Meet Jeff Freeman of Wilco
How did Wilco, and its name, come to be?
Wilco’s name originated from Willamette Consolidated. As agricultural supply cooperatives began to merge and consolidate 50 years ago, the roll up of many individual cooperatives became the core of Wilco.
What defines Wilco and sets it apart from other coops?
In a word…diversity. Fundamentally, cooperatives are owned by the growers we serve. Our core business is agronomy and agronomic inputs like fertilizer, seed, crop protection products and fuel. Wilco’s leadership in past years has made some key decisions to diversify our resources into retail farm stores. The diversity of our three business units, agronomy, petroleum and farm stores, help us manage our risk and create sustainable returns for our members.
How does Wilco serve its local communities?
All employees at Wilco strive to practice a set of core values; integrity, quality, respect, accountability, teamwork and community. Many of our employees live in or grew up in rural communities. We try to stay connected to the issues facing the communities we serve. The list of issues can be extensive, ranging from lack of youth program funding in FFA to regulatory issues that can handicap growers. Wilco fosters community involvement by enabling and supporting our employees to be involved in areas they are passionate about.
Where is Wilco looking to expand to next?
That depends if you are asking about Agronomy or Farm Stores. Geographic expansion of Wilco’s farm stores has been aggressive in recent years, adding locations in areas outside the Willamette Valley like Gig Harbor, Wash. and Bend. Expansion of our agronomy business is a key strategy, but it is much more difficult to find opportunities that are fits to our business model. The businesses are quite different, but the same principles apply in that expansion must be a profitable opportunity.
Wilco turns 50 in a couple of years, any big celebrations in the works?
We don’t have any formal plans at this time. Wilco is a pretty conservative company so I wouldn’t expect anything too extravagant. I’m sure we’ll take the time to recognize the fact that reaching that milestone was only accomplished because of the contribution of our employees, members, leadership and community support.
What do you do at Wilco?
I am the marketing and supply manager for our agronomy business. In practical terms, I get the pleasure of sitting between our vendor partners and our agronomists to supply our growers with the best solutions for the farm. My overriding charge is to provide products and services that deliver the best agronomy and return on investment to the grower and economic benefit to Wilco.
What are the biggest challenges and rewards of what you do?
Let’s start with the easy one. The biggest rewards come in the form of the relationships that I get to develop and how a conversation or idea can turn into value for Wilco and its customers. My biggest challenge is assessing what the next trend, hurdle or game changer is for our industry. Farming had a much more positive image associated with it 30 years ago. Society in general has lost sight of the fact that farming is a very noble profession. Helping growers do things the “right way” when it comes to their crop inputs is getting more difficult. Being part of the team at Wilco that assists growers in these practices, and in turn creates a positive image for agriculture, is rewarding.
What inspires you to keep doing what you do?
I just like learning. I have two small kids so I’ll be working till I’m old and grey! This industry is full of really smart people which makes it a very rewarding place to be.
What are some interesting facts about you?
My favorite part of work is teamwork. I think it stems from playing every sport I could growing up. Not too many things give the same emotions as a team win!
Is there anything else people should know about Wilco?
Wilco’s agronomy business has a tremendous amount of collective experience and knowledge. Many growers have benefitted from the business relationships they have historically had with our staff. Our current staff spans three generational segments. The baby boomers on the verge of retirement are mentoring their budding millennial replacements. As an industry this trend is a current reality. I would encourage any young, professionally-minded person to get into agriculture. If you are willing to put in the time and take the appropriate calculated career risks, the rewards are here.
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