New Vision Co-op honors Jorgenson for years of service
JEFFERS -- He served in every leadership position on the board -- most of them more than one term -- but as of last week, Ron Jorgenson is officially retired after 20 years of service to his local cooperative elevator.
Jorgenson was recognized Jan. 11 during the annual meeting of New Vision Cooperative. He served as board chairman from 2003 through 2005, and prior to that spent one year as vice president, four years as secretary and two years as treasurer.
Though his time on the board of directors is now complete, Jorgenson is far from retiring. He maintains a corn and soybean operation with wife Dorothy, brother Dave and wife Joyce, and nephew Kelly Dunkelberger and wife Lisa in Cottonwood County, near Jeffers.
Jorgenson's initiation with a cooperative elevator board began back in 1985, after he was elected to the board of the Jeffers Farmers Elevator.
"I was fairly young at the time," he said. "It was a one-location elevator. I believe I was asked to attend a young farmer conference sponsored by Land O'Lakes and Jeffers Farmers Elevator. We went to the Land O'Lakes annual meeting in the Twin Cities, where they explained the co-op structure and how it worked. I got interested in it and ... after that I was asked to run (for the board)."
Jorgenson served on the Jeffers Farmers Elevator board until 1987, when the elevator purchased the Southwest Grain Terminal. The board had to be downsized to allow for representation from Heron Lake, and Jorgenson lost his seat until 1991, when an opening became available and he was elected to fill the post. Since then, he's attended approximately 20 meetings per year as a board member and officer.
"The most important duty of the directors is hiring the manager and setting policies for the elevator," Jorgenson said.
Personally, he gained valuable leadership skills and was always learning during his tenure on the board.
"It was always good to be rubbing shoulders with other farmers and, in a lot of instances, other professionals," he said. "I never imagined when I got on that it would be for this long. I always enjoyed it. I felt I was getting value out of it as a person, too."
Jorgenson and his fellow board members helped lead the cooperative through several mergers and a whole lot of growing pains in the last two decades.
The first merger he was involved with was in 1992, when Jeffers (then Prairieland Consolidated) merged with elevators in Windom and Mountain Lake.
"That was a big hurdle to overcome because ... people felt like they were losing part of their elevator," he said. "The office was moved to Windom at that time. There were growing pains -- it was for the best. We needed to get larger because farmers were getting larger."
Six years later, in 1998, the cooperative merged again, this time with Consolidated Co-op in Worthington.
"That merger has turned out to be a very successful partnership," Jorgenson said. "I think we have gained a lot in efficiencies by putting these two companies together. I think it worked out just as it was planned."
The new merger improved the buying power for the cooperative. It could purchase feed ingredients in larger volume and market grain with 100 rail cars at a time. Jorgenson said it increased access for both farmers and buyers.
As a result of the merger with Consolidated Co-op (now known as New Vision Co-op), the offices were moved to Worthington. There were more growing pains, but Jorgenson said people adapted to it pretty well over the years.
"Some of the growing pains that we went through were not real popular with the local communities, but it had to be done," he said. "There were a lot of times that you had to make tough decisions that weren't very popular with your neighbors."
Perhaps one of the most controversial steps taken as a board was when the cooperative tightened up its credit policies, he said.
"Twenty-five years ago you could maybe buy your fertilizer and chemicals in the spring and say you'd pay for them when you sold your grain in the fall," said Jorgenson. "It can't be that way anymore. The elevator wouldn't have enough capital to operate by extending credit for that long."
Despite some of the difficult decisions Jorgenson has been involved with over the years, he still enjoyed his service on the 11-member board of directors for New Vision Cooperative.
"This board has been a great board to work with," he said. "No one is territorial, we have all made the decisions (based on) what is best for the company.
"I've always had the philosophy ... I'd rather ask too many questions rather than not questioning enough," he added. "The shareholders won't hold you liable for asking too many questions."
After 20 years of service to the board, Jorgenson has some mixed feelings about his retirement. He's excited to see new, younger members take an interest in serving their cooperative, yet he would have liked to remain on the board to see all of the member equity retired.
"Back in 1998, we promised to retire all the equity by 2011," he said. "I think that will be one place where elevators have dropped the ball is paying out old equity. That's one priority this board has is to accelerate it."
Jorgenson said many of New Vision's board members are nearing the end of their term limits, and it's necessary to find a new crop of farmers interested in serving.
"I would have had to get off (the board) in three years," he said. "A good number of the directors are going to have to get off over the next three years, which meant there was going to be a sizeable turnover.
"I thought it would be good to get some new directors on board to learn a little bit before we have them all at once," he added.
Jorgenson said it has been a struggle to get new board members for the cooperative.
"It shouldn't be," he said. "I think anybody that has gotten on the board in the past has enjoyed it. It's just a lot of people (have) time constraints."
Jorgenson's position on the New Vision board has been filled by Kelly Dunkelberger of Jeffers.