Farmers Cooperative Elevator Company - Halstead, Kansas

Matching the speed of farming
Written by: 
Emma Gregg
Produced by: 
Drew Taylor

When the Farmers Cooperative Elevator Company started in 1918, most members used a horse and buggy to haul grain to the cooperative’s elevator in Halstead, Kansas.

Today, the cooperative has to keep pace with semi-trailers hauling in up to 1,000 bushels of wheat, corn, soybeans or milo per load to be weighed and stored. 

“So naturally, speed has become a priority, both for this and other co-ops nationwide,” says Jack Queen, general manager of Farmers Cooperative Elevator. “Combines are becoming bigger, faster, and can cut an acre of corn faster than they used to, which means farmers are sending it to the elevator faster as well. So if you can’t dump them faster, then you’ve got problems,” he says.

KS Farmers Cooperative Elevator

To keep up with greater yields harvested more and more quickly, Farmers Cooperative Elevator has been investing in infrastructure, building new dump pits, greenfield sites, fertilizer sheds, and grain bins and adding a new location to have a total of four across Kansas.

“We have got to keep up with our farmers and take care of their growing yields because if we can’t, we know they’ll find someone else who can,” Queen says.

Build it and the grain will come

The focus on building began when Queen started as general manager in 2009.

“Before that, the cooperative had really been keeping to the status quo because they weren’t building any new permanent assets like grain elevators or fertilizer sheds,” he says.

By 2012, the co-op had installed two new grain bins and a 1,700 bushel pit at its Patterson location, as well as a brand new 1.4-million-bushel hoop building at its Halstead location. It also installed a 20,000-bushel-an-hour leg at its Patterson location and added half a million bushels of storage space to expand its concrete storage facilities.

In 2013, Farmers Cooperative Elevator took on yet another project: a new location in Bentley, Kansas.

“It was built primarily so we could better serve our members in that area, because before that facility was built they had to drive an extra five to ten miles to get to an elevator, sometimes crossing a four-lane highway,” says Queen, “that not only took more time, but cost more in fuel compared to what is spent on the new two-mile commute.”

KS Farmers Cooperative Elevator

Bentley’s dump-through scale, which allows farmers to drive right onto a scale, weigh their grain and then immediately unload their crop into the dump pit, has also captured new members who historically traveled to terminals.

“The farmer’s whole process is probably less than five minutes, from the time he pulls into the front gate, to the time he pulls off the property,” Queen says, “and it helped us speed up our other three locations because it took trucks out of those lines which was a huge help.”

In 2015, Farmers Cooperative Elevator added to this facility with a 2,750-ton dry fertilizer shed, which has a direct-weigh system that can load 240 tons of fertilizer an hour. This means members can fill up their trucks with fertilizer and be out of the shed in as little as four minutes.

Removing the guess work

During this time of expansion, Farmers Cooperative Elevator has also expanded its precision agronomy services. Queen says that everything, from liquid and dry fertilizer to the types of crops planted, can be applied using variable rate technology.

KS Farmers Cooperative Elevator

Farmers Cooperative Elevator agronomists scout crops, pull soil samples and make recommendations based on the individual producer’s needs. “This is a big benefit to our producers because every field that you pull into has variability from one end to the other, whether it is pH, nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium. So if we can variable rate apply their fertilizer or lime we can help that farmer increase his yield exponentially,” Queen says.

The cooperative also monitors its members’ fuel tanks via satellite and automatically schedules a refill anytime fuel is low.

Queen says that all these improvements take the guess work out of running a profitable farm.

“We’re a member-owned cooperative, so everything we do, we do to help our members make money,” Queen says. “We’re always looking for things that help back on the farm and that helps the farmer be more profitable, whether it’s saving on fuel or saving on labor at harvest time.”

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Salina Scale