The Valley Fertilizer & Chemical Co. Inc.
Nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Potomac River, the Shenandoah Valley is one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the mid-Atlantic. As the single largest industry in the state, agriculture occupies some 32 percent of Virginia’s total area and employs more than 357,000. Since 1937, The Valley Fertilizer & Chemical Company has been serving these producers as a full-service supply and service partner with a specialty in chemicals, fertilizers, ice melting products and orchard supplies.
Valley Fertilizer was originally formed to serve the Shenandoah Valley’s vibrant apple industry which, at the time, was Virginia’s richest apple-growing region. The company provided chemicals, packaging and supplies for the industry and eventually expanded the business to include dry and liquid fertilizer.
Today Valley Fertilizer offers a complete slate of agriculture services to producers across Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, mixing up custom-blended fertilizers and applying lime for producers within a 100-mile radius of its headquarters in Mount Jackson, Virginia. The company carries NK and Pioneer seeds for corn, wheat and soybeans as well as a variety of farm seeds, orchard grass, alfalfa and barley.
“We do custom applications for farmers as well as soil sampling and making recommendations for them. We really do everything they would need, except for the planting, but we do sell seeds,” says Orville Smoot, president and general manager of Valley Fertilizer. The company is a licensed agricultural pesticide applicator in Virginia and West Virginia as well as a licensed Virginia nutrient management plan writer.
Offering time-tested advice and expertise
A 47-year veteran of the agricultural industry who has spent his entire career at Valley, Smoot grew up in the Shenandoah Valley and joined the company shortly after completing business school. “I didn’t grow up on a farm but I spent a lot of during my high school years on farms. I just liked the industry and continued in it for my whole career,” he says.
With nearly five decades of experience, Smoot is able to take the long view when it comes to flagging commodity prices and market bubbles alike. He has seen the industry change dramatically over the years and has helped Valley Fertilizer pivot to meet the ever-changing needs of its producer base. “We’re doing a lot more on the service side than we use to do with soil sampling, applying product or making field-by-field recommendations for farmers who are looking to maximize their yields,” says Smoot.
While producers were once able to rely on a small number of tried and true products, the glut of new fertilizers and chemicals on the market have led many to seek the advice of companies like Valley Fertilizer. “Farmers just can’t keep up with the changing herbicide programs out there, so we keep up with those and make those recommendations according to what chemical would best suit the field in question,” he says.
Expanding into new markets
In recent years Valley Fertilizer has put an emphasis on diversification, expanding into new services and products that will help buoy the company during lean times in the agricultural sector. In 2001 Valley Fertilizer launched a warehouse operation, leasing space customers a range of agricultural, industrial and commercial clients.
“We wanted to be a service company for the community year-round, because in ag you’re used to being really busy three months out of the year then sitting idle. Now we’re busy with warehousing,” says Smoot. “We also utilize the warehouse ourselves for the ice melt industry.”
Ice melt products are Valley Fertilizer’s latest foray in diversification. Started in 2006, the ice melt business has grown over the last 10 years to the point where it now helps to keep the company’s 32 employees busy every month of the year.
Despite the focus on diversification, industrywide commodity price slumps can still take their toll on Valley Fertilizer and its producer base. It’s during these times that the company’s service side can really step up, providing soil sampling, recommendations and the crucial advice that could mean the difference between turning a profit and taking a loss. “If producers aren’t making a profit, they can’t spend their money at Valley Fertilizer, so we try to keep them as profitable as possible,” says Smoot.
In the near future, Smoot would like to see the company continue the trend toward diversification, expanding the company’s geographical footprint as well as business on both the retail and wholesale sides. While low commodity prices have hurt many of Valley Fertilizer’s customers, Smoot says their adaptability portends success in the long run.
“Many of my people are in the beef industry and the beef market is still pretty good. It’s not like the Midwest where it’s grain, grain, grain all the time: most of them can go different ways when they need to,” he says.
With an emphasis on diversification, a long history as a trusted partner and a general manager with nearly 50 years of industry experience will ensure The Valley Fertilizer & Chemical Co. Inc.’s place as a leader in the Virginia agricultural supply and service market.