Jackson Farmers Inc.
Jackson Farmers Inc. (JFI) has been in business since 1918, founded by local farmers who banded together to improve the regional market outlook. The business operates as a farmers’ cooperative association, owned by its members. Associated farmer member/owners elect a board of directors who govern the vision of the company, and determine leadership roles.
Darla Lanter, current president and general manager of JFI, has been with the business since 2001. “I started here as a controller and became general manager in 2007,” she says. “I have been involved with cooperatives my entire career, more than 30 years, starting with the Atchison County Farmers Union Cooperative in Kansas.”
Lanter grew up around agriculture in a farming family. Therefore, she is passionate about the industry and enjoys the personal nature of agriculture. “I like the rural feel of the place I work,” she explains. “I know everyone I work with and we get to know all of the farmers in the area.”
JFI is a full-service cooperative, specializing in agricultural products and services such as crop inputs; seeds, fertilizers, chemicals and custom application; along with feed, feed mills with custom grind and mix, grain storage, as well as grain marketing and sales. The company is also involved in the delivery business for refined fuel, propane and custom mixed bulk feed.
“We operate four locations: Holton, Effingham, Lancaster and Meriden, covering three counties and expanding into three additional counties in northeast Kansas,” says Lanter. “We are not limited to selling products and providing services to our members only, we also have patrons that are not members. However, being a member has its advantages; if we have a successful year, we share the profit with our member/owners in the form of patronage – cash and deferred equity – based on their annual volumes.”
Lanter estimates that there are four other local cooperatives in the region and JFI rates at approximately mid-size for this type of operation. “We have a cooperative of about 1,700 members, which is actually not that big,” she elaborates. “People choose which cooperative to join based on location and services offered. We try to be competitive and offer services that they, the producer, wouldn’t have as an independent farming operation. Our growers take pride in reinvesting in their cooperative.”
JFI strives to foster strong relationships with local growers by inviting them to participate in the operation. Members’ dedication to the business’ continued success allows JFI to continue to grow and diversify. Furthermore, Lanter’s team has introduced several new initiatives in recent years to help members stay ahead in the competitive industry.
“We are putting in bulk seed for the farmers, which gives them more flexibility for units at a better price per volume,” she explains, “Of which many cooperatives already offer.”
She goes on to explain that the company is also putting in new seed treating equipment. “This treatment is a chemical that provides broad-spectrum disease and insect control of which inoculants can be added to promote seed growth,” Lanter continues. “In the agricultural sector, genetics technology has been getting better and better. Even with the drought last year, our growers had a better than expected crop yield.”
One Step Ahead
The agricultural sector has not been affected as much as others by the recent recession. “Farmers and cooperatives both have had some pretty good years,” Lanter explains, “Though there was a drought last year that affected a lot of people in our industry. However, with the improvement of technology, farmers have been able to survive things like droughts a lot better than they used to be able to.”
Lanter explains that the largest challenge ahead is in changing regulations and the volatility of commodity pricing. “There are a lot of regulations coming down the pike,” she notes. “With organizations like EPA and OSHA, that has and always will be challenging. Not to say that these regulations are all bad, we just have to stop and do all of these things to get in compliance with the new rules and they don’t stop coming. There are always new regulations. We are also worried about the future prices of grain, as well as corn and soybeans, which are getting lower. The prices per bushel have seriously dropped from a year ago.”
To manage these challenges, Lanter hopes to see her team stay the course. “Our board is very dedicated to making sure we provide services that the farmers need and to keeping up with the technology,” she continues. “We don’t have any major plans for expansion.” With a manageable size and already diverse capabilities, the cooperative is able to perform almost everything in-house, a practice that helps drive down expenses for members and boost returns.
As the agricultural industry changes, JFI stays one step ahead. With an adaptive business model, the team works hard to provide the resources that help members succeed. Agriculture is a tough business, but Lanter and her team have the experience and knowledge to keep the cooperative on course. The team remains cautiously optimistic as Jackson Farmers Inc. continues on a trend of steady, controlled growth for the coming years.