Rocco Cunningham

MERCHANDISING AND LOGISTICS SPECIALIST, BUSINESS STRATEGIST AT BARLAS AND RO SCHELLING GRAIN & FEED

 

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to the AgSnacc Podcast where we take a look at careers in agriculture and the journey toward those careers. I’m your host, Erin Gorter, and we hope you enjoy this tasty AgSnacc. 

Erin Gorter 

Alright, so we're here today with Rocco Cunningham, merchandising and logistics specialist and business strategy guy from barlas and aro shelling grain and feed. Welcome to Ag Snacc, Rocco.  

 

Rocco Cunningham  

Thanks, Erin. It's good to be here. Good to see you and talk with you.  

 

Erin Gorter  

Yes, lots of talking here on the Ag Snacc podcast. So you have a long title. So we're gonna give you the opportunity right now, to tell us what it is that you do and kind of describe what a day in the life of a merchandising and logistics specialists slash business and strategy guy is.  

 

Rocco Cunningham  

Sounds like a plan. Where do you want to start? 

 

Erin Gorter  

Tell us what you do? What is it? 

 

Rocco Cunningham  

Yeah, so I work with my family business that consists of three different businesses. One is a retail feed store barlas feeds. The other one is a feed company where we manufacture grain and feed for dairies, sheep, horses, goats, basically the whole array. And then the other company is cutting in brothers hay, which kind of was the start of more or less what we do. And that's just a hay brokerage company we buy and sell hay from growers and deliver to dairies, and to other agriculture entities. But the day, a day for me typically starts out pretty early in the morning, I go to various different dairies that we do business with. We're pretty old school in Petaluma. So still check people's tanks, checking the inventory more or less of how much feed they have on the dairy. That way, we can get a good indication of what volumes we're gonna send that week to each each dairy so they don't run out and also keep their inventory fresh, more or less. So that's usually around six o'clock, I hit the road. And then by 738 o'clock, I'm getting to the office. And that's where kind of the logistics and merchandising piece kicks in. I buy and sell mostly all of the products that we move through our companies. We're kind of unique in the Petaluma area, because all the dairies in agriculture is more or less organic. So it's not the traditional markets where I trade against the futures boards and things like that, which I used to do before moving home. But so I'm I'm buying and selling the feed that goes through our mill, and then managing the trucks that are going directly to dairies, the trucks that are coming from our plant to farms, whatever that looks like. And then seeing that I'm the family member that's coming up through the business and is eventually going to be taking over. That's where the business strategy part comes in. On the feed store side, continue to work with our team here and grow that business. We continue to add more feed and hay to our inventory, along with something most people wouldn't think of but waddles like, for erosion control, and that's been a whole new aspect of our business, which requires ag products to go into more or less California mandated regulations. So we help construction companies and people like that hit their targets like they're supposed to for regulations. There's a lot going on day to day, I wear multiple hats. And then sometimes formulation gets thrown in there with the feed mill itself. But that's kind of everything in a nutshell. 

 

Erin Gorter   

Yeah. So that's a lot of things. So I'm assuming that in order to be able to do a lot of things, you have some experiences prior to being at this point. So why don't we start with your high school experience? Tell us what High School is like, what were you involved in in high school?  

 

Rocco Cunningham  

Yes, so I attended Petaluma high. I'm born and raised in Petaluma And now back here and high school was filled with FFA more or less FFA and showing cows. I talked earlier a lot about the dairies in this area and dairy is pretty much my background. I showed dairy cows, I judge dairy cows competed in FFA on all levels for dairy judging, but along with the dairy side and the ag side, I spent a lot of time with on public speaking extent speaking, a little bit of Parly Pro along with my dairy proficiency project. But basically High School consisted of FFA and then also a few sports I wrestled but mostly ag events. I think my senior year of high school I got called into my vice principal's office. And they gave me a letter that said I'd missed 61 days of my senior year. And it was all due to ag events. But they weren't really happy with the fact that I missed that many days. But part of being really active in FFA, also meant that I had to maintain my grades. And so when I showed them my my report card, they couldn't fully get upset with the fact that I miss 61 days. 

 

Erin Gorter 

So, I've been finding out more about people through these interviews. Were you more of the type of student that really enjoyed your math classes or your English classes?  

 

Rocco Cunningham  

Definitely my math class.  

