Cooperative Elevator Co.
Centered in Michigan’s thumb, a rich, agricultural region with fertile soil, sprawling fields, plentiful rainfall and temperatures moderated by Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay, Cooperative Elevator Co. (CEC) has been a longstanding landmark, supporting regional producers for nearly a century. “Cooperatives like ours are few and far between in Michigan, but we’ve been doing business since Nov. 15, 1915,” shares Pat Anderson, president and CEO of CEC, who has worked for CEC for 30 years. “We are farmer-owned by 1,110 current members and we have two sides of the business, one we consider the marketing side and the other is retail.”
The agricultural marketing and supply company is the largest cooperative in the state with 14 locations. “We are headquartered in Pigeon, Mich., but we have plants from Akron to Bad Axe, Birch Run to Fairgrove, Gagetown to Richville and many more,” continues Anderson.
The Bean Business in the Great Lakes and Beyond
CEC’s $300 million sales operation supports farms throughout Michigan and North Dakota through a joint venture with Alliance Valley Bean LLC. “Our North Dakota plant receives, processes and markets black beans,” details Anderson. “I travel to this location about four times a year and I’m on the road a lot between all 14 locations and the projects we have underway.”
In 2011 CEC added a wash line to dry beans for the ever-growing restaurant industry and selling the product in bulk not only within Michigan, but also inside and outside of the U.S.
“We implemented new, state-of-the-art digital technology that effectively screens out stones and split beans and it’s increased our international business,” reveals Anderson. “We are now the No. 1 U.S. brand in Mexico City and we’ve taken extra measures to protect the brand from pirating in this market.”
While CEC has expanded its reach beyond the Great Lakes, the company remains a local delivery point for a range of products. “We market dry, edible beans, including small red, black, navy, pintos and also corn, white wheat, red wheat and soybeans,” continues Anderson.
Being in the bean business is ideal for CEC, thanks to the area’s most valuable natural resource: plenty of fresh water. According to CEC’s newly revamped website, Michigan soil results in a better bean. “The state of Michigan is surrounded by water, adding natural moisture to our beans, thus adding to their natural flavor and texture. CEC has been selling premium quality black, red, pinto and navy beans for many years in bulk across North America, Africa and the Caribbean.” –CEC’s website reads.
The cooperative’s members also grow some of the only white wheat produced in the U.S. “Our specialty white wheat comes from our co-op growers in Michigan,” details Anderson. “You won’t find many growers in the U.S. that produce this type of crop, so it’s quickly become one of our specialty markets. The white wheat is actually used in the production of crackers and granola bars.”
Support from all Angles
With a booming retail business, CEC also supports growers from a logistical perspective, helping operations run smoothly from all angles. “On the supply side we offer agronomy services, from fertilizer to crop protection, seed and petroleum, as well as custom applications using sustainable variable-rate technology,” adds Anderson.
CEC’s petroleum division provides the highest quality fuel products and services backed by current, accurate product information. “Our main priority is to help our customers find the best product at the best value,” notes Anderson. “We achieve this by offering new and innovative products, such as bio-diesel and ethanol enhanced gasoline. Not only do these improve performance, they add value to the commodities our members produce.”
Gearing up for the Next 100 Years
Putting members and their needs first, along with safety, has helped CEC build on almost a century of trusted service. While the cooperative already covers a sizable amount of ground in North America and beyond, Anderson says CEC is gearing up for the next 100 years by growing an existing farmer base and expanding its territory.
“We have more than $15 million worth of expansion projects in the works throughout our current facilities,” she notes. “We just did a $7.4 million expansion in Elkton last year and this year we’re doing an $8.4 million project in Ruth, along with a $1.7 million storage extension in North Branch. Akron, Elkton and Ruth are our three main grain receiving hubs.”
This series of continuous expansion has allowed CEC to keep pace with its growers. “Farms are getting larger and so is equipment,” explains Anderson. “Farmers can farm more acres in a day and we have to speed things up and handle shipments faster as a result.”
CEC keeps pace with 21 million bushels worth of storage capacity. “There are 60 pounds of dry beans in a bushel, and the same goes for corn and wheat,” cites Anderson. “Soybeans have 56 pounds-per-bushel and if you think about how large 21 million bushels is, that really puts into perspective what we’re capable of. In Elkton we used to receive 30,000 bushels-per-hour, now we can do up to 60,000. ”
It’s all hands on deck at CEC, and Anderson says the cooperative has also increased its employee base. “We currently have 150 full-time employees along with 30 to 50 seasonal employees,” she notes. “Labor is a challenge for us because each generation is further removed from agriculture. We try to do creative things to attract young people, such as high school scholarships and internship training programs, but our most recent endeavor is in conjunction with Delta Community College [Delta] in Saginaw.”
Delta has teamed up with Michigan State University to form a two-year agricultural degree program. “Around here most people go to Michigan State for a four-year degree, but not everyone is looking for a four-year degree,” explains Anderson. “Our hope is to provide feedback and support to the program. Delta’s president is from Iowa and she has an agriculture background, so it’s been a beneficial start.”
Anderson says paving the way for the next 100 years of success is about coming up with creative solutions, such as pursuing ways to support Delta. “Our founding fathers were very visionary individuals, but we have to prepare for the next 100 years by expanding our footprint and keeping pace with the industry,” she remarks.
Since 1915 Cooperative Elevator Co. has supported families who have been farming for three and even four generations, focusing on strength in unity, Michigan-made products and longstanding relationships.