07 Dec Owner Feature: Todd Hudelson
Dedicated workforce drives success for California ag retailer
Twenty-nine years ago, Todd Hudelson joined the Mid Valley Agricultural Services, Inc. team and started working his way up to his current position as the Linden, California-based ag retailer’s CEO. The length of his tenure isn’t unusual for the retailer that has seven locations and employs around 275 from roughly Sacramento to Merced. In fact, his experience exemplifies what he says makes Mid Valley unique.
“This is a family operation that cares about its employees. It’s a very personal place to work. And that’s why we don’t have the turnover you might see elsewhere,” said Hudelson, who grew up on a nearby almond and walnut farm. “Once people work here, they’re here for a long time. And that is nice.”
The fact that Mid Valley is such an attractive place to work for everyone, from office staff and PCAs to senior leadership, is more than just one of the independent retailer and Aligned Ag Distributors owner’s biggest strengths. It’s contributed in different ways, like helping Hudelson maintain a qualified, capable workforce at a time when that’s been one of the biggest challenges for independent regional ag retailers, especially in Mid Valley’s geography.
Mid Valley Agricultural Services, Inc.
“Our culture is one of our strongest points, and we don’t want to change that. We’ve found it draws quality people from other companies — including our competitors — because of our reputation and people talking about it,” he said. “We’ve had some great people join our team even when we haven’t been looking. Good people are hard to find. When we bring them in, we certainly want to take care of them, and that’s why our culture is such a big area of focus for us.”
Other benefits of a strong culture
The current labor situation is a source of angst for just about every agribusiness in Mid Valley’s region. It’s one more way that Hudelson said his company benefits from having a dedicated, highly capable workforce because it’s such a sought-after workplace. Managing issues like labor regulation sometimes depend on appealing to lawmakers or organizations with lobbying power to create change when it’s necessary.
Motivated by loyalty and dedication to what they see as a company reciprocating those qualities back to them, Hudelson said it’s easy for Mid Valley’s people to get involved in the regulatory process, so it accounts for what the region’s growers and agribusinesses need to make it through a difficult time. That’s true for labor and water regulation, the two biggest hot buttons in California agriculture today.
“Regulation can make or break any company in this state. That’s why we are very active in our trade associations and groups that can take a lead in the charge on issues like labor and water,” Hudelson said. “We are always up-to-date on what’s happening on the regulatory front in our industry, working with groups like the Agricultural Retailers Association and Western Plant Health Association. We rely on our people to help us know what’s coming next by working with our trade groups.”
Planning for short- and long-term grower viability
The majority of Hudelson’s grower customers aren’t yet facing the water shortage affecting so many growers and ag businesses in California. But he’s already planning for the inevitable day when water is regulated much more tightly, limiting availability for agriculture. Today, that means working with growers to ensure they’re making the right cropping decisions based on the necessary quality and quantity of water.
“We’re insulated for a short period of time in our location, but it doesn’t mean it’s a long-term thing because we will see wells going dry too. We see water quality that’s historically been very good starting to deteriorate,” Hudelson said. “Our customers are concerned about it because of what they grow and their water needs in the near future.”
Hudelson knows his growers are progressive and know the potential implications of making kneejerk production decisions that could have lasting downstream effects on overall revenue potential and productivity. As they consider an uncertain future in the context of likely water shortages and farm labor challenges, they’re deploying more long-term planning where they may not have thought as far ahead in years past.
“We plan a lot on our large growers’ behalf and help them avoid things like making production cuts that could have long-term implications. We want to enable our good growers who have been doing this a long time to keep doing what they’re so good at, even if that means assuming some of the risk with things like maintaining product supplies,” Hudelson said. “Our growers are making modifications and they’re conscious of the fact they can’t shoot themselves in the foot two years from now based on changes they make today.”
Making specific evolutionary changes
Helping make that happen for Hudelson means likely maintaining higher product inventories so Mid Valley can maintain the level of service to which his growers have become accustomed, even if they’re “making changes on the fly.” It also means evolving communication to stay in touch with customers so Mid Valley is always ready with what their crops need.
“Customer relationships have to evolve, especially with communication. If a customer wants to communicate via text, we need to be ready to meet them where they are most comfortable,” Hudelson said. “We can’t afford to get stuck in the way we used to do things, and we work hard to evolve with what our customers need.”