Appreciating Raleigh

Raleigh Curtis officially retired from his senior management position at Mid Columbia Producers (MCP) on May 31, 2009.  He will still be advising MCP for the next couple of years and has kept the title of “Grain Position Manager.”  However, we won’t see him in the office much anymore.

I’ve known several good coop managers during my 35 years of farming, which included serving 11 years on the Sherman Cooperative Board.  Raleigh is the best — both as a manager and as an innovator.  In his decade managing MCP, Raleigh’s achievements include: dramatically increasing MCP grain trading income by using his knowledge of hedging and futures markets, paying off all MCP’s qualified capital credits, and providing farmers with new marketing tools — such as base price contracts that allow farmers for the first time to take advantage of high prices for future crop years.

My main interaction with Raleigh has been during his biweekly early morning “marketing meetings.”  Although parts of these meetings are used to discuss policy changes or new ventures that MCP is considering, the main focus was always on Raleigh in his favorite role — as an educator.  Raleigh is a enthusiastic teacher and delights in challenging the thinking patterns of farmers.  When Raleigh arrived, attendance jumped from 6-8 farmers to 15-20 farmers — with more after harvest, when farmers have grain to sell.

Farmers come to marketing meetings to learn which way wheat prices are headed.  They want to make sales that hit the top of the market.  Raleigh played along with this desire to predict, but in his heart I think he knew that farmers are wasting their time trying to predict short-run price movements.  Instead, Raleigh tried to convince farmers to change their approach — focus on managing risk and grabbing profitable opportunities.  He taught the techniques that made him a successful trader.

I sometimes wasn’t convinced by the way Raleigh justified his recommendations.  However, if I mulled them over long enough, I always concluded that the recommendations themselves were correct — basically, use all the tools that the government and futures market provide and, most important, sell as soon as you see a profitable price even if it is for a crop that won’t be produced for several years.

Raleigh has made a big contribution to our cooperative and to our area.  I’m glad he’s planning to stay in Rufus and look forward to learning much more from him in the future.