Dale Flaten is general manager of the Farmers Union Oil Company of Portland.

 

Members of the Farmers Union Oil Company of Portland cashed some big checks last year.

With CHS retiring equity, the co-op was able to pay out 1,800 retirement checks and 1,200 dividend checks in 2022, amounting to more than $1 million.

“We had a good year, but it helped that CHS made that payment,” General Manager Dale Flaten said. “When we got that money from them, we gave 100% back to our patrons. And then we kicked in our own, so that’s how it ended up being that much.”

Flaten said equity including dividends is one of the reasons members value being part of a cooperative.

“Without our patrons, we wouldn’t be here,” he said. “We have very good patrons around here. They’re pretty loyal. We’ve got a good patron base, and I’ve got an awesome board to work with.”

Flaten is in his seventh year at the helm, taking over for longtime manager Ken Kornkven, who Flaten spoke highly of.

“I was in charge of propane and once Ken retired, they wanted to (promote the next manager) within the company, and that’s how I got here,” he said. “What you see with this co-op is mostly a credit to (Ken). He built this station, built the C-store and built up the propane (business).”

The co-op deals in bulk fuels and also includes a service department, which Flaten said is more of a service to the community than a business that exists solely for profit.

“If you don’t have it, your customers might go somewhere else,” he said. “It’s part of the co-op way. Just treating your customers right.”

One of the big issues Flaten is dealing with currently is labor. Good help is hard to find, he said. 

“It used to be a couple of times a year, people would come in and ask if you have any job openings,” he said. “Now, nobody calls.”

That meant a trip in the propane truck for Flaten in August, filling in for his lone propane driver for a day.

“If something happened to one of my drivers, I’m not sure what we would do,” he said.

Nonetheless, Flaten said the co-op continues to be as efficient as possible while maintaining a strong relationship with its patrons.

“We’ve done all right (financially) and it helps that we’re running at a skeleton crew,” he said. “We’ve been lucky so far. We’ve got loyal customers, and we try to keep expenses to a minimum. Then when it comes time for dividends, we give out as much as we can.

“When you’re asking your customers to invest in you, you want to be able to give them back something.”

— Photos and story by Chris Aarhus, NDFU