Wheat Growers chief executive officer Dale Locken announced that he plans to retire from the organization.
Locken has served almost 15 years as CEO of Wheat Growers, one of the largest farmer-owned cooperatives in the country. On Aug. 1, he will be succeeded by Chris Pearson, Wheat Growers' current chief operating officer.
“Since becoming CEO here in 2002, I have been honored to work with the tremendously talented, extremely dedicated Wheat Growers employee team, who strive every day to provide outstanding service to our 5,100 farmer member-owners,” Locken said. “It has been the most rewarding and inspiring period of my professional career in agriculture.”
According to Wheat Growers board president Hal Clemensen, Locken spent much of his tenure adapting the cooperative to meet the current and future needs of its members, assuring that Wheat Growers remained innovative, progressive and relevant for generations to come.
In the years since Locken joined Wheat Growers, the cooperative has expanded grain storage, upgraded grain handling facilities, added shuttle-loading facilities and expanded its agronomy service centers. Wheat Growers also developed a strong, effective safety culture that today has become a model for the agriculture industry.
“As a board, we are grateful for Dale's service to Wheat Growers, his leadership to the organization and also for his friendship,” Clemensen said. “We will miss his presence in the boardroom and his guidance about the direction of the business.”
Clemensen noted that when Locken exits as CEO, Wheat Growers will be in good hands, as the board unanimously selected Pearson to be the next CEO. “Chris is passionate about farmer success, deeply knowledgeable in what it takes to run a successful cooperative and firmly committed to the employees who support our farmer-members,” Clemensen said.
Pearson joined Wheat Growers as senior vice president of operations in 2013 and was promoted to COO last year. A native of Corning, Iowa, Pearson spent 14 years in local co-op systems there, holding several positions ranging from entry level to COO.
Several years ago, the Wheat Growers board put in place a very comprehensive, well-thought-out succession process and, at the same time, always kept a lookout for potential candidates who fit the criteria for a new CEO of the cooperative.
“We took this task very seriously,” Clemensen said. “The most important role the board has is to decide on and engage a new CEO. In this challenging agriculture climate, we knew we needed a CEO to align with our strategy and culture. So, we set the criteria very high and created a very rigorous process.”
Clemensen noted that when Pearson was originally hired, he had a strong background in agriculture, he was thoroughly evaluated against the criteria of the Wheat Growers board, underwent extensive evaluation and, in the end, was deemed ready to serve as the new CEO following Locken's retirement.
“As a result of that work, we believe this will be a very smooth transition,” Clemensen said. “In Chris Pearson, we have an internal candidate who knows our organization well and brings extensive experience gained outside our organization.”
Pearson is currently serving or has served on boards for Dakotaland Feeds, James Valley Grain Cooperative, the Agriculture Retailers Assn., Consolidated Sourcing Solutions and the Agribusiness Association of Iowa.
In a statement, Pearson said he is “honored" not only to become CEO but also "to work with the farmer members who own this organization. They should expect Wheat Growers to deliver a consistent and predictable high level of service, to continue to be their partner and to use technology and innovation to enhance our communication styles and increase production capabilities on their farms.”
Wheat Growers is a grain and agronomy cooperative serving 5,100 members from 40 locations in South Dakota and North Dakota. It is headquartered in Aberdeen, S.D., and has 52 agronomists on staff. Wheat Growers offers its farmer-members precision agriculture products and services, grain marketing services and extensive grain storage and shuttle-loading facilities.