Skagit Farmers Supply
Nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains just miles from the Puget Sound in Burlington, Washington, Skagit Farmers Supply is a locally owned cooperative with deep-seated roots in the community. From its beginnings as a 46-member cooperative more than 82 years ago, Skagit Farmers Supply has grown to serve more than 17,000 members and 150 grower-producers in the region.
With some 330 employees, Skagit Farmers Supply is focused on energy, agronomy and retail. The cooperative operates 12 Country Stores, a feed mill, fertilizer plants and a robust energy services division with fuel stations and bulk fuel and propane delivery. The cooperative’s duty is first and foremost to serve area farmers, homeowners, businesses and families with the products and services they count on.
Farmers at the core
Founded by and for the benefit of these communities, Skagit Farmers Supply’s board of directors is comprised of farmers. “Our focus out here is similar to what you’ll find in ag-based co-ops across the country,” says Tom Boland, CEO. “I report to a five-member board of directors with a diverse background. Our newest board member does fresh-to-market potatoes; she markets seed and has a co-op background.”
“Our board chair recently switched from a conventional dairy to organic dairy,” says Boland. “We have a board member that raises and processes strawberries and blueberries. Another director lives on Whidbey Island and raises beef and pork and direct markets them.”
Boland comes from a local cooperative just outside of the Twin Cities. “I grew up shopping at a co-op just south of Saint Paul,” he says. “It was a good move both professionally and personally for me to join Skagit Farmers Supply so our family moved to Washington in 2015.”
Skagit Farmers Supply traces its roots to the early 1930s. For the first 50 years Merton McKee Sr. and his son, Merton McKee Jr. oversaw operations and then Ken Kadlec stepped in for 25 years. “Ken oversaw much of the growth in business and he worked with the board to facilitate strong returns to our membership and brought a lot of talent into the organization,” says Boland.
Operating in northwest Washington State
With the right team on board that understands what farmers and rural families need Skagit Farmers Supply has grown in size and services in the last 10 years. “We run two fertilizer plants and service a geography that runs only 30 miles between the Cascade Mountain Range and Puget Sound,” says Boland. “We also do business on Whidbey Island and the San Juan Island chain with two retail stores, a large amount of propane and refined fuels as well as agronomy. To our north is Canada and our south stretches into the larger Seattle Metro area.”
Skagit Farmers Supply has 10 retail farm stores in Washington and one in Idaho and Montana. “Three years ago we expanded outside of the valley to Spokane with an opportunity to enter wholesale distribution and expand our retail presence,” says Boland.
Also in Spokane, Skagit Farmers Supply runs a feed mill and bagging operation. “We market this product across the region and sell proprietary brands in our stores,” says Boland. “Feed mixes are custom blended to meet the specific needs of our area.”
Retail farm stores
In its retail locations Skagit Farmers Supply caters to agricultural needs. “Pet food is also a strong category,” says Boland. “We supply the needs of a lot of smaller growers in our area and we have a significant portion of rural living enthusiasts north of Seattle that don’t necessarily have an agricultural background, but want to raise some animals and grow some crops. They need help both in expertise and the inputs to do that.”
These stores help support the cash flow that pays for some of Skagit Farmers Supply’s overhead, while also supporting local communities with quality goods, services and jobs.
Growing into organics
Skagit Farmers Supply has seen strong demand for its agronomy services, especially organic fertilizer applications. “We’re responding to the growing demand for organic fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, berries, potatoes and cauliflower which are produced in our region,” says Boland. “We blend organic fertilizer and have on-staff agronomists trained in consulting on organics.”
The newest liquid organics line Skagit Farmers Supply is marketing is a line called WISerg. “It’s a liquid organic fertilizer made from food waste from grocery stores,” says Boland. “Not only is this appealing to farmers, it’s also appealing to consumers who are conscious of sustainability.”
Boland says the nearby Seattle market is a strong supporter of organic production. “Our diverse crops and increasing demand here in the Pacific Northwest lend itself to organic production and there’s not only a large local demand, but also throughout the U.S.,” says Boland.
Retail and agronomy are all major facets of Skagit Farmers Supply, but Boland says the energy department is truly the backbone of the cooperative. “This department has been built from the ground up,” he says. “We have about 17,000 propane tanks in the field and we service the area islands.”
This division is headed up by Bill Markus, energy manager for Skagit Farmers Supply, who has been with the cooperative for 40 years. Overall, the cooperative’s energy earnings help it maintain a strong agronomy department and help boost returns to its members.
As Skagit Farmers Supply looks ahead, Boland says the cooperative is increasingly focused on the generational aspect of agriculture. “Our current board is conscious of these challenges and we make decisions based on how it will impact the next generation of growers; which also oftentimes happens to be our children or nieces and nephews,” he says. With an eye on what lies ahead and commitment to serve the community, Skagit Farmers Supply is building on 82 years in business.