 

Erin Gorter   

Okay. Okay, good to know. Not me. All right. When you were in high school, what did you want to be when you grew up?  

 

Rocco Cunningham   

Oh, good question. In high school, I wanted to essentially do dairy nutrition. I left high school thinking I was going to get my PhD in animal nutrition. And I liked math because it came very easy to me. And it didn't require a whole lot of work. I just got it. And as I started, started understanding dairy nutrition and everything that went into it, it was a little bit more complex and didn't come as easy to me. So I kind of changed my changed my course within the same industry.  

 

Erin Gorter  

So tell us more about that. After high school, where did you go to college and what other work experiences have you had until this point?  

 

Rocco Cunningham   

Yeah, for sure. When I was in high school. Like I said earlier, dairy judging was a big piece of my high school career. And I wanted to maintain that through college. And a lot of people that enjoy judging dairy cows end up going to a JC first because they can judge the national contest once and then judge it again. At the collegiate level at a four year. So out of high school, I went straight to the Modesto Junior College and was there for two years, got my AAS in Dairy Science, and got all my core classes done to be able to transfer. I transferred to Cornell University in 2012 from Modesto Junior College, and that the dairy judging route is why I went to Cornell Cornell has a great dairy program, a really good judging team. And yeah, that took me to Cornell, got two years at Cornell, majored in animal science and focused on animals, dairy and business. Took a lot of classes in the Johnson School of Business at Cornell, which I think I spent more time in that side of the college than I actually didn't add classes, just because I had the background coming into it. And I like I like the business aspect of everything. So from Cornell as a junior year, or my junior year summer, I interned with Cargill animal nutrition, and was working in Albany, and Albany, New York, and Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. And after my internship with them, I took on a job that going into my senior year of college with Cargill, so I finished out college and moved to Amarillo, Texas to work with Cargill. And that's where I actually learned the merchandising and logistic aspect of the job I do now, the Cargill Business Management Program is what I got more or less accepted into and got paid to be part of it. So that was great. And I focused on merchandising, logistics, the feed plant management and formulations. While I was at Cargill, I learned a lot I was there for a year. If I go back in the story a little bit while in college at Cornell, I also met a lady that I ended up dating long distance and now married, but we were doing long distance and wasn't a big fan of that. So I moved closer to my wife and left Cargill and moved to Amarillo, from Amarillo, Texas moved to Florida, or I started working with another feed company. I've kind of stayed this path is sort of always knew I wanted to come home, that was the end goal. My dad's rule for me was I had to go do something else on my own for three to five years to gain some experience outside of the family business and kind of bring that perspective back with me. So I went from Amarillo, Texas, to little town called Florida worked for a 15,000 cattle dairy in Florida, that also under its own feed mill, which is where I continued merchandising and logistics there, bought and sold futures, hedged corn markets and soy markets. And then, as time we're all on in Florida, we decided, you know what, it's time to time to move home. My family's ready for me to come back and maybe start working my way into the business. So here I am, three years after that move and working at home.  

 

Erin Gorter   

How many years have you been back at home now? 

 

Rocco Cunningham  

In August, it'll be or excuse me, October, it'll be three years. 

 

Erin Gorter  

Okay. Okay, cool. Lots of experiences, but all kind of in the same pathway 

 

Rocco Cunningham  

Same pathway. Yeah.  

 

Erin Gorter 

You're actually one of the few people we've interviewed on this podcast with the what I want to be when I grow up is still kind of like you follow that same pathway. I mean, you're in the same like, range, I think from wanting to do something with dairy nutrition, like, you might not be Dr. Cunningham. But you're still doing like the same thing. 

 

Rocco Cunningham  

I guess I am. Yeah, it's, yeah, always stick to what I like to do. I guess I don't know.  

 

Erin Gorter 

That's good. Because it's more fun to do what you like to do than to have to go to a job you don't want to do.  

 

Rocco Cunningham   

That's for sure. 

 

Erin Gorter 

How was well, I think you talked about this a little bit that your dad wanted you to go work somewhere else before you came back to the family business. Were there any other views about education or work life in your household, like growing up that made an impression on you? 

