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Published August 03, 2010, 09:26 AM

Ag businesses have seen a lot of changes

Agweek was launched 25 years ago to help area farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses keep on top of the ongoing changes and developments in agriculture. In that time, countless changes — some great, some small — have come in everything from U.S. farm policy to the crops grown in the region.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Agweek was launched 25 years ago to help area farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses keep on top of the ongoing changes and developments in agriculture. In that time, countless changes — some great, some small — have come in everything from U.S. farm policy to the crops grown in the region.

Not everything has changed over the past quarter century.

Agweek continues to provide information that ag producers and businesses want and need.

Farmers and ranchers continue to look for ways to operate smarter and more profitably.

Agribusinesses continue to search for new and better ways of serving their customers. For some companies, that’s meant adding new locations or new services and products or both. For virtually all area ag businesses, it’s meant adopting new technologies to become more efficient.

Here’s a look at six area agribusinesses that are longtime Agweek advertisers.

An anniversary of their own

You might know Faith, S.D., as the place where Sue, a 67 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, was discovered 20 years ago.

But to the people who live there, Faith and the surrounding area are cattle and sheep country — and that’s where Faith Livestock comes in.

The business, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in August, sells cattle and sheep raised by ranchers living within 100 to 150 miles of Faith, says Scott Vance, one of the proprietors of the family business.

His father, Gary, also works at the business. It was Gary’s father, Lawrence, who’s now deceased, who helped start the business in 1960.

Early on at the business, “they weighed more cattle than they sold. It took a little while to build up trust,” Scott Vance says.

Today, the business is entrenched in the community, he says, noting that many of its 30 to 35 part-time employees also raise sheep and cattle and are customers of Faith Livestock.

The business has five full-time employees, too.

Cattle account for about two-thirds of Faith Livestock’s sales, sheep about one-third, Vance estimates.

October is the biggest sales month, particularly for cattle,

Business wasn’t the best a year ago, when low cattle prices and poor calving conditions hurt area livestock producers, Vance says.

But better prices and excellent calving conditions this spring are making 2010 a good year, he says.

3 generations, 5 ag stores

William Roy started selling farm equipment in Langdon, N.D., in 1971.

Today, three generations of his family are selling John Deere equipment at dealerships in Langdon and four other North Dakota communities.

William’s son, Kevin, and Kevin’s son, Anthony, also are active in the family business.

Besides the Langdon store, they also operate these dealerships:

n Roy Implement in Walhalla.

n Cavalier Implement in Cavalier.

n Cooper Implement in Cooperstown.

n Barnes County Equipment in Wimbledon.

Combined, the five stores employ about 90 to 100 people and sell a wide range of equipment for crops and hay.

Kevin Roy says operating multiple locations makes financial sense because “costs are cut. You share the costs in a lot of things” such as computers.

Agriculture has seen many changes since the Langdon business began, he says.

Farms have gotten bigger, and so has the equipment, Roy says, and equipment will continue to get bigger, although infrastructure such as roads and power lines will limit how big equipment ultimately can become.

Ag and farm equipment sales fared well from 2006 to 2009 when commodity prices shot higher, he says. Now, with commodity prices lower again, ag equipment sales are back to normal.

Fundamental things apply

Technology has changed greatly in the past 73 years, but the basics of the auction business remain the same, says Larry Schnell, co-owner of Stockmen’s Livestock Exchange in Dickinson, N.D.

“Competitive bidding still has value. That hasn’t changed,” he says.

The business was founded by Ray Schnell in 1937 as Schnell’s Livestock Exchange Sales Co. It took its current name in 1977.

The heart of the business is selling feeder cattle to feedlots, most of them in states far from Dickinson in western North Dakota.

Eighty-five percent of the feeder cattle sold by Stockmen’s end up in far-away feedlots, Schnell says.

From October through February, when Stockmen’s is busiest, the business holds two sales weekly for feeder cattle, he says.

According to Schnell, Stockmen’s, which has 11 full- and 35 part-time employees, sells about 8 percent of its cattle through satellite video. That percentage has been holding steady.

