Farmers Cooperative Association Inc.: Empowering the Agricultural Community

Farmers Cooperative Association Inc. (FCA) launched in 1914 with not much more than two employees, a grain dump and the energy of a handful of local farmers who decided to band together to find success. Almost 100 years later, FCA continues to serve its membership by investing in the equipment and services needed to help farmers find success in the global marketplace. Above all, FCA prides itself on retaining the close-knit working environment and personalized customer service that keeps patrons happy.

“We’re proud to be a small cooperative,” asserts Tim Jimenez, general manager of FCA. Jimenez joined the Nebraska-based cooperative in 1978 when FCA consisted of roughly a dozen employees. Today, FCA’s full-time staff is roughly twice as large, with a part-time staff numbering as high as 50 during peak seasons.

Growth has come in all avenues. FCA operated from just one location in Brule, Neb., through the 1950s and 1960s, supplying feed and grain storage services to its members. Expansion came first to FCA in 1971 when the cooperative purchased a grain elevator in Ogallala, Neb. FCA then added another facility in Brule in 1976, boasting 800,000 bushels with drying capabilities. FCA then acquired a service station in Big Springs, Neb., in 2002. Growth came again to the grain system in 2011 with the addition of a high-speed leg and a 500,000-bushel bin. Yet another bin was added in 2012, which nearly doubled FCA’s licensed space.

FCA focused almost exclusively on the grain and feed operations through the 1980s and 1990s, when membership decided to take an unprecedented move. Given the cooperative’s proximity to the heavily traveled Interstate 80, FCA’s directors voted to convert the key-trol system into a cardtrol system, not only building the refueling station, but also a combination convenience store and restaurant space as well. “Our feasibility study concluded that just a refueling station wouldn’t be very profitable,” says Jimenez. “The more we looked into the retail side of it, the more it made sense.”

Even so, the move was not entirely without its detractors, as investing in a retail component meant funds weren’t directly being invested to expand the cooperative’s grain storage capacity. FCA constructed the Ogallala facility in 1997 to supply members with the gamut of Cenex fuels, as well as the combination convenience store and A&W restaurant location. Luckily, FCA’s intuitions turned out to be spot on, as the location generates a not insignificant profit for the cooperative and its shareholders, according to Jimenez.

Total Support

FCA offers memberships both with and without voting privileges, though both earn patronage and the Ogallala location compliments FCA’s previously acquired service station in Big Springs, Neb. The Big Springs location began as a small members-only refueling station where producers in the area were issued keys to refuel their vehicles and equipment at any hour, day or night.

This service continues to be offered at both locations, though FCA switched over to a card access system. The new system provides greater security than the key system, while also synching each order electronically to the member’s account for greater transparency and accounting accuracy. FCA sells Cenex fuels in the regular unleaded variety sans ethanol, as well as ethanol varieties ranging from 10-percent to 85-percent ethanol; ensuring customers get the fuel that best serves their equipment.

Meanwhile, FCA’s Ogallala location provides agricultural producers with the gamut of high-quality livestock feeds from Land O’ Lakes and other suppliers along with grain storage services. The company has continually worked to expand its grain storage services over the years and, more recently, the company shifted gears to focus not just on capacity but on loading and legging capacity as well.

“When I joined in 1978, FCA dealt primarily in dry wheat and just a little bit of corn, but over the years that ratio has completely reversed,” expands Jimenez. “Today we store and handle about 95-percent corn and just five percent wheat so we really had to gear up for speed.”

FCA invested in recent years to bring its unloading capacity from 15-minutes per semi-truckload down to just a minute-and-a-half. Not only that, but FCA’s grain elevator can simultaneously unload two semi-trucks side-by-side.

Looking Ahead

These investments did not relegate grain capacity to the back burner either. In fact FCA plans to more than double its total grain storage capacity within the next few years. FCA built the first 500,000-bushel storage bin in 2011, bringing the total grain storage capacity to 2,020,000 bushels. The second 500,000-bushel addition was built in 2012, and is just the second of four total bins that FCA will add over the next few years. “We split the 2 million-bushel facility into four bins so that we could stagger their construction and build as we can afford to,” adds Jimenez.

Combined with the increased legging capacity, the new facility will help FCA maintain pace with the growing production of its membership. In another sense, it also helps FCA maintain a close connection with the community it serves, something Jimenez believes to be crucial to FCA’s mission. The new bin location was built alongside the Union Pacific Railroad mainline, allowing FCA the option to tie the facility into a rail load-out facility if necessary.

FCA offers a total of three $500 scholarships to graduating seniors in the area every year. The scholarships are not just limited to students pursuing studies in agriculture-related fields, either. “It may not be a huge scholarship, but we have always tried to help our community in whatever way we can,” reflects Jimenez.

In the next few years, FCA will continue pursuing its grain storage capacity efforts, while ensuring the agricultural producers of the area receive the support they need from the experienced professionals at FCA. The company already maintains an enviably low employee turnover rate, but even as Jimenez contemplates stepping down from FCA to make room for the next generation the dedicated team at Farmers Cooperative Association Inc. will work to ensure each membership succeeds together.