WATERTOWN — Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales Association, headquartered in Baraboo, held its final district meeting of 2019 in late March, the last of 10 meetings held across the state and the last one for retiring CEO Charles “Chuck” Adami, who has spent the last 19 years as a leader in the cooperative.
Adami was hired in 2000 as the chief financial officer, filling the role of president and CEO two years later. On June 30, he will retire, passing the reins of the cooperative to Curt Larson, who was announced as the new president of Equity as of March 1. Larson joined the cooperative in 2013 as the director of human resources before becoming vice president of administration. Larson is a certified public accountant and has prior experience working at another agricultural cooperative before joining Equity.
Equity’s board of directors began the search for new leadership last year, looking within the company to find Larson.
“It’s been an honor and a pleasure these past 19 years,” Adami said, addressing members of the cooperative in District I on March 29.
He added that successes within the cooperative over the years shouldn’t be only attributed to him but to the entire Equity team, and not just in Baraboo but in all 14 auction markets and collection points in Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan.
Because of the dedication of staff, “I’m sure Equity will be around for at least another 20 years,” Adami said.
However, 2018 was another year of contraction as the number of farms continued to decline and the number of patrons in the cooperative also continued to fall. In 1922, Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales Association was formed by producers banding together to try to influence how much people would pay for their products, he recalled.
“We’re in the same position today,” Adami said.
But even during this time of contraction, livestock numbers are growing and overall production continues to increase. To Adami, this means that there are those in the industry who are committed to continuing their farming business, which makes it especially important to support all cooperatives, not just Equity.
Adami, along with Larson, agree there is an opportunity for the cooperative with Beef Quality Assurance certification. Equity has put together its own program for employees to teach them how to properly treat the animals they handle and collaborated with UW-Extension and the Wisconsin Beef Council to hold several BQA meetings for producers last year.
Equity was nationally recognized recently as the recipient of the 2019 BQA Marketer Award from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association for its BQA program advocacy and efforts to continuously improve BQA practices in their facilities.
Part of their continued plan is to use BQA as a marketing tool as one of their largest buyers has committed to only purchasing cattle from suppliers who have been certified in a BQA or FARM program. Another buyer has indicated they, too, will only be purchasing from BQA- or FARM0certified suppliers beginning Jan. 1, 2020.
Equity staff will need to make changes in their computer program to better keep track of BQA suppliers and will have to find a way to announce which animals come from a BQA supplier at the auction barn. They also want to help more producers become BQA-certified before 2020 when the second buyer will be making the switch to BQA purchases only, and have been working to incorporate BQA certification into their strategic plan, offering it as a service through the co-op.
“The cooperative is financially sound, but we don’t want to miss an opportunity,” Larson said.
As for the financials, Equity ended 2018 with $26,765,486 in total assets, liabilities and patron equities. Gross operating revenues hit $452,171,373, down about $25 million from 2017. Producers were paid $438,608,458 in 2018, bringing net operating revenues for Equity in 2018 to $13,562,915.
Operating expenses totaled $12,925,660, with net proceeds totaling $532,566 for 2018. This is up from 2017 when a loss of $29,755 was recorded.
According to Nancy Bilz, vice president of finance, there was a 2 percent increase in animals to market in 2018. There was a 3 percent increase in cattle, a 3.4 percent decrease in calves, a 17.9 percent decrease in hogs and a 6.5 percent increase in sheep.
The 2018 annual report is available online at equitycoop.com; a copy of the complete audited financial statements may be requested by contacting Bilz.