In 1949 a strike by the steel workers on the east coast led to a shrinking supply of bailing wire needed by Valley farmers and what was available was exorbitantly priced. The need for less expensive wire drove Stanislaus County farmers to creatively pool financial resources under a committee to secure a railcar of wire.
One of the farmers, Joe Sousa, offered to the Farm Supply Committee headed by Maurice McDonald to manage the company for six months without pay. He also offered free use of his pickup and one-and-a-half-ton truck. If directors were satisfied with the operation at the end of six months, he agreed to continue for six more months; if not, he pledged to resign with no compensation. Another farmer, Fred Thiemann matched Sousa’s proposal by offering office space and clerical staff at no charge, and in 1949, Stanislaus Farm Supply was born.
That was 70 years ago and in November the Ceres based grower-owned co-op celebrated with a dinner gala and program at the Turlock Fairgrounds.
While other grower-owned companies and ag suppliers have come and gone in the same 70 years, Stanislaus Farm Supply has thrived by adapting to change. Today, Stanislaus Farm Supply has three locations in California – Ceres, Merced and Kerman – and two in Nevada – Yerington and Fallon – with a total of 150 employees.
The business mainly supplies 2,500 farmer members and general customers with fertilizer, seed, feed, herbicides and pesticides and general farm supplies such as farm animal health products. Besides lower costs, Stanislaus Farm Supply offers service and advice to farmers.
“Our competitors are large and foreign owned and kind of publicly traded companies with thousands of branches across the country,” said marketing director Joey Gonsalves. “They could care less what’s happening in Ceres. Their branch out here is a number on a page where here it’s much more focused on the customer because that’s who owns us. So, it’s getting quality service, quality service at a fair price to make them money.”
From advances in ag technology to climate and environmental changes, agriculture is a dynamic industry full of challenges and opportunities. Stanislaus Farm Supply also works with the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau as an affiliated co-op to be a voice for agriculture and strives to improve the financial well-being and quality of life for farmers and ranchers.
The program recounted how Stanislaus Farm Supply – today located on Service Road in southwest Ceres – evolved over the seven decades.
Originally located on 8th and Washington streets in Modesto, Stanislaus Farm Supply’s success is often attributed to the business savvy of its founding members, along with its integral relationship with the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau which supplied much of the early financing for the growing company. Within five years of its 1949 founding the small cooperative grew to over $500,000 in annual sales. By 1960 Farm Supply acquired a new warehouse on Service Road near the Tidewater Railroad tracks that allowed for the eventual development of onsite bulk fertilizer storage and added a field staff to better emphasize its service-oriented business model.
Today the Ceres location doubles as the corporate headquarters and is one of the main distribution centers for fertilizer and seed. It employs around 100 employees, said Gonsalves.
While Stanislaus Farm Supply strengthened its relationship with the Farm Bureau and area growers, an increasing gap widened between farmers and consumers. When Sam Bettencourt became general manager in 1978, he pushed the company to further serve its member by stepping up its support of local youth through junior livestock events and student scholarships for those pursuing agricultural related degrees. Today it sponsors FFA and 4H projects and members by annually purchasing $80,000 worth of member animals at the county fairs, in addition to awarding $50,000 annually towards donations and scholarships.
“It’s a big part of our outreach to customers and community,” said Gonsalves. “We try to keep it in check so it doesn’t go too crazy, but yeah we probably go to a dozen fairs in California and Nevada. Probably about half of that is out of Stanislaus County.”
Bettencourt also oversaw the hiring and development of many of Farm Supply’s most valuable employees, many of whom remain with the company to this day. In 2015, Nick Biscay was named president and CEO of Farm Supply following Bettencourt’s 37 years at the helm.