Clifford Farmers’ Cooperative
The Clifford Farmers’ Cooperative (CFC) came together as many cooperatives have over the years. Back in the late 1800s, a group of local growers in eastern North Dakota came together to pool resources and work for better profits from the crops they had worked so hard to produce.
Today, the cooperative is still going strong; CFC continues to provide a strong line of products and services for grain farmers in the region. The farmer-owned organization stands apart from other cooperatives through lean operations and strong relationships within the commodities market.
Steve Baldock, the cooperative’s general manager, is proudly guiding CFC. In March 2015, Baldock will celebrate 40 years working at CFC. “I started working here in high school,” he explains. “I worked my way from the bottom up.”
Now he oversees a team of 16 people, managing commodity storage and marketing while building relationships with growers and buyers alike. Baldock takes great pride in these relationships, as well as his cooperative’s ability to provide better returns for members than any other organization in the region.
Standing apart from the competition
CFC runs lean and mean employing a small workforce all the time and consistently paying back big dividends to growers. “We write checks to farmers every year, totaling as much as $3.5 million,” Baldock explains. “On soybeans we are paying back $.40 per bushel, for fertilizer we pay back $60 to $70 per ton. All of the cooperatives around us do not come close to what we pay back in a year.”
The organization continues to grow on account of that payback. Baldock emphasizes that rewarding the people who have built the business is a priority. Where many similar companies spend large amounts of revenue on infrastructure, CFC takes care of the necessities and sends the rest into the pockets of members. While dividends are a major bonus for membership, members also benefit from a range of straightforward grain elevator services.
“We have grain elevators and dry fertilizer plants,” Baldock elaborates. “We also have ownership in a grain terminal loader in Alton, North Dakota. We buy all of the corn exclusively for an ethanol plant in Casselton, North Dakota, which gets to be 45 million to 50 million bushels every year. All of that goes through our little office. We are just a little elevator on the prairie doing exceptionally well.”
The business has a fleet of seven trucks that pick up product on some growers’ farms and transport materials out for market. Members can find bulk chemical and herbicides, such as dry fertilizer, liquid fertilizer and anhydrous.
“We do a little bit of everything, but everything we do is run as a pretty tight ship,” Baldock says. “We do not have any extra people standing around. Honestly sometimes we could use a few more if we had them, but we get by.”
Still growing, still giving back
Business has been consistent over the years. CFC sees steady growth, but Baldock does not estimate his team will see any major expansions in the near future. “We make updates here and there as we need them,” he explains. “We recently added another driveway. We have added another dryer and some more storage to keep up with volume. Over the last 40 years, we have not spent a whole lot of money. We save what we can and pay our members back. They are happy to get those checks back.”
Operating within a commodities market, Baldock says there are always obstacles to overcome in the industry. “It’s always something,” he laughs. “That can be weather, politics or the economy. The biggest challenge for our area is the railroad. With so much growth between oil, coal, ethanol and grain, the infrastructure is still trying to keep up. We have seen progress in that arena and to be honest, it does not affect us all that much.”
Regardless of what challenges the market presents, CFC is chugging forward with a simple mission: serve the members. “I sleep pretty well,” Baldock notes. “When you leave the office at night and you have done your best, there is nothing to keep you awake. Things are getting better for the farmers, so when they are busy - we are busy. Our goal is to give them back as much as possible.”
Without the frills, Clifford Farmers’ Cooperative continues to do business as usual: providing growers with efficient service and high dividends.