Thornwell Warehouse Association
For more than 100 years, Thornwell Warehouse Association (TWA) has served rice and cattle farmers as well as horse owners with its grain elevator throughout Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana. In 191, seven individuals came forward to form TWA: J.M. Henderson, H. Neal, L.A. Lyon, E.A. Lyon, W.M. Buchanan, D. Herbert and Leroy Elliot.
As time went on, TWA began to add products and services including fuel, feed, fertilizer and chemicals. Today, the primary service TWA provides is drying rice for local farmers. With the farmers that share in the profit of the co-op, the organization services approximately 25,000 acres with 140 members.
Adjusting to the market for better service
In 2015, the member of TWA decided to make a change and sell the co-op’s chemical, seed and fertilizer division. We found ourselves in a position where we could not compete with larger companies because they can buy in large quantities at a lower cost,” says Richard Friesen, general manager of TWA. “TWA received an offer and the members decided to sell and open the door for new opportunities in the future. We are in the process of launching our new website at www.thornwellwarehouse.com.”
Since the sale of the division, TWA has been focusing on developing its feed business to better serve cattle farmers. In its feed business, TWA deals mostly with cattle farmers, but provides feed to customers with rodeo and show horses to supplement that side of the business.
TWA’s strong feed business has helped the company deal with certain challenges such as the decline in the price of rice last year. “There are a lot of ups and downs in the ag business,” says Friesen. “That’s why we are a diversified company. We’re very thankful for our members who believe in supporting their co-ops which is the reason we have to stay competitive and give our customers what they need to make their enterprises productive.”
“Fuel has also been doing pretty well so that’s become one of our big areas of business,” adds Friesen. “We sell a lot of fuel.”
In a tough and competitive industry such as agriculture, producers are constantly searching for ways to be efficient and increase yields. Friesen says that providing services that enable that to happen gives him the biggest sense of pride in his work. “It’s all about helping the farmers out,” he says. We understand the challenges they face every day and our goal is to do whatever we can to help them succeed.”
Friesen has been with the company for nearly two years. Before joining TWA, he spent some time in Florida working on a family-owned farm, offering him a unique perspective on the challenges and needs of agricultural operations.
At the end of each year, TWA measures its success not only by the bottom line, but also the amount of rice it dries. “The amount of rice we dry indicates how well the farmers are doing,” says Friesen. “In return, the better the farmers are doing, the better shape they are in to buy from us and keep us going.”
A strong future
Rice production has made major strides in sustainability over the past two decades simply from significant per-acre yield increases. U.S. rice yields have increased from 5,621 pounds per acre in 1995 to 7,572 pounds per acre in 2014. The inputs to produce the crops, including fertilizer, water, energy for pumping, pesticides and seed, has changed little in those 20 years. In consideration of the output per unit of input, there has been a substantial improvement in sustainability.
In the coming years, TWA will continue to serve farmers in all its current aspects while ensuring that its facilities and technologies remain current. The co-ops is considering a new building for a retail location in Welsh, Louisiana. “We plan to hopefully upgrade some of our drying equipment as well,” says Friesen. “We’ll see how things go, but that would be the next investment in our facilities.” TWA currently has two retail locations and one designated strictly for drying rice and soybeans.
With a cautiously optimistic outlook on the economic health of the country, Friesen feels secure that the industry will remain stable. “This is an agricultural and oil- and gas-producing part of the country,” he says. “When the price of fuel or rice goes down, our economy slows down somewhat, but that’s just the nature of things. It may go down but it will always come back up.”
As Thornwell Warehouse Association adapts to the constant ebb and flow of the agriculture industry, the company will build upon a tradition of service that was instilled more than one hundred years ago.