Co-Operative Association No. 2 of Washington

It both surprises and doesn’t surprise Rich Deppe, whose family has been farming here for decades, that Co-Operative Association No. 2 of Washington marked its 100th anniversary earlier this year.

There are several Century Farms around the area and no doubt the success of those farms has kept the Co-Op going strong all these years, said Deppe, president of the Co-Op.

“The families that founded the Co-Op No. 2, a lot of these farms are still around,” he remarked.

“It’s the area farmers and their loyalty that has kept the Co-Op growing for this long. Every year it seems like we are doing more and more.”

Still, it’s a major accomplishment to hit the 100-year mark. The original Certificate of Incoporation states that “the association shall continue for a term of 10 years.”

“It’s amazing that we’ve been that successful,” Deppe said. “A lot of businesses don’t last that long.”

If you’re not a farmer, you may not pay much attention to the Co-Op, which uses the MFA (Missouri Farmers Assication) logo in its unofficial name and signage, but its success benefits everyone, because it helps the local farmers who are producing the food we all need, said Paul Brune, general manager of the Co-Op.

Being part of the Co-Op gives farmers better buying power, as well as convenience, knowledge and expertise, plus access to equipment, said Brune, noting some of that is through the close working relationship that the Co-Op has with MFA Inc.

Brune is quick to point out that the Co-Op is a member of MFA Inc., but the two are separate organizations. The Co-Op is an independent group.

“With us being Co-Op No. 2, we are actually the second co-op to be a member of MFA. The Co-Op No. 1 is no longer in existence,” Brune noted.

Deppe said both the Co-Op and the MFA mean a lot to his family farm, which raises hogs and grows corn and soybeans. Like so many area farmers, the success of Deppe Farms relies in large part on the success of the Co-Op.

“Without it, we would be lost,” said Deppe.

“We buy a lot of our merchandise from (the Co-Op). It saves us a lot of money, because we can buy in volume.”

Deppe Farms buys all of the supplements for the hogs and the chemical fertilizer its uses on the farm from the Co-Op. The farm also participates in the Precision Agronomy Program, which identifies what nutrients are needed in what areas of the fields.

“We use that on every acre we have,” said Deppe. “We soil sample every 2 1/2 acres and that tells us what our nutrient needs are . . . It saves us a lot of money.

“It’s not just feed and things you can purchase,” he added. “It’s the knowledge and the expertise.”

$30,000 Capital Stock, 600 Shares

The Co-Op was established Aug. 2, 1919, with $30,000 in capital stock divided into 600 shares of $50 per share.

There are 129 farmers listed on the original paperwork. Most are from Washington, although there are a few from New Haven, Boles and Krakow.

The majority of farmers held one or two shares, but a few held as much as $200 or $250 worth. The largest shareholder was George Hausmann with $500 worth.

The original board of directors included:

Geo. Hausmann, W.E. Trautwein, Otto H. Groppe, Ben F. Geisert, Erwin Vitt, Wm. F. Plessner, Edw. Heimann, Geo. F. Lange, Rudolph Monje, Chas. H. Klingsick, John B. Aholt, Chas. Boeckmann, Frank Schriewer and Fred H. Trentmann.

By 1926, the Co-Op had $191,000 in sales, said Brune.

For many years the Co-Op was located in a three-story brick building at the corner of Front and Market streets in Downtown Washington. Today it has five locations — two in Washington, at Highways 100 and KK and at the intersection of Bluff Road and Industrial Park, and one each in New Haven, Marthasville and Foristell, which was just purchased over the summer from the Vehige family.

When it was located on Front Street, the Co-Op facility included mainly just an office with a small retail space and the grain elevators.

In 1980, the Co-Op purchased the facility on Highway 100 at KK, said Brune, although the store wasn’t built until 2001.

It purchased the New Haven facility from MFA in 1983, the Marthasville facility in 2001 (opened in 2002); the second Washington location, a fertilizer plant, from MFA in 2009, and the Foristell facility (formerly Vehige Farm Store) last July.

For Deppe, who has served on the Co-Op board since the mid-1980s, the person he most associates with the association is Melvin Hecktor. Hecktor worked for the Co-Op for more than four decades, serving as manager for 33 years, from 1967 to 2000, when he retired.

“He was a legacy for that place,” Deppe remarked.

In 1967, when Hecktor began as manager, the association had total assets of $155,006.86 and total sales of $612,972.10. By 1999, those numbers had grown to $4.676 million in assets and $10.957 million in sales.

As of last year, the Co-Op had assets of $4.712 million and sales of $15.812 million, said Brune. And with the acquisition of Foristell, he expects those numbers to increase significantly for 2019-20.

900,000 Bushels of Grain Storage

As of the most recent count, the Co-Op has 290 voting members and more than 1,000 active accounts.

Anyone who does $5,000 or more a year in business with the Co-Op is a voting member, said Brune.

Anyone is welcome to purchase from the Co-Op. You don’t have to be a farmer, although 99 percent of its customers are farmers. The retail store sells items that are found at any farm and home store, Brune said.

“We sell a lot of bird seed, dog food, cat food, horse feed, chicken feed, goat feed, sheep feed . . . water softener salt. Factories here get it by the pallet. We sell a fair amount of chemicals to kills weeds, a lot of bag fertilizer and, of course, farm equipment.”

The Co-Op, which operates a mill and grain bins, allows farmers who don’t have bins on their own farm to store their harvested corn, beans, wheat or whatever at the facility until it can be sold. Brune noted St. Louis is the primary market.

“We haul it then from here to St. Louis,” he said. “We go through 1.5 million bushels of grain a year that we handle here and ship to St. Louis.”

Brune noted that across the Co-Op’s five locations, it has the capacity for 900,000 bushels of grain storage.

The Co-Op buys between $3 and $4 million in feed from MFA Inc. each year.

“We deal in feed in bags, but we also do a lot of our own grinding and mixing,” said Brune. “So at New Haven and Washington, we grind and mix feed for specific diets, whether that be for swine or cattle or dairy. Some of those diets may come from the people at MFA, because they’ve got doctors and specialists in swine, dairy and beef that they can formulate diets.

“We sell bag feed, and we actually have a bagger up at the mill where we actually bag some of our own feeds, special mixes,” he said. “So if somebody can’t take 2 tons and they only want 500 pounds, we’ll grind, mix it and then bag it.”

Customer Appreciation Luncheon

Last month, the Co-Op celebrated its 100th anniversary with a customer appreciation luncheon at the main Washington facility.

MFA Incorporated CEO Ernie Verslues presented an anniversary plaque to Brune, Deppe and other Co-Op directors Alan Piontek, vice president; Dean Rehmeier, secretary; and Wayne Struckhoff and Jason Brinker, board members.

Brune grilled pork burgers and brats processed from one of the blue-ribbon swine purchased by the Co-Op at this year’s Washington Town & Country Fair.

Looking ahead, Brune said the plan for the next 100 years will be the same as the last:

“My theory and the board’s theory is we have to make enough money to keep this place alive and be proactive in what we do and how we do it,” he said. “We try to keep our prices down and our margins minimal, but be able to make enough that we can keep this place running.”

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story listed Melvin Hecktor as having passed away. The Missourian regrets the error.