Rose Acre Farms Inc.: An Egg Legacy
In 1939 the Rust family farm went into operation outside of Seymour, Ind. David Rust, founder of Rose Acre Farms Inc. (RAF), began selling his family’s eggs and corn at the local farmers’ market after graduating high school in 1943. Supplementing sales with those of a network of local farmers, David was able to establish a commercial farm on the family’s land. He soon expanded, constructing additional chicken houses to boost in-house production.
David married in the late ‘50s and with wife Lois, current president of RAF, had seven children. The business continued to take off and by 1965, RAF had 100,000 laying hens. Through vertical integration, the business became the most efficient egg producer in the country. The team was able to produce more eggs and sell the eggs for less than anyone other in the market, which drew some stiff competition.
In 1989 RAF saw a change in management structure, with Lois appointed to her current position. At that point in time, Lois and her seven children took over RAF. Under new management, RAF began to diversify, as greater demand for more portable food encouraged the team to branch out. The company began producing liquid egg product that remains a staple. Today, Lois continues to serve as chairwoman of the company, overseeing production and growth with a loyal, experienced executive team that includes Tony Wesner, COO of RAF.
Keeping it in the Family
Tony has been working with RAF for over three decades. “I was drawn to agriculture,” he explains. “I grew up on my family farm, selling corn to RAF. We still buy all of our corn from local farms. I went to trade school and worked part time here, and my position has evolved to where I am today.” Tony shares the Rust family’s love of agriculture, livestock and most importantly, chickens.
“The business is still family-owned and –operated,” he continues. “Our biggest competition is publically traded companies, but we’re confident that we have the best dozen eggs that you can purchase.” The family atmosphere informs the business’ enduring philosophy that champions local farmers and values preservation of both the industry and the land.
“We do everything we can to stay sustainable,” Tony elaborates. “We have a soybean processing plant that makes soybean meal and is powered entirely by scrap wood. We sell all our chicken manure as fertilizer to farmers; it goes back onto the fields which then grows our chicken feed.”
In Missouri, the company is installing a bio-digester. The unit takes chicken manure, which emits methane gas. The digester processes the methane, which powers a mechanism that produces electricity. In turn, RAF will use the energy to run operations, and will sell some of the power back to the grid. “It’s important to us to be as responsible as we can with our resources,” Tony explains.
Sunny Side Up
With 17 egg laying locations in the U.S. and over 2,000 employees, RAF continues to dominate the industry, distributing brands such as Christopher and Egg-Land’s Best. “We’re totally in-house from beginning to end,” Tony notes. “We raise all our chicks and make the feed. About 30 percent of what we do is further processed into powders and other egg products. We’ve been doing it that way for a long time now. We do outsource packaging materials. With all of our strategic partners, we look for long-term relationships. We want them to share our vision and understand customer service.”
Some of the price flux is related to larger, outside factors. “One of our major concerns is the uncertainty of our climate,” he continues. “The summer with the drought gives you reason to lie awake at night. If farmers don’t grow grain then we can’t grow eggs. If we have a repeat of last year, we’re looking at some very difficult times. Excess heat is hard on livestock.”
The team continues to push forward, together. RAF has recently obtained a permit to build a new facility in Texas, and Tony notes that the business is constantly upgrading facilities both to boost production and meet the ever-changing consumer and food safety regulations.
“We’re just trying to get better every day at what we’re doing,” he says. “We want to produce a perfect dozen every day. We want to have the best customer service that we can provide. We want to concentrate not on being the biggest, but on being the best. We try to make sure that all 2,000 employees understand that.” Such initiatives ensure that Rose Acre Farms Inc. continues to operate efficiently, pumping out millions of quality, healthy, tasty eggs each year.