Technology allows Stockmen’s to be more efficient in “things like weighing cattle,” he says, but technology isn’t the only thing that’s changing. Big ranchers are getting bigger and small ones grow smaller, he says.

Business, good in 2009 despite generally poor cattle prices, is even better this year, Schnell says. This summer is even more appealing because the grass in southwestern North Dakota is unusually green and thick.

“It’s lush,” he says.

Schnell is optimistic about the future of his industry.

“I think people are still seeing the benefits of competitive bidding,” he says.

Still trucking onward

Bert’s Truck Equipment has been selling its wares to area farmers and others since 1939.

The family business, which Bert Gregoire launched in downtown East Grand Forks, Minn., today has locations in East Grand Forks and Moorhead, Minn.

The product lines include equipment for farmers, contractors and others, and recently expanded to include accessibility equipment for people with limited mobility.

“We have a pretty wide range of pro-ducts,” says Jeremy Gregoire, general manager for the Moorhead location.

The two locations cooperate on a few things but generally operate independently, despite having the same name, he says.

Each location has it own website.

The East Grand Forks location has 18 full-time employees and the Moorhead site 32, according to store websites.

The stores’ trade area extends west to Dickinson, N.D., east to Bemidji, Minn., south to Sioux Falls, S.D., and north to the Canadian border, Gregoire says.

Bert’s is independent, which is a big plus, Gregoire says.

“We like the flexibility,” he says.

The East Grand Forks location moved to its current site, east of the American Crystal Sugar Beet plant, in 1958. After a major fire struck the East Grand Forks Bert’s building in 1989, a new 14,500-square-foot building was completed in 1990. A new welding shop was constructed in 1995.

The Moorhead location, now on U.S. Highway 75 north of the city, opened in 1976.

In 2004, a 10,000-square-foot addition was put on to the shop, with another 3,000 square feet of showroom and office space added, too.

Tools are its business

Acme Tools has deep roots in the Upper Midwest — and in agriculture.

The Grand Forks, N.D.-based company supplies tools and equipment at nine locations in three states, online and through its catalog.

Contractors are the company’s biggest customers, and woodworkers and do-it-yourselfers are important, too, says Chris Van Sickle, an Acme Tools official in Grand Forks.

Whoever the customer, service is essential, Van Sickle says.

“Service is our main goal,” he says.

George Kuhlman founded the business, originally known as Acme Electric, in 1948 in downtown Grand Forks as an electric motor repair shop.

He took the Acme name because it means the highest level attainable, or the peak of perfection.

Some customers still refer to the business as Acme Electric, though its name has changed to Acme Tools.

The company remains a family business, Van Sickle says.

“That’s who we are,” he says.

The nine locations are Grand Forks, Fargo, Bismarck, Minot, all in North Dakota; Bemidji, Duluth and Plymouth, all in Minnesota; Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, both in Iowa.

Agriculture is vital to all the communities served by Acme Tools, Van Sickle says.

For about a decade, beginning in 1999, the company focused on establishing new retail locations in Minnesota and Iowa.

Now, the emphasis has shifted, Van Sickle says, and the company has no plans for more retail stores because “we’re focusing on our Internet business.”

He says catalog sales also are important to the company and that customers can request a catalog at www.acmetools.com.

25 years of truck sales

Kurt Wanner describes himself as a “hands-on owner” who regularly gets out from behind his desk to work on a truck or whatever else needs to be done.

Wanner owns and operates Dickinson Truck Equipment, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this spring.

He started the business after working in the Dickinson area for a similar business based in Rapid City, S.D.

The North Dakota native thought it made more sense to have his own business in Dickinson than to make frequent trips there from Rapid City.

The early years of his business were challenging because the region’s oil patch, a major truck customer, was struggling, he says.

“But we struck with it,” he says, and within 10 years, the business was faring much better.

Today, Dickinson Truck Equipment Co. has 10 employees.

Wanner says that while the commercial side of his business, which includes the oil patch as well as contractors, accounts for the biggest chunk of sales, farm sales are important, too.

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