During the 40 years that Stan Utting has been a co-op manager, he’s seen a lot of change, from deregulation of railroads and crop acreages to bigger farms and larger elevators.
Utting will retire after the final business meeting of Agri Producers, Inc. on April 23. He led the board of directors through a merger process with Hope and Chapman cooperatives that took effect March 1. Darrell Anderson of Hope is the new Agri Trails Cooperative manager.
Utting took over the reins at Tampa Cooperative Association in 1976, three years after his 1973 graduation from Tabor College. At that time, grain was shipped by train to large terminal elevators for storage, and co-ops paid a transit fee to the terminals.
In 1980, the federal government deregulated the railroads, resulting in several smaller shippers being forced out of business. Union Pacific emerged as owner of both the Southern Pacific that ran through Ramona and Tampa and Oklahoma-Kansas Railway that ran through Lincolnville.
Shipping became much more competitive, Utting said.
“That’s when the unit train and contract rates were invented,” he said. “Shipping rates tripled over the years.”
This led to grain being shipped by truck, he said.
During Utting’s first 10 years as manager, Tampa Co-op purchased the Ramona elevator, merged with Farmers Cooperative Grain at Durham and Lincolnville Cooperative Association at Lincolnville, and purchased the grain facility at Herington.
After purchasing the Gypsum and Carlton facilities in 1993, the board of directors decided to change the name to Agri Producers to reflect the wider area of customers.
The Freedom to Farm Act passed in 1996 took government got out of the business of regulating crop acreages and requiring set-asides in exchange for farm payments.
“Now the marketplace sets the price,” Utting said. “It’s been good. Farmers have seen record prices the last four or five years.”
Utting has witnessed farms getting bigger every year. He said the risk is higher for the co-op.
“We are doing business with a smaller number of people,” he said. “I would rather do business with 15 farmers with 300 acres each than with two farmers with 10,000 acres each. If one large operator fails, the co-op has more to lose.”
He said it’s harder to keep big farmers’ business because they have semis and can choose where to deliver grain. They also have more choices for other services.
He said the co-op works to accommodate large harvesting equipment by building more elevator legs for unloading grain and keeping combines rolling.
Utting said his job hasn’t always been easy.
“Some jobs are visible, like this one,” he said. “Being in this position doesn’t make you a lot of friends. You aren’t going to win any popularity contests, but that comes with the territory.”
The 65-year-old manager said it was time to retire: “My job was all right, but it’s time to move on.”
Utting will join his wife, Kathy, a retired nurse, in Olathe. Their son Luke and family also live in Olathe. Son Alex lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
“I survived the trials, tribulations, and personnel issues,” Utting said. “I will leave it to others to say whether or not I did a good job. Someone else probably could have done better or could have done worse.”