DeHaan, Grabs & Associates LLC
Agricultural projects require distinct expertise when it comes to construction success. With locations in Kansas and North Dakota, DeHaan, Grabs & Associates LLC (DGA) offers quality, precision and expertise to growers and agricultural contractors all over the world when it comes to expanding farm operations and related facilities. Daniel DeHaan and Greg Grabs established the private agricultural engineering firm in 1999 and brought on Nathan Pesta, senior project engineer and now part owner, in 2003 when DeHaan was serving in Iraq as a lieutenant with the U.S. Army Reserve.
The company’s footprint is not limited to the Midwest — in 2015, DGA completed projects in eight states and has provided engineering and consulting services in the Ukraine, Turkey and Kazakhstan, as well as other overseas locales. “Distance does have some challenges, but we believe that with our unique expertise it is important to be able to offer our services to anyone that comes calling — to be able to design profitable farms that are good stewards of creation and in more than just our local spheres of influence,” explains Pesta.
Over the years, DGA has seen several highpoints and stuck it out through challenging market conditions, particularly in the wake of the 2008 housing crash. Pesta bought out Grabs’ 50 percent share in October 2014 — by the end of 2015, he and DeHaan made significant growth headway, turning around a 200 percent revenue increase over the previous three years. This growth has reenergized the firm, allowing DGA to employ greater resources to tackle complex agricultural design, permitting and engineering projects, primarily focused in the livestock sector.
Expertise in action
With in-house expertise that encompasses agriculture-oriented structural, environmental and civil engineering, DGA offers a suite of engineering and consulting services that are applied to an array of projects. “In 2015 we have served mainly the agricultural sector, with a small dose of projects that venture into the civil world,” says Pesta. “Our projects for 2015 consisted of: beef feedlot design and permitting; swine facility design and permitting; dairy design and permitting; plant engineering for a beef packing plant; fertilizer plant design and layout; energy audits for grain farmers; SPCC plans for oil companies’ tank batteries; site plans and stormwater plans for the City of Bismarck and Mandan Developers; and pre-stress concrete design for a turkey farm.”
One particular recent project that stands out to Pesta is the engineering and consultation work the firm performed for Temme Dairy, located north of Wayne, Nebraska. “It is an existing 800-head dairy,” he recounts. “We are in the process of finalizing the design for an expansion to 5,500 head, which will be done in three phases. Using our technical knowledge, we have designed a state-of-the-art, special needs barn that will make dramatic a difference to milk production and cow health once implemented. In addition, we have designed an innovative ventilation system for the calf and heifer barn, which will keep their replacement heifers healthier as they grow.”
A major component of DGA’s delivery is communication — working with clients to determine their needs and build a plan to accommodate recent and future growth while prioritizing the health of their livestock. Members of the firm meet with clients to discuss necessities and goals, dispatch technicians and build models of existing sites in which to incorporate new designs that meet existing and future needs of clients’ operations. Feedback from clients is critical and informs every aspect of design — conception to completion. Once the design is complete, DGA assists with permitting; once approved, the firm works with contractors and subtrades to anticipate any pitfalls and assist with construction via ongoing consultation.
Standing out from the herd
DGA is unique in its niche practice. While many civil engineering firms offer agricultural services in-house, Pesta and his colleagues stand out with specialization. “I think our passion and technical knowledge of our niche projects set us apart from our competitors,” he explains. “For example with our dairy clients, we have kept up on the latest research and case studies to help our clients better than any other firm doing this. We are able to guide our dairy clients to design and construct the best in: transition cow housing, calving facilities, ventilation, cow comfort, innovative manure handling systems, etc., which leads to our clients producing more milk with healthier cows than their competitors. Ultimately we promote animal and environmental stewardship, which feeds our passion for the industry.”
Beyond specialty expertise, Pesta and his colleague place high value on building and maintaining a strong network. Relationship development has been a major priority for Pesta since he took ownership in the firm and is a strong indicator of the direction of the company. “We want to develop new relationships and we have been working to rekindle some older ones, too,” he explains. “We get a lot of work through referrals, which also has a great impact on our business.”
These relationships have opened up a world of opportunities for the firm, allowing DGA to expand. Pesta looks forward to hiring on new talent and hopes to develop a strong civil engineering department to further diversify the company’s offerings.
With a strong niche portfolio, DeHaan, Grabs & Associates shows no signs of slowing down, maintaining a place as a leader in agricultural engineering in the Midwest and across the globe.