Frenchman Valley Cooperative Inc.: Providing Premier Agricultural Services in Nebraska

Frenchman Valley Cooperative Inc. (FVC) has been serving farmers in Nebraska for more than 100 years, as it originally began in 1912 as a grain cooperative under the name Farmers Union Equity. FVC has changed structure and name several times over the decade, but maintains a continued commitment to quality service. Additionally, a series of mergers – including the creation of Plains Grain, merger with Farmers Elevator Company and the acquisition of Wheatland Co-Op Association – has bulked up FVC’s range of services and product.

Doug Ohlson, general manager of FVC, has been with the business for more than 10 years. “I worked in the banking world for 25 years as a loan officer,” Ohlson explains. “In 2002 I began working here as the human resource/member services division manager, which included personnel, credit management, member benefits and safety compliance. The people I worked with throughout the years really helped me prepare for my current role in the business.”

Ohlson manages a team of 255 employees between 24 locations across the region. “We cover a 300-mile span between McCook, Neb., and Wheatland, Wyo.,” Ohlson notes. Within that range, the cooperative offers grain, feed, energy and agronomy services with notable member benefits. The cooperative is happy to provide for members and nonmembers alike, with members earning dividends and equities on their purchases. Ohlson is proud to note that membership within FVC creates the opportunity for equity ownership in the cooperative, as well as patronage dividends on purchases.

Supportive Service Environment

FVC’s varied divisions offer help to customers via products, services and information. The cooperative’s agronomy division has five offices across the region where experienced and certified staff helps growers with leading products, technology and consulting services. The cooperative also has several storage options for grain farmers and offers competitive prices on specialty feeds and fuel among other agricultural necessities.

Many of these services are available throughout the area from competitors, but Ohlson says his team makes all the difference. “We are premier service providers,” he explains. “It all boils down to who can take care of the producers the most efficiently. In agronomy and grain, the buzz phrase has been speed and space, so we strive to invest capital in storage facilities and automation that gets product to the producer quickly in the growing season and trucks unloaded and back to the field in a timely manner at harvest.”

Despite all that FVC has to offer, Ohlson and the team remain focused on what truly matters. “A critical factor in our business is the ability of our managers to do what they do best,” Ohlson says. “I try not to get in their way, because we have a solid staff here. In this part of the world, we also have to be good at attracting quality employees, educating and retaining them. Our board takes succession planning very seriously.”

Changes in the Landscape

With recent economic challenges and a slew of harmful weather patterns, the agricultural industry has had a rough few years. “Obviously the drought has been a challenge,” says Ohlson. “We’re not going to feel its effects until this year with the grain carry-over. Whether it’s us or the competition, the commercial grain industry has found that inventories are very low. In western Nebraska, the big topic is water. There is the ongoing situation with Kansas in which Nebraska and Colorado have to allow a mandated allocation of water [acre-feet] to flow through the Republican River Basin to Kansas [Republican River Compact of 1942]. Strict water allocation is a very important farm management strategy in this area.”

By diversifying, FCV has been able to dodge much of the fallout from grain. With several growing divisions, the business is able to maintain growth and expansion. “We bought the Wheatland Coop’s petroleum and agronomy divisions, which will allow us to construct an agronomy center at that location,” Ohlson says. “Our biggest project right now is a $20 million train shuttle loader at Culbertson, Neb., that should be operational for wheat harvest. Historically there has been a better market for those people able to load and ship 110-car shuttles. Strategically, this should position FVC and our producers in a better marketing position than we have been accustomed to.”

The FVC team celebrated 100 years of success in 2012, and Ohlson has big plans for the next century, too. “FVC has always been very progressive as far as investing back in facilities and communities we operate in, as well as looking for growth opportunities,” he says. As the cooperative’s facilities continue to develop under the common goal of improving the economic well-being of its farmer-rancher members, Frenchman Valley Cooperative Inc. will continue to provide leading agricultural services in the region.

For more information about Frenchman Valley Cooperative Inc., please visit: www.fvcoop.com.