Co-op Country Farmers Elevator: Maximizing Every Member’s Dollar

Co-op Country Farmers Elevator (CCFE) officially incorporated in 1986; however, the organization’s roots stretch back to 1886. Eventually, three separate co-ops merged to become CCFE as it is known today, adding extra grain and agronomy facilities as needed. CCFE commits to investing in the services, technologies and products that will maximize member profitability and keep the agricultural community competitive in a global marketplace.

“Our mission is to be the business partner of choice for our area producers,” asserts Craig Hebrink, president and CEO of CCFE. “We want to work with our customers to improve their productivity and profitability and really develop those relationships into partnerships.” As a co-op, CCFE is literally charged with working in the best interests of its collective membership. Additionally, CCFE’s services and products are open to both members and non-member patrons.

CCFE provides services and products primarily related to feed, grain and agronomy. CCFE operates a total of nine locations with headquarters and business offices in Renville, Minn. The co-op also boasts two agronomy centers in Renville and Olivia, Minn., and one seed and crop protection warehouse also in Renville. CCFE maintains grain elevators in Renville, Olivia and Sacred Heart, Minn., as well as two additional grain elevators in Danube, Minn., for even greater convenience.

In its earliest days, CCFE primarily served its membership with grain storage, as well as sourcing and storing of feed for livestock. Recent advances in technology have provided CCFE with more ways than ever to lend a hand. The grain department includes branch offices of Country Hedging Inc. and Advance Trading Inc., where four full-time brokers help farmers make educated marketing decisions using up-to-the-minute market information. The service helps farmers protect bottom lines and better manage risk. Additionally, because CCFE is a co-op, any savings are returned as dividends to the membership.

Embracing Change

Similarly, CCFE sources feed from leading manufacturers like Land O’ Lakes. The co-op works with research and development programs through Land O’ Lakes and the Co-op Research Farms to stay abreast of the most advanced feeding programs. Consequently, CCFE carries supplements like liquid protein, molasses and white grease to be mixed in as recommended by a computer-generated feed usage projections and profitability.

Technology has had perhaps the biggest impact on CCFE’s agronomy department over the years. The agronomy program is comparatively younger than CCFE’s feed and grain programs, with the first agronomy facility constructed around 1965 by Hebrink’s estimates. The department provides the gamut of seed and crop protection products, as well as services such as soil sampling, crop planning, crop history, field scouting, variable planting applications, total plant food selection and soilection.

Soilection services provide completely customized programs for crop food and crop protection, which makes recommendations for both dry plant food and anhydrous ammonia (NH3) applications on up to five distinct levels of soils types in a field.

“Our agronomy services have really taken off in the last four or five years,” expands Hebrink. CCFE became one of the first co-ops in the region to begin offering what is colloquially referred to as “farming by the foot,” where professional agronomists make recommendations based on the unique conditions of a field, making adjustments as soil samples dictate. These conditions can then be uploaded onto a GPS-informed topographical map to show the precise soil conditions in a given area. CCFE’s recommendations can then be swiftly synched with most GPS-enabled machinery to carry out the recommendations with total precision.

In fact, the agronomy department has grown so quickly that CCFE is in the process of joining together its two separate agronomy facilities into a singular one in Danube, Minn. “Our newest grain facility is located nearby and we’re hoping to have our new agronomy facility up and running by fall 2014,” adds Hebrink.

Looking Ahead

In the meantime, CCFE will focus its efforts on ensuring its membership receives the best return on investment, even it if means looking beyond the co-ops own immediate resources. Back in 1992 CCFE partnered together with a number of other local cooperatives to form AgQuest Financial Services, a lending and insurance agency focused on the agricultural community.

“We always had a small financing department, but it takes a lot of capital to keep up,” adds Hebrink. “So we joined together with a number of other companies in the area to provide the complete selection of producer lending, leasing and insurance services and it has worked out very, very well.” Today AgQuest provides lines of credit to support the direct expenses of agricultural production, as well as a selection of insurance policies to cover everything from property and livestock to crops and weather risk.

More recently CCFE underwent a total rebranding campaign that relies upon the acronym rather than the mouthful. It’s a small change and rather painless as most patrons are already familiar with the acronym, according to Hebrink. Nevertheless the rebranding underscores just how nimble CCFE remains in the face of change.

“I’m only able to do as good a job as those around me, and I admit I am very fortunate to have a very good core group of employees,” states Hebrink.

As CCFE finalizes details on the new agronomy center, the co-op membership can rest easy that CCFE will be on-hand to assist however possible. No matter what changes lie ahead for the cooperative, Co-op Country Farmers Elevator will ensure members and non-members alike get the best return on investments.