Texhoma Wheat Growers Inc.: A Full Service Co-op
Texhoma Wheat Growers Inc. (TWG) is a grain cooperative with roots dating back to 1934. The co-op is member-owned, and was started by a group of local producers who recognized the need for a place to market, sell and store grain products. Audrey Hofferber, general manager of TWG, says the co-op has 294 members, although some are no longer active farmers.
Grower co-ops provide many services to grain producers, and TWG offers a grain elevator with a capacity of 6.5 million bushels. The co-op also sells a variety of agricultural supplies, including chemical fertilizers, feed, seed, stock tanks and tires. “We serve a 30- to 40-mile radius from our location,” explains Hofferber. “It’s a very rural area, so a lot of these towns are 10 to 20 miles apart.” The elevator and co-op are located right along the railroad, a point of convenience for transportation.
Members are invited to periodic meetings, which have grown in popularity and frequency. She recalls her first meeting drew only two members, but 16 showed up at the next one, and the numbers have been growing ever since. “The idea is to keep our growers informed,” explains Hofferber.
Hofferber adds, “It works like a business. Not every co-op is going to be around forever; it’s not a guarantee.” So far TWG has been successful, and she says the co-op was able to pay out over $2 million of patronage in the form of cash and stock to its members in 2011. Yearly shareholder meetings offer growers control over the cooperative’s operations. “Our members determine how the business is structured,” explains Hofferber. “They vote on directors. All of our growers have a say in how this company runs.”
Much of TWG’s success depends on uncontrollable factors, specifically the weather. “Last year we had the worst drought in history,” says Hofferber. “It was a really terrible year. There was hardly any rain; we had high winds and lots of dirt storms.” The co-op stayed afloat through smart planning and a little streamlining.
“Whenever you have weather come up like that, you can only hope for the best but prepare for the worst,” Hofferber says. “We were watching our expenses closely, and we did cut back on employees.” TWG did not perform any layoffs, but if staff members moved on, they were not immediately replaced.
With steady precipitation, 2012 has been a better year for the business. “We had more rain in January and February of this year than we had all of last year,” says Hofferber. “We started the wheat harvest on May 30, and the wheat is looking a whole lot better this year.” A heat wave in April affected crop yield; however, Hofferber says, “It’s what we call one rain shy of an outstanding crop.” The wheat harvest usually runs from the first or second week of June up until early July. TWG gets a start on corn and grain sorghum harvests in mid-September, running into October and sometimes November, dependent on weather.
Hofferber is making her own waves in the grain industry with a successful, growing business model and her position as one of only a few female general managers in the business. “It can be challenging,” she explains. “Being a female in a male-dominant business has made it harder to get producers to trust that you know what you’re talking about.” Hofferber has been around the agricultural industry her whole life. “I grew up on a farm in southeast Colorado,” she says. “My parents were farmers and ranchers, and I was always involved.”
She has worked in agriculture for years, and started as an office administrator at a grain elevator not far from her current location in Texhoma. “I worked my way up,” she explains. “After becoming CFO/office manager at Hooker Equity Co-op, I was approached by the former general manager at TWG to be his CFO. I worked with both co-ops for two years, and when he decided to retire I was offered the general manager’s position at TWG.”
Now Hofferber is balancing budgets and a heavily loaded schedule. “I went to college, but I didn’t graduate,” she explains. “I’ve gone back to school. I’m taking online classes in the evening, so I’m doing homework very late at night along with keeping up with my family,” she laughs. Finishing her education is important, and she believes it will benefit her in her abilities to manage TWG. “Expanding our education is something that we never get too old to do, and something we can always benefit from.”
Hofferber works hard to provide her members and clients with the best services and products available and she has the help of a loyal staff. TWG employs 15 to 20 people on average, all with extensive experience and expertise. “One of our employees has been here for 41 years,” Hofferber says. Her staffers work closely with members, building long-term relationships that span generations. Texhoma Wheat Growers Inc. has built and will continue a tradition of fair, friendly hometown service.