Five New Vision Co-op properties mark a century in business
WORTHINGTON -- Five grain elevators now operated by New Vision Cooperative have been recognized this year for a century of service.
The Mountain Lake, Hills, Beaver Creek, Jeffers and Windom elevators were honored recently at the 101st annual convention of the Minnesota Grain and Feed Association.
"It's a testament to the staying power of coop businesses," said Frank McDowell, general manager of New Vision Co-op. "We're fundamentally different from most businesses in that the people who own and govern the co-op are customers of the co-op."
A merger vote by the members of Prairieland Co-op and Consolidated Co-op Worthington in 1998 brought together nine small cooperative grain elevators and formed what is now known as New Vision Co-op. In March 2003, Hills-Beaver Creek members approved a merger with New Vision Co-op. With the addition of those employees and facilities, New Vision now has 100 employees in 10 locations, serving 1,850 farmers in seven southwest Minnesota counties.
"The consolidation is driven by farmers growing their business by becoming more efficient through larger machinery and better production technology," McDowell said. "Agricultural evolution mirrored industrial improvements. It started with horses and mules pulling implements, transitioned to small, steel-wheel tractors and continued to gain efficiencies as technology improved machinery, production techniques and products.
"As crop yields continued to improve and farmers transitioned to bigger equipment they required greater capacities from the elevators, feed mills and agronomy suppliers that served them," he added. "It takes more employees and assets to deliver services in a shorter time frame.
"The farmers in this area recognize the value of size and scope," said McDowell. "That's really what drives our business. It takes a lot of skilled employees to provide the goods and services that farmers need. This is more important in wet planting conditions like we've experienced in 2008. Timely fieldwork and planting will produce the best chance for the highest yields."
Co-op members are the key piece in the long history of area cooperatives.
"The members have a lot at stake with their co-op," he said.
Members participate in the annual meeting by voting for the board or directors, articles and bylaw amendments and merger opportunities. The membership is responsible for the business operations, governance and growth.
"The 100-year recognition is a nice way to say the co-op concept works," said McDowell. "There are not a lot of businesses that have been around for 100 years."
"The sustainability part of coops comes down to listening to the membership and what they need," he said. "The board of directors are member/owners and these folks know what the business needs to be successful. That is one of the keys to our longevity and that is why we are still here.
"If past directors and members would not have had the foresight to buy elevators 90 to 100 years ago, provide fertilizer 50 years ago and build feed mills in Worthington and Windom 40 years ago, we would not be the company we are today," McDowell said.
Looking to the future, New Vision Co-op has some upcoming projects in the works. Construction on a 45,000-ton fertilizer plant has begun in Brewster, while grain storage is being added in Beaver Creek and Heron Lake.
"These projects will allow us to supply fertilizer to agronomy centers and farmers in a 70-mile radius of Brewster and increase grain handling capacity," McDowell said.
In 2010, the Worthington co-op will mark its 100th anniversary. It started as Farmers Co-op Co. in May 1910.
The Beaver Creek Elevator started in 1906, and the Beaver Creek Elevator Co. purchased the former St. John's elevator from William Rathgen in 1919. Since that time, the cooperative has been the only elevator in this community. In May 1993, the Beaver Creek Cooperative Elevator merged with Hills Co-op Farm Service. The original elevator burned in a 1970 fire, and the current elevator was built shortly after that. Six years ago, two new grain bins were added at this site. Last year they had to be rebuilt, and a third grain bin was added.
The Hills Mercantile Co. was organized in 1903 and Gilbert Qualley was elected its first board president. No original structures remain at this elevator. They have been rebuilt and updated throughout the years. In 2004, New Vision Co-op purchased the Cargill grain terminal and now 110-unit trains can be loaded out of there. A new grain bin was constructed at the Hills site in 2005.
The Farmers Elevator Co. of Jeffers was founded in 1904. The first board president was Ole Osland. The name was changed to Farmers Cooperative Elevator Co. in 1947. In 1986, Farmers Elevator Co. Jeffers purchased Southwest Grain Terminal in Heron Lake.
Mountain Lake's original elevator was Farmers Elevator Co. organized in 1901. Cooperative Elevator Company of Windom purchased the Mountain Lake elevator in the 1980s.
The first organizational meeting of the Cooperative Elevator Company of Windom took place in August 1905. Original stock shares were worth $10 each. The downtown elevator in Windom is still the original structure built in 1905. The feed mill at Windom was updated in 2004. In the early days, Windom was known as the "flaxseed capital" of Minnesota.