19 Sep Owner Feature: Mike Kennedy
Flexibility is job #1 for diversified western ag retailer
Mike Kennedy covers a lot of ground at Green Valley Farm Supply, Inc. With locations stretching from Watsonville on California’s Central Coast to Yuma in the Sonoran Desert of southwestern Arizona, the ag retailer’s customers range widely in what they grow and the environments in which they grow it.
The full-service retailer’s team manages field applications with a focus on the high-value fresh produce marketplace, including berries, melons, grapes as well as small grains and forage crops that support the region’s livestock. The 25-year-old company’s PCAs and CCAs are in the field 12 months a year helping growers get the most out of often dwindling natural resources, especially water.
“Our PCAs and CCAs make fertility and pest control recommendations for growers, then supply the materials for those recommendations and handle the applications primarily in the central coast of California and the Imperial Valley in western Arizona,” said Kennedy, Green Valley Farm Supply President and CEO. “There’s a big geographic break in between, but it makes sense when you look at fresh vegetable production as the core of our business. Our geography covers most of the growers of commercial production of fresh vegetables in the U.S.”
President and CEO
Green Valley Farm Supply, Inc.
Serving such a diversity of production with locations almost 700 miles apart takes a lot of flexibility and “jumping back and forth.” That’s why being nimble and flexible has become the foundation of how Kennedy approaches his work every day. And it’s a key differentiator between Green Valley and its larger competitors.
“There aren’t a lot of companies that have the same cropping mix to manage year-round. We’ll see ups and downs based on the time of year and insect or disease pressure that dictates fungicide and insecticide application needs. But we go 12 months out of the year,” Kennedy said. “Flexibility is huge to our ability to take care of such a diversity of operations. There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach; being able to be flexible and help growers take advantage of every opportunity is a huge part of our business.”
Field-level challenges for Green Valley
Though his team covers a large territory of diverse ag production, there’s one challenge virtually every grower partner faces. Tight water supplies and meager allocations for crop production are forcing some major changes to enable growers to adjust and maintain output. In some cases, that means technology, while in others it’s a shift in production practices and management strategies.
“We’re a little removed from the water issues on the coast compared to the Central Valley, but our growers are not immune to them. Here, it means changing irrigation practices, sometimes fallowing fields and changing cultural practices. For our CCAs, it means making changes to cropping plans based on different irrigation practices,” Kennedy said. “We’re positioned better than many because of our flexibility in helping growers manage the expense of growing produce and row crops. And a major part of that is the cost of water and how to manage around having less.”
Addressing the workforce challenge
Maintaining that kind of flexibility depends on the right people. The labor marketplace is among the biggest challenges facing the ag retailer, Kennedy said. It’s led him to make a few operational changes to leverage his company’s broad geographic footprint to help meet labor needs at different times of the year.
“This is probably the tightest labor market I’ve seen in my career. Finding the right people is tough across all of our job descriptions,” Kennedy said. “We have relied on moving people back and forth, with employees moving south to north or vice versa to meet our seasonal needs.”
Under Kennedy’s leadership, Green Valley has changed its strategy to attract field workers. He recently confirmed the availability of H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Worker Visas from a new region in central Mexico, which he expects to secure more of his company’s labor needs. The new workforce additions won’t entirely solve his labor problems, but he says it will definitely help meet some seasonal fieldwork needs.
Future ag retail opportunities
That labor situation — one just about every ag retailer in Kennedy’s region is facing right now — will be a big driver for challenges and opportunities for Green Valley moving forward. A continued tight labor pool has spawned ingenuity and continuing to take innovative steps to best manage his workforce will be a massive priority for the foreseeable future.
“If labor stays tight and we’re aggressive with guest workers, job fairs and hiring practices in general, it’s going to be an opportunity for us as a mid-sized regional ag retailer to maintain and increase our service to our customers across the board,” Kennedy said. “We’re going to have to continue to be nimble with our labor force, which we consider a revenue stream.”
Resource management will also continue to challenge Kennedy’s service in the future. Knowing supply chain disruptions will likely continue to hamper his availability of sometimes even the most common crop protection products, he plans to closely manage operations to make sure his most loyal grower partners take priority. His ownership in Aligned Ag Distributors will help him with these logistical challenges so he can continue his sharp focus on his customers’ needs.
“We’re sometimes not taking on new customers so we can commit to getting everything done for our loyal customers,” Kennedy said. “Our longtime customers can be confident we’ll be there to take care of their needs.”