(Ed. Note: This is the first of a two-part series on the artificial insemination business in Wyoming County. The story that follows looks at its local roots. Next week will look at the day-to-day functions of the AI industry in Tunkhannock today.)
Agriculture has a rich history in the area, but its decline, particularly in dairy farming, over the years has been noteworthy.
However, one facet of the cattle industry in the region, artificial insemination, has continued to thrive for 75 years, and it all began in 1937-38.
It was then that the first artificially bred cow was born in the region, making it an inherent leader to the AI advancements that would come to revolutionize the cattle industry.
It began with a man by the name of Enos Perry, an extension dairyman of Rutgers University.
In 1937, Professor Perry observed the insemination of dairy cattle in Denmark and brought his observations back to Hunterdon County, N.J. dairy farmers.
Before long, the wheels began turning, and farmers in northeast Pennsylvania found themselves forgoing the ‘bull ring’ – the sharing of a single, strong bull between a group of farmers for breeding purposes – for the up and coming AI business.
In the early going, farmers in the area did business with a cooperative out of New Jersey, overtime realizing the need for a Pennsylvania-based program.
From the late 1930s through 1944, farmers in the area formed independent organizations that worked together to artificially inseminate cows. This activity would eventually serve as the groundwork for an organized cooperative in Pennsylvania.
A March 11, 1944, meeting called by Wyoming County extension agent J.J. Jaquish at the Tunkhannock Grange Hall organized northeast dairymen and county agents in an effort to survey the dairymen of northeast counties.
Strong reports confirmed beliefs that there was a definite demand for the AI process in northeast Pennsylvania, and later in 1944, the Northeastern Pennsylvania Artificial Breeding Cooperative was formed.
It was the first cooperative in Pennsylvania based in a central distribution location.
Known as ‘NEPA,’ the cooperative was based at the old county fairgrounds, where Super Walmart now resides.
As advancements in technology and science increased storage and distribution of AI facilities, demand sky-rocketed.
In 1969, following a merger with the Maryland Artificial Breeding Cooperative and the West Virginia Artificial Breeding Cooperative, Sire Power was born, headquartered in Tunkhannock.
For the next 40 years, as travelers approached Tunkhannock from the south on Rt. 29, its site on the old Wyoming County fairgrounds was a welcome one as people knew they were almost to the county seat.
But shrouded behind the billboard and smattering of buildings was a little known fact that on the 50th anniversary of artificial insemination for cattle, was that Tunkhannock was close to being the epicenter of it all.
A trade journal at the time noted that with $13 million in gross sales and $3 million in exports, Sire Power in 1988 ranked as the fifth largest of a dozen stud farms scattered throughout the United States.
And, it was the largest of nine cooperatives that accounted for about 70 percent of U.S. semen sales in Europe and Asia, suggesting that a lot of cows around the world have Wyoming County ancestry.
From the birth of Sire Power until another merger in 2000, the company grew to become one of the nation’s leaders in AI services, extending breeding services and semen sales to 37 states and an even larger global reach.
And then the merger in 2000 with Select Sires resulted in a cooperative that became the largest in the world.
The company headquarters shifted to Virginia, with the parent company, Select Sires Inc., having corporate office in Plain City, Ohio.
With the merger, Sire Power became Select Sire Power and saw a significant increase in market share.
However, its once prominent fixture on the old fairgrounds property, south of Tunkhannock became a casualty of the merger climate, and many local employees got pink slips as their jobs shifted elsewhere.
In the mix, also, Select Sire Power realized a tidy profit in converting one of the most prominent farms in the region to a commercial center to the tune of $3.6 million in the spring of 2010, when it finally consummated a 4-year-old lease arrangement for WalMart to build one of its SuperCenters, which opened 16 months later.
But, the idea that the agricultural business born in Wyoming County 75 years ago is gone today is a figment of one’s imagination.
Yes, the merger allowed Select Sire Power to transport their existing studs to a Select Sires Inc. facility in Ohio and wash their hands of the collection process locally which prepares semen for sale.
Now, the Tunkhannock company acts as a distribution service for a large chunk of the East Coast.
Offices, located on Rt. 29 now about a mile north of Tunkhannock, are used for administrative purposes, as well as for local semen distribution.
The company employs more than 150 full and part-time employees, with roughly 70 of them being stationed in Pennsylvania.
Select Sire Power’s chief financial officer Mark Carpenter said that Select Sires Inc. is the largest true cooperative in the world.
According to Carpenter, “A farmer-owned cooperative is governed by its users, meaning there’s no outside party telling us what to do. Our entire board is made up of active dairy and beef farmers. This allows us to make the right decisions for our customers.”
He noted that Select Sires Inc. allocates any net income back to the members of the cooperative.
And, by eliminating the drive for profit, the organization can focus just as much on a small, 50-cow farm as it does on a 5,000-cow farm.
“The driving force is offering the highest level of value to our membership, which may not be by creating the most profit for us,” Carpenter said.
Select Sire Power’s general manager W. Norman Vincel described the cooperative as a bottom-up business model.
“Our complete focus is on the service of the customers,” Vincel said.