Who wants to celebrate a half-century leading to apparent failure?
Univar’s Canadian agriculture division didn’t, so the company did little to mark its first 50 years in business in 2007.
But now the mood is completely different, and the company and its customers are feeling like they are back on top.
“Five years later, Univar is celebrating our best year ever for the second year in a row,” said Neil Douglas, Univar Agriculture’s general sales manager.
Univar’s Canadian agriculture division celebrated its 55th anniversary Sept. 5 on the front lawn of its Winnipeg headquarters with a meal and speeches lauding the rebounding fortunes of the independent agriculture input dealers of Western Canada.
Rather than fading from the Prairie scene, independent dealers have prospered even as competitors have grown and become more aggressive.
“A lot of the world wrote off the independent dealer, but you guys are too stubborn, too smart to let that happen,” said Mike Hildebrand, the Univar vice-president for global agriculture and environmental services.
Univar is a privately owned global company operating in many industrial sectors and is the number one chemical supplier in many of its markets.
Its Canadian agriculture division receives bulk pesticide and other products from major manufacturers and distributes them to independent dealers.
Univar Canada vice-president Rick Pierson said the company’s 120 employees and 22 trucks moved 157,000 tonnes of product last year in 11.4 million containers.
“That’s a lot of product,” said Pierson.
Univar and independent dealers were in a glum mood five years ago, company officials and dealers said at the event. Viterra had aggressively bid to expand in the industry, and other input providers also expanded existing operations and attempted to buy existing independents.
Yet the independent sector survived and is now thriving, , said Univar agriculture division general manager Rick Van De Kerckhove.
“We’ve seen good businesses, Univar customers, bought up by the ambitions of our competitors, but more independents emerged, and the existing ones grew, got bigger, expanded,” he said.
Company officials said the improving fortunes of independent dealers is a relief for Univar, which relies on them for its business.
Farmers kept supporting independents even as corporate competitors introduced services and programs that many independents couldn’t match.
As a result, independents were able to recover when the grain economy caught fire in the mid-2000s.
It’s a cycle that’s occurred previously in the industry, but each time it’s hard to be optimistic during the bad times.
“It’s really awesome that five years later, as the independents have done probably three times before, they have come through these skinny times, they have reinvented themselves, they have shown that they are indispensable in the communities that they operate in and that farmers will never ever walk away from independents,” said Douglas.