Saturday, October 15, 2011

My struggles with buying local

For the supplies that I use on my farm I try my best to buy local. I do pay a little more than I would otherwise, but that money both boosts the local economy, and it also is a good sales tool. Having a relationship with a feed store means that when I want to put up an advertisement for my weaner pigs they're all for it, and my name comes to mind.

What I prefer to do is to patronize the most-local retailer, recognizing that there are local branches of chain stores that are almost as good... well, not really. I'd really like local ownership if I can help it.

So I do a lot of business with a local feedmill. They're kind of old-school; they don't even have a web page, and I'm ok with their facilities, which are old, and feedmillish. Think big groups of galvanized tanks sitting next to railroad tracks. You know, feedmillish.

I've been selling a larger number of weaner pigs every year, and I've been doing my best to steer this business to this local mill -- pointing out that they can buy their feed at $600 a ton in 50lb bags, or $400 a tone in a bulk bag -- and so it's been a win-win. People keep their costs down, local business does some more business, everyones happy.

So for pig food I'm pretty happy most of the time, but recently, in the last 6 months, I've changed my buying from them, reducing my feed order from 6 tons a month to around 1.25 ton a month -- a small enough amount that they won't deliver it, so I have to pick it up. This is because most of what my pigs are eating is produce -- I only use the feed for sows that are farrowing and for the occasional pig that we're treating. Like one of my boars that got a foot infection a few weeks ago.

These guys keep shooting themselves in the foot with my order. I order 6,000lbs of food, and ask them to put it into 4 sacks of 1500lbs each. (I have room for 4 sacks). They can't do it. I never did figure out why they couldn't, but after being on the phone with them for an hour I got 3 sacks of 1000lbs and 1.5 ton of 50lb sacks. grrrr. Ok, so I can put the three sacks on pallets and stack the bags on top of them, but that also means I've got to load and unload the bags by hand, not by tractor. They did sell me at bulk price, which I thought was nice.

Ok, so today I call up and I ask if they have a 1,500lb sack that I can buy. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, sometimes it's a 1,000lb... so I get the news. They are out of feed.

Out. Of. Feed.

There's a whole list of reasons why they're out, but the point is that they're out. I can't get feed from them. Well, I can, in 50lb sacks. So I drive over there, and they've sold ALL of the 50lb sacks of feed they have to some other pig person -- matter of fact, it's to a guy I sold 10 weaners to earlier this year. "we're sorry! We'll be back in operation next week..."

So I call the multinational conglomerate that operates a mill a little north. Would they have some feed I can buy? Sure do. When do you want to pick it up? Matter of fact, can we have a crack at your feed order? I'd love to make you a deal on feed. And Jennifer, the saleswoman, is a knockout.
Yea, that shouldn't matter, but I'm just giving you my experiential view of this process. Super easy.  Ready today, on my schedule.  Go get what I want.  Yep. 
And $100 more a ton. And that money goes to a company that has a history of doing bad things to producers. Talk about cognitive dissonance.

I really do try to buy local. It is such a struggle though.

1 comment:

Bill Gauch said...

For what it's worth, all the indicators are there to suggest your local mill is going to be out of business soon. I'm guessing the reason they couldn't fill your orders in the form you wanted was because they had already bagged up the feed they had and couldn't pay for more until they sold what they had. The fact that they ran out would suggest that they are not even squeaking by. At the very least, it seems like they aren't running either side of their business very well.