FJ Krob and Company
Frank Krob founded FJ Krob and Company (FJK) in 1910 after purchasing a local grain elevator in Ely with brother in-law, Wes Fiala. The business began with one elevator for grain. As many other elevator operators did in those days, Frank and Wes sold coal. In 1918, shortly after Frank returned from Worl War I, the business began selling commercial fertilizer By 1950, the business had grown to include four elevator locations, with additional operations established in nearby Solon, as well as further north in Rowley, and Walker, Iowa.
Today, FJK has entered its fourth generation of family ownership and operation. Mark Krob, manager of southern operations, works with his cousin, Allen Krob, who manages the Walker branch, and brother in-law, Lee, who manages the Rowley location. “My father, David, retired in September, although he is still company president,” Mark notes. “Our business is entirely family-owned with a family-run board of directors. Everybody in the family has done it all: cleaning pits, running sprayers and delivering feed. I have worked here full time for 14 years and I have been managing operations for about six or seven.”
While FJK offers many of the same services as other grain elevators and agronomy operators, Mark explains that there are a few major differences. “We celebrated our centennial in 2010,” he explains, “Which gives us serious longevity. We also run this business like a family farm and not a corporation. Like most people in our business, we pride ourselves on customer service.” Customers, mostly local growers, utilize FJK’s many services and have grown used to familiar faces. With 40 employees, turnover is low and the family maintains the same dedication to quality services and customer experience that Frank Krob started off with over 100 years ago.
The company’s primary division is grain services. FJK offers an elevator and direct ship pricing as well as a range of options for marketing contracts. Growers can also choose to store grain at any of the facilities. Fertilizer is the next largest component of the business, with a retail footprint that covers roughly a 100-mile radius of Cedar Rapids. Agronomy has been a growing segment of the business, with growers taking advantage of a range of consulting services to maximize production. The business also deals seed and feed for local farms. Since 1928, FJK has been blending specialty feed mixes in house.
Supporting Local Agriculture
There are always challenges to operating in the commodities business, and FJK has certainly felt the effects of a fluctuating market. “Risk management is our priority,” Mark explains. “The jump of commodity prices in 288 was a real eye opener. We had to make sure we had the funds we needed to buy crops and fertilizer. The weather has been interesting over the last few years and regulations continue to change. We have a lot of long-time, local farmers who we have worked with since the beginning. Unfortunately, many local farmers are getting smaller and you have new people coming in. The hog market took a dramatic shift in the last few years. A lot of the smaller operations could not make it and now we have a lot of larger facilities. We definitely aren’t serving as many small hog customers anymore.”
Despite the challenges, FJK is keeping up. The crew has made some changes to the operation’s physical attributes, adding more storage space and updating the fertilizer and chemical facilities. “We are aggressively making sure that everything is bigger and moves faster,” Mark explains. “We keep plugging along. We are doing our best to stay on top of new and changing technologies that can benefit our customer base.” The business has maintained flexibility, an important factor in modern agriculture. FJK has adapted to several changes in the market over the years, maintaining business by offering a consistent level of service throughout.
With lasting stability, Mark notes that his family is not looking for any major expansion in the near future. “We are not looking to add more locations or bite off more than we can chew,” he elaborates. “We see ourselves continuing to do what we do best,” which means providing local growers with all of the basic needs for a farming operation, as well as some additional support for risk management and planning. FJ Krob and Company continues to offer a small, family feel, oriented towards providing customers with the tools and supplies to grow in today’s market.