Cooperative Supply Inc.
Cooperative Supply Inc. (CSI) has been providing agricultural services to farmers in Nebraska for over 100 years. Founded in 1911, the business has grown significantly. With a number of mergers and acquisitions, the cooperative now includes five locations with its headquarters and highway facility in Dodge, Neb., as well as three storage and sales locations spread between Richland, Howells and Leigh, Neb. Dan Forey, general manager of CSI, works closely with the board led by Paul Kampschnieder, chairman.
Though Dan has been with the business a short time, he comes from a background in the cooperative industry. “I’ve been doing this kind of work for 30 years,” he explains. “I spent most of my time in Iowa. This is the first time I have worked in Nebraska. As general manager, I oversee our department heads and orchestrate day-to-day operations.”
Above all else, Dan is proud to note that he thoroughly enjoys his work. “We have agronomy services, fertilizer, chemicals, seed and we also handle beans, corn and grain,” he continues. “We are in an LLC in partnership with a neighboring cooperative for petroleum, as well.”
Likewise, Paul has been in the industry his entire life, working with several area cooperatives. “I have been on the board here since 1997,” Paul notes. “Before that, I was on the board for a different location that merged with CSI for nine or 10 years. As a board member, we aren’t quite as involved in the day-to-day as Dan is. We have representation by location and I’m in the middle of our territory in Howells. Our job, as the board, more or less, is to meet and make decisions on big purchases and initiatives. We make the deciding votes by majority to make the changes we see fit for the company. As directors, we represent the patrons and members of this cooperative.”
The Daily Grind
Between the five locations, CSI employs 30 full-time employees. Paul is proud to note that all employees share the same goal, which is to best serve the farmers while maintaining the revenue to keep serving members.
“Anyone can sell the chemicals and anyone can unload grain,” Paul elaborates, “But we want to give the best service to our members and patrons that we can. We have to serve them and make them better, which makes us better, too. A solid foundation needs to be there, as well as the trust our patrons place on our company. We have to be able to provide for them and show what we can do to make their operations better in order to survive and keep our communities growing.”
Most of the daily work is performed in-house, although the cooperative and its members depend on a number of reliable suppliers to keep farms running. “We have semis and feed trucks, basically for our own needs and uses,” Dan explains. “We do not do much over the road trucking except to maybe bring feed in from growers or move grain around for storage.”
Purina and Windfield are the company’s main suppliers, with Purina for feed and Windfield for chemicals. “Most of our inventory comes through those companies,” Dan continues. “We store grain and our total capacity is a little over 8 million bushels between all of our locations. The last elevator we built was 300,000 bushels, about a year ago in Richland.”
“We are trying to grow there,” Paul adds. “That was a private agronomy business we took over. We had a lot of flat bean storage, which we are trying to improve, so we put up nearly half-million bushel storage. A tornado blew down some of the flat storage about three years ago. Really, it was a blessing in disguise, because it meant we could start over without tearing anything down. You can’t change it once it happens, so you have to move forward and make the best of it. Because it was already gone, it ended up costing us fewer man-hours to remove it and put in more flat storage.”
Competition has presented the greatest challenges to the cooperative in recent years. As an integral component of the food system, cooperatives in general operate under different economic pretenses than other industries. “There are certain things you can control,” Dan notes, “And weather is not one of them. As a cooperative, we have competition in any direction we go.”
“We have a fairly big coop to the north and to south of us,” Paul adds. “We are not really a small coop, maybe more like mid-sized. There are quite a few other privates and smaller cooperatives in the neighborhood. Still, we have been growing slowly. We have good technology and good equipment. We are always focused on building up our grain storage, because it’s our biggest entity. That’s what our territory is; we raise a lot of grain. Anyone can store, but we want faster unloading. We want to make it easier for customers to get back out again. We’re doing slowly, but working on it.”
Over the next few years, Dan and Paul agree that the business will continue to grow steadily. Although the market has been slow, CSI remains focused on the most important commodity: customer service.
“The markets certainly aren’t where they were a decade ago,” Dan explains. “People are nervous, but we are seeing improvements. I think it is getting a little better everywhere. For us, we have to tightly manage every aspect and phase of the business. We take the time when it is slow and we use it to reevaluate. It becomes more important every day to make sure you are on the right track.”
Dan, Paul and the rest of the team continue to operate as lean as possible while serving CSI’s members. Boasting the competitive edge of high-quality service, Cooperative Supply Inc. maintains an advantage over the competition as the business continues to grow steadily over the coming years.