When you ask Tony Hemann, general manager of north eastern Iowa-based SilverEdge Cooperative (SilverEdge), what sets the locally owned cooperative apart from others in the region, he’ll tell you to turn its 1,300 members. “Meeting the demands of our members drives our business,” he says. “They’re the ones that know if we’re doing a good job.”
Keeping pace with customers’ needs has been the SilverEdge’s mission for more than 83 years. “We’ve been incorporated since March 10, 1931,” reveals Hemann. “Our main offices in Edgewood, Iowa, started as the Edgewood Cooperative and through a series of mergers, we’re now SilverEdge. We operate out of three locations –Edgewood, Strawberry Point and Delhi, Iowa –but we’re still fairly small, serving 1,000 Class-A members and just short of 300 Class-B members.”
Hemann joined SilverEdge 25 years ago, stepping into the role of general manger, but has been in farming his whole life. “I grew up on my parents’ farm in northern Iowa,” he recounts. “We had dairy cows, beef cows, hogs –the whole bit. Before coming to SilverEdge I spent 11 years working with the Staceyville Cooperative, which is now Northern County Cooperative. I’ve been in it for a few seasons you could say.”
The only constant is change
Hemann’s years of experience both on the farm and direct with co-ops has helped him lead SilverEdge through a great deal of change in recent years. “We’re a full-service cooperative, offering a Land O’Lakes feed line, petroleum product delivery as well as corn and soybeans, but the majority of our business is now in crop nutrients and crop-protection products,” he details.
“Years ago, business split between 50 percent feed and 50 percent petroleum and grain and agronomy,” continues Hemann. “Now, things have switched to 50 percent crop nutrients and petroleum and grain to about 15 to 20 percent and feed only 5 percent.”
Despite the changing face of the industry, SilverEdge has always put members’ needs first. “Our mission is to provide superior customer service and knowledge of the many agricultural fields while working with our customers to see them strive for success. We are dedicated to our work and the always changing fields of agriculture,” reads the cooperative’s website. “A cooperative can only be as productive and knowledgeable as the producers who own it and the direction they provide. We value the opinions and ideas of all of our members, and we encourage them to pass these ideas on to our employees and board of directors.”
Today, SilverEdge employs 32 individuals across three locations. “Our range is about 16 miles southeast from Edgewood and 12 miles to the west from Strawberry Point, which is our major agronomy hub,” notes Hemann. “We’re 27 miles from the Mississippi River as well.”
Rising to the challenge
Like any ag-based operation, Hemann says SilverEdge is subject to a slew of challenges from Mother Nature to increased productivity that results in higher customer demand. “For one, the weather is a huge factory with 50 percent of our business being agronomy based,” he shares. “We’re not operating on Mother Nature’s schedule whereas with feed, it’s much more consistent. It’s pretty much around the clock to keep up.”
With better, faster and more efficient equipment, Hemann says members are producing more than ever before and that puts SilverEdge in a position where it must rise to meet the demand. “The infrastructure of suppliers and manufactures hasn’t changed for 60 years, but farmers with new equipment can plant 100 acres of corn in half-a-day, if not less,” he explains. “They’re doing so much and we don’t want them to be waiting on us.”
But meeting such high demand requires the help and labor to do the job. “It’s a well-known fact, there’s been a generational change,” says Hemann. “It’s difficult to find good labor and people who are willing to work nights and weekends, but luckily we’re seeing it turn around again.”
“While most young people want a nine-to-five job, more are looking at agriculture different from in the last decade,” he continues. “Commodity prices have stabilized and there’s more return and it’s a better life than it was. It’s more appealing now than it was in the past. Maybe they’re not going directly to the farm, but more young people are interested in outfits like us that have ties to ag-business or feed or crop protection companies.”
Even amid changes and numerous new rules and regulations, SilverEdge sticks to what it knows best: good, old-fashioned customer service. “We have a very loyal customer base,” assures Hemann. “We only do as well as our farmers so we do our best to keep up with their demands and support them.”
For 83 years and counting, SilverEdge Cooperative has remained true to this mission, helping member-farmers improve their bottom line and growing alongside.