 

Rocco Cunningham  

Hmm, that's a good one. My family always pushed going to school on me. I'm actually the first person in my family to graduate college. Multiple family members went to junior college coming out of high school, but none of them actually finished out their degrees or went to a four year so there's there some post high school education, but it was it was always just the aspect of I, I kind of underplayed it on the FFA thing, I was very competitive. And that was kind of the driver of more or less everything. And outside of the FFA, I was also super involved in the California and junior dairy programs, dairy bowl, dairy Jeopardy, competition was kind of my thing. So it was just always the next the next step. And coming out of high school, it was going to college and then getting a job.  

 

Erin Gorter   

And so that kind of describes a kind of how you fit into your current work environment where and use many different hats and always trying to like logistically figure out the next best thing kind of feeds into the competitive nature or their competitive nature feeds into that a little bit. 

 

Rocco Cunningham  

For sure. And when you're the only competitive person among all the people that you work with taking. 

 

Erin Gorter  

Yeah, so among all those tasks that you do every day, what's kind of your favorite part of your day at work? 

 

Rocco Cunningham   

Yeah, so I enjoy, I enjoy the art, I enjoy the deal, like the getting it done getting something bought getting something sold. And on like an emotional level, I'm excited, I'm happy that it got done. My goal is that the customer is always excited and happy to do business with me. And then that's the exciting part. And seeing a business grow and seeing a plan come together and seeing your team more or less, be successful. And that's kind of been the fun part of being home. The culture shifting and changing. And it's a lot of fun to see the kind of people's mind shift off of me and going towards more of a team atmosphere and growing as a group more or less. 

 

Erin Gorter  

On the flip side, what's the most challenging part about your day at work?  

 

Rocco Cunningham  

Yeah, so the most challenging part about my day work is working with family. They know you and they know how what buttons will, you know, frustrate you or make you upset and at the same time, you know what buttons, frustrate them and will make them upset so finding that fine line and you know, separating family from business, which is a very difficult thing to do. And there's multiple family members involved in the same business. So that's that's the biggest struggle I have. If everyone was hunky dory and got along all the time, things would be cruising but there's always bumps in the road. 

 

Erin Gorter   

It would also be boring, so...  

 

Rocco Cunningham  

It would, it would be 

 

Erin Gorter   

Got some excitement. So um, we're in the business of producing, managing and marketing the distribution of food. What is your favorite ag snack? 

 

Rocco Cunningham  

My favorite ag snack is pretty much all things dairy, however, within that sector of dairy probably cheese. 

 

Erin Gorter 

Do you have a specific cheese that you can really get behind? 

 

Rocco Cunningham   

There are a lot out there but probably just the good old cheese curds easy grab it and go at squeaks, yeah. 

 

Erin Gorter  

Delicious, delicious so can you think of any I don't want to say internships because I know it's hard for high school students get internships sometimes but can you think of any experiences or opportunities that a high school student could take advantage of to learn more in kind of getting prepared to do the type of job that you do. 

 

Rocco Cunningham  

Yeah, so internships are tough one thing in our businesses that we we do is we work in offer jobs to high school students regularly we have weird hours are always shifting around here and we like to offer afternoon jobs and in the industry that we're in the best way to get involved is to just do it learn the learn by doing model more or less and it's not necessarily the easiest work because on the like the retail side of things it's all handwork, throwing sacks, throwing hay bales, and on the feed side mixing feed. Everything's physical and you just kind of have to do it. 

 

Erin Gorter   

Awesome. So, last question if you were going to go back and tell I don't know high school rocco the biggest piece of advice you wish you could go back and tell yourself what would it be 

 

Rocco Cunningham  

Yeah with my biggest struggle of working with family every day i probably wouldn't tell my high school self to go give my aunt more hugs and maybe it would have had a long term effect of coming home but also the other aspect of it would be telling my high school self to not not take things so seriously and have more fun and loosen up once in a while just because you can be serious and competitive all the time but it takes away from other relationships. 

 

Erin Gorter  

Great advice, good advice. Well again we are here at Ag Snacc with Rocco Cunningham the merchandising and logistics specialist and business strategic for Barlas and RO Schelling Grain and Feed. Thank you very much for your time today, Rocco. 

 

Rocco Cunningham  

Thanks, Erin, for having me. 

Thank you for listening to this AgSnacc, a production of the Brock Center for Agricultural Communication at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in collaboration with the South Coast Region Agricultural Education Consortium. For more information, please visit our website at www.agsnacc.com. That’s www.a-g-s-n-a-c-c.com