Five Star Cooperative

98 years and growing in the heart of Iowa
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Victor Martins

In early summer 2014, Iowa-based Five Star Cooperative (Five Star) paid more than $602,000 back to its members in dividend payments. And with solid local earnings in 2014, Five Star plans to do it all over again in 2015, reinvesting in services and infrastructure that support its 1,900 Class A member-owners and other Class B members, as well.

The last few months of 2014 have been a particularly busy time for Five Star. “With good local earnings from 2014, we will reinvest the profits back into the company,” shares Bob Lynch, assistant manager of Five Star. “We are adding an additional grain bin for beans at our Hanlontown location. In New Hampton, we are in the middle of construction of a new liquid load-out for fertilizer and chemicals.”

Lynch goes on to add that the company also added another UAN fertilizer tank in New Hampton. “Scarville has a new cardtrol almost completed,” he details. “Petroleum has a new tandem LP Gas truck in the eastern area. Also, they are adding more propane storage in New Hampton and Burchinal; areas where our business has grown. This is our commitment to serving our members’ needs for the future.”

Five Star Cooperative

A steady growth pattern

Today, considering how much Five Star has grown in the last 25 years, it’s hard to believe the cooperative started as a single location in New Hampton in 1916. “Five Star started 98 years ago as a small merchandise and delivery-type cooperative,” recounts Ron Pumphrey, general manager of Five Star. “The majority of our growth has come within the last 25 years.”

Now the diversified operation has some 1,900 Class A member-owners, as well as Class B members and 20 locations. From Ionia to Joice, Nashua to Rockwell, Klemme to Lake Mills and beyond, Five Star covers extensive ground with 185 full-time employees and 100 part-timers.

Full service in the full sense

Pumphrey says Five Star is a truly full-service cooperative, from storing, buying and reselling major commodities to precision-ag support, variable-rate fertilizer recommendations and planting, to cattle and swine feed products. “We have grain elevators and dryers, allowing us to store, buy and resell,” he says. “We do about $75 million on the agronomy side alone and sell about 100,000 tons of fertilizer every year.”

Five Star delivers another $15 million worth of seed and chemicals to its members annually. “On the feed side, we do about $50 million in sales, grinding about 1,200 tons a day, mainly serving the swine industry,” reveals Pumphrey. “In energy we do close to $18 million or about 9 million gallons of petroleum products a year. We also operate a small merchandise business.”

Online ease

And better yet, Five Star’s 1,900-plus members can manage all of these services online. “We’re full-service on the technology side, too,” adds Tommie Jo Thompson, communications and marketing design specialists for Five Star. “Our members can go to the website to check their account, pay their bill and they can download an app so they can make grain offers right from their phone.”

“Technology is really the mainstream standard in the ag-industry,” adds Pumphrey. “Many people don’t realize that.”

Five Star has even initiated testing of UAV crop monitoring. “These unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs or drones] are still in the evaluation process,” reveals Pumphrey. “We purchased one for our agronomist to try out to see if it will be truly beneficial, but there are some government regulations. We probably won’t proceed if too many regulations come out in the next couple of years.”

But testing innovative ideas, even if they don’t work out, is all a part of Five Star’s ongoing effort to do more for its members. “Construction is about half way completed at our Joice 22,000-ton dry fertilizer blending plant,” tells Pumphrey. “This plant is a huge upgrade from a much smaller, less efficient one. It will service our western area; about 10 locations.”

Where the cooperative began 98 years ago in New Hampton, construction is also moving on a liquid fertilizer and chemical blending plant. “This site will be ready for spring 2015 and will serve about six locations,” adds Pumphrey.

Five Star also has three propane projects in progress, set for completion by the end of September 2014. Projects include: adding a 60,000-gallon storage tank at New Hampton, as well as a 60,000-gallon storage tank in the Burchinal area and installing a 30,000-gallon storage tank at Colwell.

“When these projects are completed, it will not only provide more efficiency, but will also assure our customers are receiving the top quality service they are accustomed to with Five Star,” says Pumphrey.

A new season of young talent

As summer comes to an end and harvest season approaches, the lack of rain has taken a toll on yields, but Pumphrey says the crop of new talent is bountiful. “We make a large effort to hire people straight out of college – we’ve hired 14 talented new people just this year,” he notes. “We get them in and trained in the ag-industry as soon as possible with hands-on work.”

Pumphrey says not only has he seen an influx of more people entering the industry, he has seen more women. “We’re hiring more women than before and all of this gives me great confidence in the future of the ag-industry,” he says. “I’ve never seen it so strong, which makes it a great time to get into the business.” It’s organizations like 98-year-old Five Star Cooperative that keep the industry going strong and steady.

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