Times are tough in agriculture. It’s a mature marketplace — one wrought by unpredictability — and in the words of Alan Wessler, vice president of MFA’s feed division, “they’re not making more land and they’re not growing more producers.” Competition is stiff. To combat the forces beyond its control, MFA Inc. has made it its mission to ingrain customer service into its culture; and after 96 years, the co-op has garnered quite a reputation for accomplishing this feat.
“When you know people are counting on you to provide a quality product at a competitive price, it translates into a culture of accountability — and we have this history of service,” Wessler says. “Our relationship with the producer is reciprocal. We know that if their animals perform well on our products, enhancing the producers bottom line, more than likely he’ll be back to do business again.
“We’ve been around awhile, and people know we’re going to be there,” explains Wessler.
MFA’s origins trace back to a one-room schoolhouse near Brunswick, MO. In 1914 seven area farmers met at the schoolhouse to discuss an article William Hirth wrote for the Missouri Farmer and Breeder discussing the formation of farm clubs. From this meeting grew the formation of the Missouri Farmers Association, a cooperative that eventually grew to become the largest business enterprise in the state.
Today, the MFA co-op is owned by more than 45,000 farmers and ranchers in Missouri and surrounding states. The member-owned cooperative’s clientele is comprised of a mix of grain and livestock producers. Members pick and choose the services they utilize, and MFA strives to meet all of these varied needs by operating as a full-line, full-service agribusiness.
MFA operates under the principle of “the extra degree,” Wessler explains: “The thinking behind this theme is this: At 211 degrees water does not boil, but it will if it goes that extra degree. You produce steam, and once steam is harnessed it is incredibly powerful. We go that extra degree.”
For example, he says, it could be as simple as a farmer realizing he’s going to run out of feed on a weekend; MFA employees will find ways to get that person taken care of until the mill opens or open it back up on a Saturday so he can get the feed he needs.
According to the company, “MFA Incorporated combines the principles of an established cooperative with the market savvy of an aggressive agribusiness.” This manifests itself in the co-op’s focus on establishing businesses, organizations and other cooperatives to aid and strengthen the position of agriculture. MFA’s offerings include: feed production, sales and distribution; plant food sales and distribution; seed and crop protection sales and distribution; farm supply sales and distribution; custom application and site-specific services; financing services; and livestock and grain marketing.
MFA’s core businesses include 106 MFA Agri Services Centers, as well as 50 affiliates and a wide network of local, independent cooperatives and dealers; the combination of these businesses, subsidiaries and joint ventures delivers $750 million in sales annually.
Missouri is the No. 3 cow/calf state in the country. The feed/animal health business that accompanies animal agriculture makes feed an important part of the MFA network. Wessler notes the cyclical nature of animal nutrition, health and management: “All three of these components need to work well for the animals to perform as well as they are genetically capable of.”
Wessler explains: “From a manufacturing standpoint, the nutrition you put in front of [the animals] is only as good as the formulation, and the manufacturing process allows you to capture this value. We make sure you’re mixing well, the bags are sealed tight, and all the little things go together so the nutrition the producer buys works for the animal. The goal is to make sure the customer has what he needs — whether health or nutrition — to allow his animals to express the most they are capable of while staying healthy.”