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Producing Excellence

Fred Fleming

Reardan, WA

Products: Wheat and wheat milling

Size of Operation: 800,000 bushels

In Business Since: 1999

Farm Credit Partner: Northwest Farm Credit Services

Working with Farm Credit Since: 2002

Watch a Video about Shepherd's Grain

What Starbucks did for coffee and Evian for water, the forward-looking minds behind Shepherd’s Grain are doing for wheat, typically regarded as a commodity. More, they’re doing it by employing an unusual business model that demonstrates their respect for the environment, their customers and their growers.

Interestingly, it all started with a presentation by the Food Alliance, a non-profit organization that promotes and certifies sustainable agricultural practices. Fred Fleming and partner Karl Kupers realized that the increasing interest in sustainability offered them the opportunity to differentiate their wheat and support the economic future for local growers.

They first changed their farming practices, moving to a no-till, drill seeding approach that reduces erosion, retains water and allows fewer weeds to grow, thus reducing reliance on chemicals. They also identified a niche market that they could serve with almost customized wheat products: local artisan bakers and consumer food producers, such as Hot Lips Pizza, who prefer environmentally produced and locally grown products.

“We let our customers decide what they want,” Fred says. Shepherd’s Grain now offers seven different milled wheat products, each introduced to meet a specific customer need.

“Shepherd’s Grain has grown to 33 farmers, all of whom are Food Alliance certified. The company’s pricing model, which allows the farmers to determine their costs and then adds a reasonable return, turns the farmers into price-setters rather than price-takers and makes working with Shepherd’s Grain an appealing prospect.

“We’re anticipating significant growth this year,” Fred says. “Demand for our products is increasing, and we have plenty of farmers who want to be involved and who share our values.” In fact, the quality of Shepherd’s Grain's products combined with its commitment to environmental stewardship has created such a demand that they had to stop their selling efforts this year because demand outstripped supply.

Download a PDF version of this story here.