Heritage Cooperative Inc.: Working Together, Winning Together

Heritage Cooperative Inc. (Heritage) is an Ohio-based member-owned agricultural cooperative that was officially established in 2009. “Heritage is the product of the consolidation of two very old, longstanding cooperatives,” says Eric Parthemore, president of Heritage. To note, the Farmers Commission Company, one half of the combined partnership, has been around in several incarnations since 1918. The other, Champaign Landmark, was incorporated in 1932, rising from Farm Bureau roots dating back to 1919.

“They weren’t really in competition with one another,” explains Parthemore. “They had very similar business cultures and philosophies. At the turn of the century both cooperatives were asking how the two could work together to increase value for membership.”

Today the West Mansfield-based company boasts 30 branches and serves 20 counties in Ohio. “All together we have 275 full-time employees, which is supplemented by seasonal employees,” says Parthemore. “Heritage has four basic divisions: agronomy, energy, grain and feed and farm supplies. We’ve been involved in all four since we came together in 2009.”

Covering All the Bases

The expertise and strong agricultural background of the Heritage staff allows the company to cover all of the basic needs of growing operations in central Ohio. Heritage and the parent cooperatives have been able to provide members with seed and fertilizer products for over a century. Heritage has kept up with the latest in products through the industry’s continuous changes.

The agronomy division offers dry and liquid fertilizers, chemicals, seeds, custom GPS application, turf and other specialty products. Growers can also take advantage of other services tailored to individual needs. The energy division has gone through some major changes since the original cooperatives started almost a century ago. In the early days, cooperatives offered gasoline for vehicles and equipment, fuel oil for heating homes and barns and lubricants for tractors, machinery and implements.

Propane is rapidly replacing fuel oil for heating homes and businesses alike. It can also be used to run machinery and equipment like grain dryers and even tractors. Heritage also offers alternative fuels like soy biodiesel and ethanol, renewable resources that come from the crops many of the cooperative’s farmers produce.

Heritage’s grain division offers a variety of services for producers as well. The cooperative’s many grain branches provide opportunities for grain marketing, drying and storage. The division markets corn, soybeans and wheat, and producers can find grain prices online at any time. The grain division also monitors world markets for these products to achieve the best margins for members.

Heritage’s feed and farm supply division serves livestock farmers and rural lifestyle customers through specialized feed programs. The delivery of feed for poultry, cattle, hogs and more is implemented either by the Urbana feed branch or directly through manufacturers. Cooperative members and nonmembers can also purchase a variety of farm products from fencing and feeding systems to work boots and twine. The division is constantly branching out to offer more supplies and services, and, of course, branch feed managers are available for consulting and delivery setup.

Continued Service

The cooperative strives to stay on top of the best products, practices and technologies. “We do a lot of keeping up,” says Parthemore. “One of our biggest ongoing goals is to take advantage of new technology. There are new products introduced all the time that help us stay ahead of our competitors and promote better yields for our members.”

Precision agriculture is a growing trend and, Parthemore says, “As we go through shifts in generational producers, today’s farmer is very tech savvy.” He sees more growers than ever managing finances and land usage with computer programs. Parthemore hopes to see Heritage develop an outstanding system of records and data, as the company has also taken to social media to increase member benefits and marketing opportunities.

The staff at Heritage is an important part of keeping up with the industry, and Parthemore acknowledges that the company has some really good people in-house. Parthemore gauges the success of Heritage on a number of factors, all of which he says are conditions created and maintained by talented Heritage employees. “With a cooperative, of course, we look at growth and return on investments,” Parthemore says. “But we’re also looking at how valuable this cooperative is to our members.” He adds that safety for cooperative employees and Heritage growers are always a priority.

Because food is a commodity and is priced accordingly, market prices vary with financial conditions around the globe. Heritage has faced some challenges in 2012, but Parthemore says the staff has been invaluable in maintaining a sustainable business. Growers in the area have also faced an extreme drought. “This year has been particularly hard,” he explains. “But our cooperative has made an admirable recovery.”

Parthemore and the Heritage team are looking toward steady growth for the near future. “Right now we’re concentrating on organic growth in our area,” explains Parthemore. “It’s always a priority to continue to add value for our members.” The market has a lot of potential, and Heritage plans to tap into it. As the business grows, Heritage Cooperative Inc. will continue to add value to invest in each member.