07 Dec Owner Feature: Carl Hoff
Smart investment, industry engagement drive Sacramento Valley ag retailer
Thirty rice farmers came together in 1914 and pooled their resources — $10 per person — to create storage for their crops after harvest. So was born Butte County Rice Growers Association (BUCRA).
A lot has changed in the almost 110 years since, but the spirit of practical innovation and problem-solving on which the cooperative was founded courses through everything today’s BUCRA team does in its work with its Sacramento Valley grower-members. Now with four service divisions ranging from agronomic service to crop marketing, BUCRA and its subsidiaries — Big Valley Ag and Bear River Supply — works with rice, walnut, pistachio, prune, peach and almond growers in its mission to “efficiently provide quality services and products for our members to plant, harvest, process and market” their crops and “allow for expansion into related fields and crops as deemed necessary.”
President and CEO
That diversity of crops and BUCRA service offerings means something new tops Carl Hoff’s to-do list almost every day. As president and CEO of BUCRA, the Sacramento Valley native who grew up on an almond, walnut and orange farm leads the company’s work in serving more than 400 local grower-members with drying/storage, supply, marketing and seed divisions. The BUCRA team also conducts research trials in cooperation with chemical manufacturers at its John Nichols Memorial Research Farm, efforts that help advance new products and resulting productivity and efficiency for growers.
In his more than two decades leading BUCRA — an Aligned Ag Distributors owner — Hoff and his experienced team have experienced many of the ups and downs of agriculture. But the “choppy times” his grower-members face in the 2020s are among some of the most challenging he’s seen.
“Water supply is the number-one concern for agriculture in California right now. It’s driving a lot of different cropping decisions and the idling of some land,” Hoff said. “Commodity pricing is mixed right now, and there are regulatory and logistical challenges for most of what our members grow. But nothing grows without water.”
Those challenges remind Hoff of the importance of what he’s long considered fundamental to how BUCRA works.
“I think always being a good steward of resources is a good policy,” he said. “We are always willing to look at how we can adjust how we manage our normal processes and business divisions. But we remain grounded in practical investment and delivering the right solutions to our growers.”
The challenge of the right ag technology
That practicality is part of how many crops in Hoff’s region are grown, and how BUCRA delivers the highest-value services to its customers. Managing the technology variable in that equation requires attention to environmental and regulatory hurdles, and what will fundamentally work from management and financial perspectives. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how his grower-members leverage technology in their fields and orchards. Hoff recalls his longtime business tenet of good resource stewardship whenever he works with a grower seeking to add new technology to improve production or build new efficiency.
“Our growers are interested in technology, but I don’t think it’s always the most critical need. I always want to have a firm grasp on the value propositions before we advise growers to adopt new technology, especially since we’re in a choppy business cycle right now,” Hoff said. “We can serve our growers best when we’re strong in our core businesses. Technology has to create value for growers in order for it to be part of the equation in our partnership with them.”
Industry leadership beyond the farm gate
Tight water availability and resulting crop output is a massive challenge for BUCRA and its grower-members. Broader efforts are underway to do things like increase the state’s overall water-holding capacity, and Hoff’s team continues to work with growers to use water as efficiently as possible, helping stretch available supplies.
But those stewardship efforts don’t stop with water; at the same time, Hoff’s leading efforts to help growers maintain the right balance between environmental stewardship and crop output. And for Hoff, those efforts extend well beyond the farm gate.
“There are so many parts of the environmental equation like nutrient management programs, reducing nitrates and using commercial fertilizers prudently. We work with our growers on those challenges daily,” said Hoff, who credits the BUCRA team’s experience and attention to grower service for much of the retailer’s success. “We stay engaged with our trade associations that continue to try to promote the agricultural position at the state level from a legislative standpoint.”
A sustained focus on the right investment
Looking ahead, Hoff said BUCRA will continue to work on behalf of his grower-members, on the acre and beyond, to ensure his company continues its heritage of smart investment and the right product and service offerings for growers around the Sacramento Valley. Today and beyond, that likely means some change in how the BUCRA team manages product inventory and credit for customers, all targeting the cooperative’s ability to maintain uninterrupted high-value agronomic service.
“We will be strategic with resource allocations and make sure we’re spending money in ways that offer the right short- and long-term value to our customers so we’re not over-investing in one area,” Hoff said. “We continue to push to seek out profitable opportunities for growers. For us, that means being prudent with our customers’ dollars. Being engaged in Aligned Ag Distributors and their professional team helps us manage through a lot of challenges, today and tomorrow.”