement between FS Services and Illinois Grain Corporation was formalized, creating GROWMARK, Inc. The name is a mission statement of sorts – intended to reflect the business’ role of helping farmers “grow” agricultural products and “mark”et the output.
The name and business model serve the company well, as growing needs for world food supply increase. The seven billionth person was born in 2011 and we could increase to nine billion by 2050. While it’s a challenge, GROWMARK is poised to take those numbers on as an opportunity. A 1961 statement of beliefs and principles, is still held in high regard by GROWMARK. It reads:
“The growing size and increasing specialization of Illinois farms is well-documented. Changes in service requirements of these farms are coming at an accelerating pace. If cooperatives are to continue to be effective off-farm tools, they must adapt rapidly to the changing times. In most cases, this
will require that cooperatives become larger, financially stronger and more efficiently operated.”
In celebrating the International Year of the Cooperative, we want to show our support for the cooperative model. Please join us each month as we continue to feature a different cooperative that you may recognize or might also be a member.