Chico Bean Growers was established in 1957 as a bean processing cooperative by growers who had become frustrated with hauling their crop long distances only to wait in long lines at warehouses for their beans to be cleaned and marketed. This system left much to be desired. Buyers dictated prices and local market prices seemed to be consistently lower than in other producing regions.
Each of the five directors elected from that original group pledged their own assets to the bank in order to finance the initial purchase of land, buildings, a scale, storage boxes and cleaning equipment. Patrick Kincade was hired as the founding manager and twenty seven growers agreed to form their own processing cooperative and signed on as members in the first year.
The bean crop was inundated with over nine inches of rain before the harvest was completed that first season. By all accounts it was a disaster. Sheer determination to succeed by the first board -and the financial commitment of the members- won the day for the cooperative.
Many members felt the co-op had placed their destiny in their own hands and there was no doubt where their allegiance was founded. Members were expected to do all of their business with the cooperative. This “pro-cooperative” stance is the classic attitude found among many first-generation cooperative members.
The co-op’s main purpose was to clean members’ crop, but within a few years that had changed. Soon the association was also handling members’ fertilizer needs.
Because the board felt the cooperative members were at the mercy of local suppliers, it negotiated a purchasing agreement in 1959 with a major fertilizer supplier for all members who purchased collectively through Chico Bean Growers. The co-op became the first supply company in Northern California to use a pneumatic delivery system with overhead storage tanks. Over time alliances were formed with new and additional chemical and fertilizer suppliers and the service to the membership was a very successful, though a somewhat minor addition to the bean processing division.
In the early nineties the major challenge facing the association was the continuing decline of dry bean acreage. Just as field crops had evolved from livestock pasture and dry grain land, field crops have given way to orchards. This occurred state-wide as 260,000 acres of all bean varieties planted in the early 1970’s declined to 130,000 acres by the early 1990’s.
In 1993, the manager at the time, Michael Brown, and the directors established a long-term strategic planning process with the Rural Business-Cooperative Service of USDA Rural Development. The strategic planning process was not easy. The board membership changed several times as the planning process continued over a three-year period. As alternative courses of action were evaluated and discussed, a vision emerged for how the co-op could become a leader for various grower services. To provide top-level service, the board realized that it needed to be in a better buying position to handle the large volumes of plant food needed for competitive pricing.
Just as the earliest board had responded to needs by constructing facilities and offering marketing services to members, this board decided to build on its strengths by expanding facilities and offering more member services. In November of 1995, ground breaking occurred for newest major fertilizer retail distribution facility, complete with rail and truck capability.
The rail and supply warehouse has been a major catalyst in the revival of Chico Bean Growers. Also vital were bylaw changes part of which altered the definition of a member from being a bean producer to simply an ag producer. Also a new dba of North Valley Ag Services was added as Chico Bean Growers gave the farm community the impression that they had to be a grower of beans in order to qualify for membership or to purchase.
Many additional services and equipment have been added over the years including crop protection products and licensed pest control advisers. As time has gone by the Chico Bean management and board has endeavored to continually assess our performance and look to the future for new opportunities.