A century ago at Rockwell, Iowa, a little town south of Mason City in northern Iowa, people representing a group of cooperative grain elevators gathered together. They felt they were not being treated fairly by the big private grain companies to which they sold grain.
The co-ops wanted better prices for their corn. So they formed the Farmers Grain Dealers Association (FGDA) to market their grain. They've now been at it for 100 years, although today the name of the organization is AGRI-Industries.
At one time AGRI was the biggest marketer of grain in Iowa. Today they rank third, behind ADM and Cargill. AGRI-Industries expanded mightily in the grain transportation and handling business in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They leased a big Mississippi River grain elevator near New Orleans. They bought another export elevator at Houston. They invested in a Mississippi River barge line. They leased a fleet of 3,000 railroad cars.
Firm is now in food business too
When the U.S. farm economy fell upon bad times in the mid-1980s, AGRI-Industries was forced to divest itself of those enterprises. Today, as it celebrates it's 100th birthday, AGRI is in the food business as well as grain marketing. The firm purchased Mrs. Clark's brand of food products in 1997. Today, AGRI is a $65 million annual business.
Most of Mrs. Clark's products are sold under labels of other major brand names. That's why you don't see the extent of Mrs. Clark's products. They use soybean oil, corn syrup, cornstarch and eggs to make salad dressing, barbecue sauce and juices.
Jerry Van Der Kamp, CEO of AGRI, and board members Paul Voga of Story City and Sue Tronchetti of Dayton, expect both facets of the firm to prosper in the years ahead. They point out that the two key businesses conducted by AGRI are grain handling and the food processing business. After all, they say, isn't that where all farmers' corn and soybeans ends upâ€”as foodâ€”with the exception of ethanol and biodiesel fuels?
On March 1, 2004, AGRI ended its affiliation with Cargill to market AGRI's grain. AGRI switched to Bunge of North America. Bunge, one of the world's top three- grain firms, had not had a presence in Iowa. But they do now, which is good, says Van Der Kamp. It creates more competition and thus more buyers for farmers' grain.