Brazil’s fourth biggest agricultural cooperative is constantly investing in infrastructure and market innovation. Reuben Ford analyzes the results.
COMIGO is in Brazil’s top 1,000 companies. In 2004, national industry magazine ‘Exame’ and the São Paulo economics newspaper, ‘Valor Econômico’, rated the cooperative first in the domestic agriculture sector.
Products include soybean oil, soybean meal, fertilizer, animal feed, dairy products, grains and seeds – and production is increasing.
Recognized for its huge grain storage capacity, COMIGO’s variety of facilities and services aim to offer the best and most efficient solutions to its cooperative members.
“Increasing our infrastructure has strengthened our position and growth as a farming cooperative, but the key has been our fundamental focus on the producer,” says Antônio Chavaglia, President of COMIGO. Investments increase co-operation between the members, growth and profits.
Success from the Start
When COMIGO was founded in 1975, in Rio Verde (state of Goiás), the objective of the 50 members was to satisfy the need in the region for the storage of rice and corn. Each member contributed $4,000.
The success of the cooperative attracted attention from neighboring towns and cities and as well as acquiring 114 hectares for its for its first storage and industrial complex, COMIGO expanded.
As soybean farming grew in Goiás, COMIGO soon began industrialization. Chavaglia explains “one of the most important steps was the construction of the first soybean crushing plant, for oil and meal, in 1983 – it was the first in the region.” In commercial terms COMIGO no longer produced just raw soybeans, but could treat them and increase revenue for producers.
Other products followed suit – fertilizers, animal feed and dairy – with COMIGO playing to the hand of its increasing number of members by providing strategically located storage facilities and factories.
“From storage and bagging the grains to their industrialization, the cooperative is the best example of a professional and administrative union,” Chavaglia affirms.
Today the wide range of services provides support for more than 5,800 members and COMIGO has annual revenue in excess of $1 billion.
Meal and Milestones
Chavaglia attributes the cooperatives progress and achievements to its members: “It is not an exaggeration to state that the growth and development of the region has been greatly encouraged by the efforts and commitment of the professionals led by COMIGO.”
In 2004, COMIGO launched a new soybean crushing facility with a daily production volume of 2,500 tons of grain. The new factory increased the cooperative’s overall daily capacity of soybean meal to 3,500 tons.
The increase in production capacity of its soybean oil producing plants has also been an important milestone. Since 2007, COMIGO has been using the PET filling system for bottled soybean oil and seen production rise from 200 to 250 tons of oil a day.
Technologically, COMIGO works on contributing to the evolution of agricultural techniques. The cooperative has a total of 130 hectares in Rio Verde dedicated to a technology center and laboratories, which offer research support to members.
The Centro Tecnológico COMIGO (CTC) carries out studies on soybean, cotton, corn, wheat and fruit as well as soil analysis. The results provide members with vital information for the best use and productivity of their farms: increase grain productivity, cost reduction, pest control and animal nutrition.
The CTC is also the location of Tecnoshow COMIGO: an agricultural trade fair open to the public and organized by the cooperative. Tecnoshow provides informative presentations and displays as well as exhibiting machinery, animals and crop innovations.
Although dealing with a range of commodities, 70 percent of the cooperative’s revenue is generated by soybean production: soybean meal, oil and its subproducts such as animal feed and supplements.
COMIGO is the largest farming cooperative in the central-west region of Brazil. With storage facilities, stores and factories in twelve other locations throughout Goiás state, the cooperative employs 2,020 people.
In accordance with its commitment to provide the best for its members, COMIGO has invested in alternative energy sources. A boiler to provide energy of up to five megawatts currently saves 30 percent of consumption.
Chavaglia elaborates: “The boiler burns eucalyptus wood from our four eucalyptus plantations, which total 4,756 hectares. The co-generation technology of the boiler transforms thermal energy into electricity and has the potential to reduce our energy consumption by 50 percent.”
COMIGO was a pioneer using wood from its eucalyptus plantations (starting in 1984). Over 250,000 cubic meters of sustainable wood are available to fuel the demand from the cooperative’s industrial complex.
Since 2000, COMIGO has also allocated 50 percent of its capital to retired associates with 20 years of experience in the cooperative. “Perfectly fair, for those who have dedicated themselves to our development,” Chavaglia comments. By 2012 COMIGO had repaid $15 million to 749 members under this scheme, which is now being adopted by other cooperatives nationwide.
“Every year we establish and analyze a five-year plan, which contributes to continued success,” Chavaglia says. Adaptations to this yearly perspective ensure that growth and profits remain high.
Thanks to careful planning, COMIGO is presently extending its Rio Verde factory and building new animal feed, fertilizer, storage and long-life milk facilities. The investments total $150 million, including the training of new employees.
The result of the dedication to developing agriculture in the region and attending the needs of its associates has the inherent result of supplying products of excellent quality and added value – factors Chavaglia identifies together as “our true differential.”