MFA: No Plans for Lockwood Retail Presence as Exchange Sale Nears

by James McNary, Articles Editor

A business relationship of over 100 years appears to be coming to a sad end in Lockwood, as the Farmers Exchange there nears a deal to sell its operating business and assets.

Sources close to the situation have confirmed that negotiations are in the final stages for an agreement to sell the business operations and related assets of the Lockwood Farmers Exchange to a private ownership group. That entity reportedly intends continue operating the retail facilities and some various operations of the Exchange, which currently include a grain elevator and feed mill, but it would no longer be a cooperative.

A representative for MFA, Inc., in Columbia said that the regional cooperative has no plans to expand its current presence in Lockwood beyond the limited operations of the fertilizer bulk plant on the west side of town. This is despite the likelihood of the MFA-affiliated Lockwood Farmers Exchange being sold to an entity outside the MFA system that is not a co-op and the possibility it may no longer market MFA’s various offerings, including feeds, seeds, farm supplies and sundry other items used by area farmers.

“Our plan is to continue business as usual for us in that area,” was MFA’s statement. “Those customers who still want to do business with MFA can visit another nearby location.”

Since 1921, the Lockwood Farmers Exchange has been an affiliate of MFA, Inc., formerly known as the Missouri Farmers Association. Members of the Lockwood Farmers Exchange were simultaneously members of the larger MFA organization, provided they met the patronage threshold maintained by each co-op.

Despite the Lockwood Exchange’s longtime relationship with MFA, Inc., the interlocked nature of their memberships, and arrangements that the Exchange had with the larger regional co-op to provide services for some backoffice functions, the Columbia-based co-op is distancing itself from the Lockwood organization.

“We have no comment on their financial situation, they are completely separate from us,” continued MFA’s message. “Many of their customers also do business with us at other local locations already.”

In the years of the 1980s Farm Crisis, most of MFA’s remaining local affiliates merged directly into the larger cooperative, such as Ash Grove, or were acquired out of bankruptcy, such as the large facility MFA that now operates in Lamar, both in 1988. The affiliated locals in Greenfield and Walnut Grove closed in 1986. Some affiliates, including the former Jasper Farmers Exchange, withdrew from MFA, joining rival co-op system Farmland Industries, only to close later. Some affiliate holdouts have persisted, though, especially in southwest Missouri, including locals based in Aurora, Bolivar, Friestatt and Golden City.

In recent years, MFA has directly acquired a number of those holdouts, including Producers Grain Company of El Dorado Springs and its various branches in 2013, as well as an affiliate based in Salem in 2019. An affiliate in Memphis, Mo., withdrew from MFA and merged with rival co-op Prairieland FS, a part of the Growmark, Inc., co-op system, in 2015.

MFA, Inc., has also closed a number of its own locations in recent years, including the last of its once expansive operations in Springfield and a facility in Bronaugh, as well as their former flagship retail facility in Columbia, in 2019.