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Friends in the field

A hand-written thank you note sits below Beau Britt’s computer monitor in his office at MFA Agri Services near Hannibal, Mo. It’s only four sentences, a simple gesture of appreciation for the service he and a fellow employee provided nearly two years ago, but for Britt the note is symbolic of something greater.

“This is a daily reminder of how I want all our customers to feel,” he said. “I don’t expect thank-you notes, but I want to create that kind of experience each time someone does business with us.”

A native of Philadelphia, Mo., Britt started his career at the Marion County location 12 years ago as a custom applicator and was tapped to be manager in the fall of 2015. During his decade in the field, Britt cultivated a hands-on, customer-centric approach that he brought to his role as manager.

“I like to deal with people, and I feel like I communicate very well with customers,” he said. “Service is the big thing here. If there’s one reason why our location is succeeding, I’d say it’s because of the customer relationships we have and the service we provide. They’re more than customers; they’re our neighbors and our friends.”

Those relationships matter to Ryan Hulse, a diversified farmer and member of the Marion County MFA board, who said trust is No. 1 when it comes to choosing an agricultural retailer.

“To some farmers, it’s just dollars and cents, but I want somebody I can trust,” Hulse said. “When Beau tells me something, I know it’s right, and if it’s not, he’ll make it right. I don’t have to check up to make sure things got done.”

Over the last few years, business has been steadily growing and, in turn, so has the staff, which now numbers eight employees. Tyler Mason, MFA regional manager, said the Marion County location is a prime example of how enthusiasm and hard work can change a business for the better.

“Beau takes a personal interest in the well-being of his customers and employees, and the staff is earning new business and bringing back old business,” Mason said. “Nutri-Track acres have grown; Crop-Trak acres have grown. Fertilizer and feed sales are up. The crew emphasizes the importance of pre-planning, visiting one-on-one with customers to develop fertility and weed-control programs and seed selections long before spring.”

That planning process is key to demonstrating value to customers, Britt insisted. Knowing what inputs and services are needed on the front end helps both MFA and its growers, he said.

“The biggest challenge for us is staying ahead of the game, trying to adapt to the changes going on in agriculture and continuing to be relevant in the marketplace,” Britt said. “That’s why we focus on getting crop plans put together early. We all want to be on the same page with their inputs and know what they’re thinking as they go into next year. Everybody is one team working toward the same goal.”

As a grower, Hulse said that proactive approach helps provide peace of mind.

“Agriculture has changed a lot in the last few years, and what MFA has to provide in terms of service has changed a lot, too,” he said. “Just think about all the things that we, as farmers, expect. It’s a lot more complicated than ever before. Having what we need, when we need it, is extremely important. The more I can go to MFA for everything, the easier it is for me.”

Part of MFA’s Northeast Missouri group, which also includes Canton, Kahoka, LaBelle and Memphis, the Hannibal Agri Services center serves a mostly agronomic customer base with an on-site fertilizer plant and custom application services. The business also offers bagged feed for livestock customers and a well-stocked showroom with a product selection geared toward walk-in traffic.

“We’re starting to see more people come in and buy crop protection products off the shelf and have a conversation with us,” Britt said. “They feel like they have somebody they can talk to here about what they want to accomplish in their yards or around their farms.”

The Marion County location added a pasture sprayer a few years ago, and its use keeps increasing among forage and hay producers, Britt said. On both forage and row-crop ground, fall applications of crop protection products and fertilizer are also becoming more popular, he added.

“It seems like everyone is planting earlier and earlier each year, so if you can be ahead of the game with some burndown or P and K applications in the fall, it gets you that much further,” Britt said. “Being as flexible as possible is what these guys are after, and it just makes sense to spend a little money in the fall to get a head start in the spring.”

With an increasingly competitive retail environment, Britt said MFA sets itself apart not only through its value to customers but also its values as a business.

“A lot of the competitors offer the same fertilizer and the same chemicals,” Britt said. “We’re differentiating ourselves by our honesty and integrity, our community involvement and our relationships with customers. There’s no way of avoiding issues. Something goes wrong every single year. But our customers know that if something happens, we’re going to take care of it.”

As for the future, Britt said his team is focused on retaining current customers, bringing in new patrons and looking for beneficial opportunities. For example, renting a hopper-bottom trailer allowed the Marion County location to source its own fertilizer materials to fulfill customer requests, and Britt said plant food tonnage has increased as a result. He also hopes to add a bulk chemical warehouse soon to better serve the crop protection needs of area growers.

“We’ve come a long way from when I was hired, but we’ve never had the mentality that we wanted to grow overnight,” Britt said. “We’re just continually looking for new ways to show our value and help make our customers more profitable. What’s good for the customer is good for us.”

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