It was the “Roaring Twenties” — the decade of the Model T, the first trans-Atlantic flight and movies with sound. President Calvin Coolidge declared that America’s business was business. And Virginia’s farmers agreed.
At the time, farmers in Virginia were unable to buy seed guaranteed to grow in the Commonwealth. Despite scientific findings about the correlation between the quality of seeds and the quality of crops they produced, commercial seed handlers continued to sell poor-quality seed. In 1923, about 150 farmers met in Richmond, Virginia, to take steps to remedy the situation. With $11,000 in capital, two employees and a second-hand typewriter, the company that would become Southern States was born.
These 150 farmers, calling their cooperative Virginia Seed Service (VSS), found that pooling their resources enabled them to procure seeds better suited to Virginia’s growing conditions.
VSS began distributing feed in 1925, added a fertilizer service in 1926 and started handling farm supplies and petroleum products a few years later.
In the early 1930s, VSS was looking beyond Virginia and changed its name to Southern States Cooperative. Soon other states were served including Delaware and Maryland in 1934, West Virginia in 1941, Kentucky in 1945 and North Carolina in 1986.
Improvements in service also came quickly. In 1948, the cooperative established its first hybrid corn research program. Six years later, realizing it could no longer rely solely on college research, Southern States helped establish a chain of feed testing and research farms located across the country. And in 1960, Southern States and ten other regional co-ops formed a national seed-breeding research organization, FFR. Today, it remains the largest such operation anywhere in the world.
In October 1998, Southern States continued its growth by acquiring the wholesale and retail farm supply system of Gold Kist, Inc. The acquisition effectively expanded the co-op’s territory into the Southeastern part of the nation.
Two years later, Southern States purchased the wholesale business of Agway consumer dealers and assumed all dealer marketing, development, operations, distribution and logistics for this business. The acquisition included a dealer network in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, and a customer service center in Syracuse, N.Y., as well as distribution facilities.
Today, as one of the nation’s largest farmer cooperatives, Southern States recognizes its past and looks forward to an exciting future.