Eaton Farm Bureau Cooperative: Providing Diversified Agricultural Services

Eaton Farm Bureau Cooperative (EFB) has been providing local farmers with a wide range of storage and marketing resources since 1947. EFB operates out of a single location in Charlotte, Mich., from which it services members mostly within a 20-mile radius of the facility.

Larry Crouch, general manager of EFB, has been running the cooperative since 2006. “I worked at another cooperative in Michigan for 15 years,” says Crouch. “I grew up on a dairy farm, and went to Michigan State to study dairy science.”

A tough economy in the ’80s led Crouch to pursue work outside of the farm. Crouch’s experience in the industry led him to work at a grain elevator operation, where he honed his skills and built his expertise in the supply side of agriculture. Since joining the team at EFB, Crouch has been working toward achieving greater capacity, while developing a business plan that better serves members and attracts business.

Facilities with Capabilities

“We offer farm supplies and grain merchandising,” says Crouch. “We receive, condition, store and market grain products for our members. Another aspect of our company is a petroleum business. We deliver home heating oil to local residents, and fuel to farmers.” Additionally, the team at EFB proudly offers tractor tires for sale, with on-site installation included.

Though the cooperative has remained housed in one location, EFB’s facility has grown to include space to accommodate a variety of storage needs, services and retail divisions. EFB’s agronomy division offers farm and garden solutions, including fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, seed and management services, such as grid soil sampling and pesticide application. The team offers recommendations for farmers and homeowners alike. Together with Winfield, a major agronomy supplier, EFB is helping members achieve the best solutions for any project within the appropriate price range.

The cooperative also has an on-site feed mill, which offers custom mixes designed to fit the varying needs of livestock operations. The cooperative also provides specialists to consult with desiring farmers, either at the mill or on the farm. Working in cooperation with Purina, the EFB team can help farmers build custom feed programs for animals as well.

The cooperative’s grain facilities can store an impressive 2.3 million bushels of product. EFB is capable of serving the storage and marketing needs of farmers looking to sell corn, soybeans, red wheat and oats, with some flexible space for other crops. The cooperative’s marketing division also offers pricing, payment services and contract opportunities for members. Livestock farmers can opt to take advantage of storage options for grain, allowing farmers to take advantage of low seasonal prices and buy in bulk. This allows members to save time by not having to deliver grain for each load of feed.

Growth and Changes

Despite economic and environmental challenges, EFB is growing steadily. “Since 2008 we’ve added about 1.3 million bushels of grain storage capacity with receiving and drying capabilities,” says Crouch proudly. “We’ve also added a liquid plant for fertilizers and pesticides. It gives us the capacity to efficiently operate in the field and increases our ability to handle these materials safely.”

Crouch and the team are not settling there, though. “We’re currently launching a precision dry fertilizer application service,” Crouch continues. “That’s been building for a few years. It’s been tough. A competitive market has slowed things down for us, but we have adequate built-up volume now and it’s starting to take off.” Part of the challenge is a changing farmer demographic. “The farms are changing in size,” explains Crouch. “Our customers need different types of services than they did years ago.”

To help compensate for a changing market, Crouch’s team is looking outside the cooperative. “We outsourced some of our services that are more expertise driven,” says Crouch. “We hire services or high skill levels like a nutritionist, agronomist, computer and mechanical services. If the need requires, we would bring them in house, if that works for us.”

Always a positive: EFB has maintained relationships with all of its partners for many years, and Crouch says his suppliers are of significant importance. “Our vendors have stayed the same for a long time,” he says. “We are always working toward developing closer relationships with them.” It is clear that the cooperative’s team has achieved just that: a loyal member base.

While times had been tight in the agricultural industry, Crouch is starting to see a turnaround. “Agriculture is a great place to be today,” he explains. “Things will continue to improve as long as we work diligently. We’re self-reliant. We won’t wait around for something to change.” While there are many factors the team cannot control – like the weather and resulting commodities prices – Crouch maintains the key to staying relevant is to offer the best products, services and work with members and partners to build up the market.

EFB has been in business for 65 years, surviving droughts, recessions and oil crises. Crouch says the cooperative isn’t going anywhere but forward. The team has integrated technological systems to aid in management, boosting efficiency and offering better communication with partners and members. Eaton Farm Bureau Cooperative will continue to help build the agricultural industry, offering irreplaceable services to members.