Hull Cooperative Association
When a group of local farmers in Iowa realized the need for a grain merchandising facility in 1908, the Hull Cooperative Association began as a grain elevator. Since then the Hull Co-op has grown into a full-service agronomy retailer. Serving northwest Iowa, the company specializes in feed, grain, agronomy, lumber, C-store and petroleum.
The motivation behind the inception of the Hull Co-op was to combat fixed pricing on grain from the five local grain elevators. When one of those elevators went up for sale, a team of farmers joined together as a cooperative and purchased it. They were then able to own their grain and feed outright with control over their own market.
In 1947 the Hull Co-op built its first feed mill, which became an asset to the local farming community. “The co-op marketed coal and hogs as well,” says Ed Westra, general manager of the Hull Co-op. “People used to bring pigs to town and would haul them out on the rail line.” Over time, the needs of the members would evolve to what the co-op is today. Sioux County, Iowa, where the Hull Co-op is located leads the state in beef, pork and dairy production. “It’s a very livestock-dense area,” he continues. The agricultural output in Sioux County is over a billion dollars per year. A majority of the services that the Hull Co-op provides members is within a 15-mile radius of its headquarters. “We are a local co-op,” he states.
Continuing to expand
As the Hull Co-op progressed, the company would continue to add to its infrastructure, which included a new office, feed mill and grain annex in the early 1970s. The expansion would also include a brand new fertilizer plant in ’74 and a brand new feed mill in ’78. After a devastating fire in ’79, the company embraced the opportunity to rebuild and concrete was poured for the foundation of new concrete silos shortly after the fire. The facilities were finished in time for the 1980 harvest season and the Hull Co-op persevered.
The company currently operates out of two feed mills at its location. The one built in 1979 which was fully automated and expanded in 2002, and a brand new structure that was completed in 2013, maintaining the Hull Co-op’s technological capabilities for production of safe and wholesome livestock feed. “Most of our members take care of their own livestock in modern buildings,” says Westra. “There are also investors and integrators who contract with producers to custom-feed their livestock.”
Membership of the Hull Co-op reaches a total of 1,050, with 450 of those members involved directly in agricultural. The remaining members are served mainly in the lumber and petroleum divisions. “By our state charter only members that are ag producers can serve on the board of directors of the co-op,” he continues. “And only ag producers can vote for those board members.” Westra explains, “Our business is very diverse as the gross income stream is 25 percent feed, 27 percent agronomy, 24 percent petroleum, 16 percent grain and the rest is in lumber and transportation.”
The Hull Co-op is predominantly based on swine. “We pellet pig starters for early efficiency in young pigs,” says Westra. “We then go with meal feed after that. Poultry is about 15 percent of our feed volume, of which some is pelleted broiler feed and some is layer feed for several large houses.”
The Hull Co-op also maintains one of the largest cooperative dairy feed businesses in the state of Iowa. The company uses its own dairy consultants and calf and heifer specialists who work with all dairy farmers within a 50-mile radius. “Having our own consultants is very different from the way that most cooperatives or independent feed companies work,” says Westra. “A large new cheese plant was built in Hull about eight years ago and they are really trying to develop milk production in northwest Iowa.”
Westra notes that dairy feed is needed to be more adaptable than other agricultural sectors. “Based on their forages and production targets every dairy operation has its own prescription of feed,” Westra explains. “There is a lot of changes in nutritional formulas for the dairies regarding feed. With hogs and poultry we’re providing complete feed diets. With dairy we’re providing only about 20 percent of their total diet with the balance coming from the producers own feedstuffs.”
As the Hull Co-op progresses into the future, Westra is confident and optimistic about the growth of the company as well as the agriculture industry, especially in northwest Iowa. “I think most of the producers in this area are financially strong,” says Westra. “I also think that the world demand for the consistency, safety and overall quality of the product that is produced in this country and this area will keep U.S. agriculture going strong for a long time.”
While the company remains a strong supplier in the Midwest agriculture industry, the Hull Cooperative Association will progress into the future operating by the standards that have benefited the local farming community for more 100 years.