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Agribusiness is a critical industry for Wisconsin and Langlade County. Last year – despite crop damage caused by a late spring frost, a June marked by a combination of too much or too little rain and one of the state’s worst droughts on record – Wisconsin farmers netted $3 billion1.
One of the strengths of Wisconsin’s agribusiness sector – and one of the reasons the sector remains strong despite weather variability – is its depth and breadth of products and services. Wisconsin is the third largest producer of potatoes in the nation – and is first east of the Mississippi. Wisconsin is seventh in the nation in corn production and produces lumber, Christmas trees, cranberries, peas, beans, cherries, apples, grapes, soybeans, ginseng, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, poultry, dairy, mint, carrots, cabbage, sweet corn and livestock. In addition, the state is home to numerous food processing plants representing brands such as McCain and Del Monte. In a year like 2012, this depth and breadth of product helped alleviate stressors caused by the weather – corn and soybeans experienced lower yields, but this was offset by higher prices. While milk prices in 2012 were low, a record 27.2 billion pounds and an increase in per capita consumption offset the prices.
Custom Consultations and Expertise for Wisconsin’s Agribusinesses
Frontier-Servco FS, with 23 locations across the state and the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan, is no stranger to this variability. As a supplier of agricultural consultation services, fertilizer, crop inputs, seed, fuel, lubricants, propane, and furnaces for farmers and agricultural businesses, the experts at Frontier-Servco FS help farmers manage the variability that is part and parcel of the industry. Established sixty-seven years ago, Frontier-Servco FS is a co-op owned by the very people who utilize its services. “The cooperative structure is at the heart of our commitment to helping our customers succeed,” notes Joel Zalewski, Northern Area Manager “and this commitment also contributes to our own success.” That includes providing consultation services for a diverse range of farms across 49 counties in Wisconsin and the UP. “Various members of our sales staff possess expertise in the dairy, grain, seed potato, cranberry, mint, and timber industries, as well as many niche agribusinesses”.
A critical part of those services includes custom application of fertilizers, nutrients and crop inputs. Zalewski explains, “Everything starts with a soil test. We help customers choose the nutrients, fertilizers, and cultural practices best suited to their particular crops and soil types. We also have our own precision Ag department that offers grid sampling, variable rate prescriptions, and the newest technology in precision farming equipment. Our precision ag team is dedicated to providing the most progressive support in the industry”.
Quick, Complete Responsiveness
Supply chain management and transportation are also important. Frontier-Servo FS has a state-of-the-art fertilizer plant in Antigo that stores up to 24,000 tons of dry fertilizer, as well as liquid fertilizer. Quick turnaround on soil tests, delivery and crop input applications is critical. “We’ve had to deliver as much as 700 tons of fertilizer in a single day. When our customers are planting, we need to be able to provide the products and services they need across a large territory. Unpredictable and often unfavorable weather can leave farmers with a very small window of opportunity to get their field work completed. Careful planning on our part is crucial to our success. Our customers rely on us to be careful with the timing of our applications.” To further assist its agribusiness customers, Frontier-Servco FS also operates a convenience store in Antigo and provides a truck scale used by local farmers to calculate crop yields.
And a success it is. Zalewski notes the company has experienced tremendous growth in a relatively short period of time. Known as Farm Bureau Coop back in 1996, annual sales were about $7 million. Sales grew to $118 million last year. After Servco’s merger with Frontier on September 1, 2012, the company posted sales of $349 million for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, with $7.7 million in net profit. Originally focused on farms in and around Langlade County, Frontier-Servco FS has expanded to cover the majority of the state and the UP of Michigan – and works with farmers in every sector of agribusiness.
Expanding Agribusiness, Expanding Workforce Training
As Frontier-Servco FS has expanded, they’ve partnered with Northcentral Technical College (NTC) to collaborate on customized workforce training. “NTC is very interested in assessing our needs, making suggestions and then putting together workforce training classes for us.” NTC also helped Frontier-Servco FS obtain a workforce grant for training. “Meeting the needs of modern farmers is a complicated process and it can be difficult to find people with the necessary experience and know-how. NTC now helps us with that training at our Antigo location.”
“We conduct ourselves like partners with our customers and like any effective partnership, trust is an essential component. We work hard to earn this trust because we believe it is the foundation for our success,” concludes Zalewski.
1 Status of Wisconsin Agriculture, 2013, from the Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics, UW-Madison and Cooperative Extension, UW-Extension.