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Plateau partnership

Overton, Putnam merge to form Ag1 Farmers Cooperative
Story by: Chris Villines 9/30/2019

The members of two Farmers Co-ops, Overton and Putnam, have decided their future is better as one.

Ag1, that is.

After a membership vote passed in September, the two Cumberland Plateau-area Co-ops will operate as Ag1 Farmers Cooperative. The merger takes effect on Jan. 2, 2020.

Ag1 will maintain its existing store locations in Livingston, Cookeville, Byrdstown, and Monticello, Ky., as well as its Turf & Trail store near the Livingston location. The new cooperative will be headquartered in Livingston and have 1,150 members — 800 from Overton Farmers and 350 from Putman Farmers. Combined sales of the new business is $23.5 million.

“Originally, our two Co-ops were just working on some projects together the last couple of years,” says Brian Gilliam, manager of Overton Farmers Cooperative who will serve as general manager of Ag1 Farmers Cooperative. “The more we worked together, the more we realized the benefits we would have by merging.”

With similar customer bases, including people who shop at both Co-ops, the move to become Ag1 made sense, says Putnam Farmers Cooperative Manager Jere Cumby.

“Being in Cookeville, we probably have a little more of the urban trade, but otherwise our two Co-ops are very much alike,” Jere says. “I think this merger will help us gain efficiencies and be stronger as one going forward against the competition, which these days is mostly national companies instead of the ‘mom and pop’ stores.”

Ag1’s initial board of directors will be made up of three members from Putnam Farmers, five members from Overton Farmers-Livingston, and two members from Overton Farmers branch locations. They will serve a three-year term. One of the board members, Livingston’s Doug Maynord, has 21 years of experience as an Overton Farmers director and says he’s excited about the prospects for the newly formed cooperative.

“We felt like the merger would benefit farmer members in both counties,” says Doug, whose beef cattle operation focuses on registered Angus. “It makes our Co-op bigger and financially stronger. If you’re not getting bigger and looking for growth opportunities these days, you’re probably going out of business.

“And it helps us make our service even better. I think we service our customers as good as anybody. That helps set us apart.”

Gary Bush of Cookeville, a longtime Putnam Farmers Cooperative board member who raises tobacco, corn, soybeans, and hemp and runs a 100-head cattle operation with his brother, Barry, felt the “timing was right” for the merger.

“Both Co-ops are in good financial shape right now, and you never know what the future may hold,” says Gary. “From the perspective of the Co-op in Cookeville, it’s going to increase the number of products the store is able to offer. Our board felt really positive that this was the right move to make.”

After reviewing a list of some 25 names, Ag1 Farmers Cooperative was selected as the clear-cut winner, explains Brian.

“There were several names that would have designated an area or region, like Upper Cumberland,” he says, “but we wanted to go a different route in case additional Co-ops join Ag1 in the future, which we hope will occur.”

Adds Jere, “Once we started sharing that we thought the name would be Ag1, it was almost unanimous that people liked it. It rolls off the tongue easily.”

Both managers stress that this merger is the culmination of their respective boards examining all aspects associated with such a move and determining the pluses far outweighed the minuses.

“In the end, it’s all about being able to continually improve on the way we serve every single person who does business with us,” Brian says. “With Ag1, everything we do will be centered around service and gaining efficiencies for our farmer

members. We’re excited.”

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