Blueprint for Success

Sunrise Cooperative didn’t get ahead by standing still. Through the consolidation of nearly 20 different cooperatives over the past two decades, Sunrise has grown into the largest farmer-owned grain and farm supply cooperative in Ohio, covering 41 counties that span the western half of the state.

President and CEO George Secor applies a proven blueprint for success in every merger, relentlessly searching for operating efficiency while simultaneously focusing on providing outstanding service to farmer-members.

“Our goal is to build the assets and profits for the customer-owners of Sunrise Cooperative. Period,” says Secor. “When we make an acquisition, sometimes we have to make cuts, but, in time, Sunrise has always come back stronger so we can then focus on growing the business for our members.”

The most recent merger for Sunrise came in 2016, when it combined with Trupointe Cooperative and essentially doubled its size. Since then Sunrise has invested tens of millions of dollars in additional grain bins, expanding and improving their energy division, and modernizing agronomy centers while shutting down outdated facilities.

It wasn’t always this way. When Secor came to the co-op in 1996, times were so difficult the business was on the verge of insolvency. Secor credits CoBank, the co-op’s longtime lender, for helping it get back on solid footing. “In 90 days we weren’t going to make payroll,” Secor recalls. “We sat down with CoBank and said, ‘Look, we realize we’re maxed out, but here’s what we’ll do if you’ll ride with us.’ Thank goodness for CoBank—they stuck with us while we turned the operation around.”

Today, Sunrise Cooperative relies on a CoBank revolving credit facility to fund its continued growth. One recent business initiative involved expanding their farm-input financing program, which was supported with an increase to their line of credit.

Brett Challenger, head of CoBank’s Regional Agribusiness Banking Group, says: “I can tell you that of the many co-ops we work with, Sunrise is one of the most progressive. With their member focus and their philosophy of efficiency, they are thriving with the industry changes in Ohio.”

The challenge now is meeting the evolving needs of its customer-owners. Says Secor: “Agriculture is changing a lot and the gap between the customer who continues to farm in the same way as 10 years ago and the progressive-type customer who is farming in new ways is getting wider. Satisfying these broader needs takes a different expertise and capability in facilities, and that’s creating opportunities for us.”