400 members and guests attend two-day event
America’s economy may have had problems the past few years, but Alabama Farmers Cooperative just keeps rolling along, setting financial records as a result of committed leadership on state and local levels.
That was the message of AFC’s Chief Executive Officer Roger Pangle during the 76th annual meeting of an organization that was begun with $1,000 investments by 13 businessmen to create a fertilizer cooperative in the Tennessee Valley.
Those investments have mushroomed into a multi-million dollar operation extending throughout Alabama and that continues to set new bottom-line records, said Pangle.
"AFC is in the midst of historic earnings and the past 6 years are the most profitable years in the company’s 76-year history," Pangle said to an estimated 400 Cooperative members, family members and special guests during the two-day event.
The annual meeting, held Febuary13-14 at the Renaissance Hotel in Montgomery, featured financial reports by each of AFC’s divisions as well as longevity awards and the naming of Larry Leslie of Cherokee Farmers Cooperative as the E.P. Garrett Manager of the Year.
Pangle reported AFC sales for 2012 totaled $464 million, an increase of $13 million over the previous year. He noted that some of the Cooperative’s glittering accomplishments can be attributed to management restructuring.
"Part of our focus the last several years has been to help those member Cooperatives that have struggled to improve their financial health," he said. "This is being accomplished through several different venues."
Those venues have helped streamline operations, leading to increased efficiency and profitability, said Pangle, who became CEO last year, succeeding long-time AFC leader Tommy Paulk who had served for 17 years.
"We’ve assisted several members in restructuring to decrease their leverage and improve their working capital so they could survive," said Pangle, who indicated, at times, AFC management has had to step in and help local operations "close or dissolve their businesses" when "painful decisions" had to be made.
Those instances "have been very few," Pangle said, and "to date, the 13 mergers and restructurings we have assisted with have been a success."
Before the mergers and restructurings were necessary, Pangle said those 13 members had a cumulative loss of $1.4 million at the end of the fiscal year. With AFC’s help, they had a net income of $700,000 – amounting to an improvement of $2.1 million.
As he prepared his annual report, Pangle began to think about the 13 farmers and their $1,000 investments to form the Tennessee Valley Fertilizer Cooperative – something leading to AFC’s creation.
The little cooperative in North Alabama was founded with the "simple mission" of pooling member resources to ensure an adequate supply of fertilizer for their farmers.
"Our Cooperative’s founding purpose was service to you, the members of AFC," Pangle said. "Service was core to our very existence then and service remains core to our existence now because, without you, we have no reason to exist."
Pangle said AFC’s "guiding vision" has always been "Serving You First," adding, in following that pledge, "We honor the original commitment made by our founders and fulfill our mission statement of increasing the long-term value of Alabama farmers to you, our membership."
In his report, AFC Chairman Sam Givhan mentioned the organization’s amazing transformation into one of "the largest, most diverse, privately owned agricultural companies in the Southeast."
"We have managed AFC for the long term, enjoying tremendous success as a result," said Givhan, a successful Dallas County farmer. "But, as you know, this has not come without challenges."
He quickly added, "I am happy to say every facet of our business was able to meet those challenges and continued to advance during 2012."
Givhan had special praise for Pangle, saying his experience as Paulk’s top aide for 16 years "will lead AFC into an even brighter future."
Pangle and Paulk have remained close friends since the change of command and each praises the other for their leadership efforts.
"I never realized all the things Tommy did until he left," Pangle quipped. "In fact, I tell folks that perhaps the smartest one left and left me to do the job of two."
Paulk said he never had any doubts Pangle would do an excellent job as his successor "because he’s always been cool under fire and works well with people."
One of several special guests at the annual meeting was Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell who mentioned America’s "cheap food policy."
"We’ve kept prices low for the public, but that has changed in the past few years with food prices starting to creep up," Parnell said at the first event of the annual meeting. "I think we can wake up, though, and have a big reverse in that policy, even if it may not happen soon."
Parnell also stressed the importance of agriculture, saying it remains Alabama’s leading industry, but he’s worried it is not being portrayed that way to the public.
He said agriculture needs to do a "better job of selling itself" in Alabama and indicated his organization is doing all it can to do just that.
Another special guest at the annual meeting was retired Army Lt. Col. Steve Russell who was involved in the capture of Iraq President Saddam Hussein.
Using slides to illustrate his presentation, Russell gave his audience a detailed description of how he and other soldiers patiently followed clues leading to the dictator.
Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.