In Miles, Texas, Kasberg Grain is the local grain expert, focusing solely on buying and selling grain in the most efficient way possible. The company sources grain from producers across more than 240 miles in central Texas and uses extended rail capacity to ship to Houston, Corpus Christi and points south of the border.
“We haven’t always been in the grain business,” recounts Donnie Schwertner, now owner of Kasberg Grain. “Things started with a local farmer back in 1984.”
There was an issue with the cooperative — the manager found a place to sell grain for a better price and he privately offered it only to the directors and not the members. As one can imagine, this caused quite the uproar and when the members found out, they decided to load their own grain. “They bought an affordable auger and began loading two or three rail cars; that was the beginning of Kasberg Grain,” recounts Schwertner
In 1989, the small operation put up a grain bin, filling it with the same auger. “The first elevator that went up could do 5,000 bushels per hour and that served the operation well until about 2002,” says Schwertner. “After 2002, we upgraded to 13,500-bushel-per-hour capacity and by then had added four more grain bins.”
Schwertner joined Kasberg Grain in 1999 as the feed mill operator. “I stayed in this position until 2002,” he says. “I remember the original office space, it was four sheets of plywood in an 8-by-16-foot area with a chair, a desk, a water cooler and some testing equipment — that’s it. We stayed in that space for many cold winters.”
In 2004, Kasberg Grain built a new office space at the same Miles location. “In 2012 I bought half of the company and purchased the rest from my partner in March 2015,” says Schwertner. Today, with Schwertner at the helm, Kasberg Grain remains small with three full-time employees and close to 20 during peak season.
Building up little by little
Schwertner says the progression at Kasberg Grain has been slow and steady, but the company has positioned itself in good standing today with direct rail access to multiple southern markets. “When I started we could load 8.5 rail cars on what was then the dying Santa Fe railroad that is one of only five entries to Mexico,” he says. “Sante Fe was bought out by TXDOT and the right of way was leased to Texas Pacifico Transportation in 2013. We put in some track and now we’re up to 27 cars in this time the rail bridge into Mexico was burned down.”
In order to handle more cars, Kasberg Grain has ramped up rail infrastructure, adding more track and even a bridge to ensure access. “The bridge was an expensive thing to install, but now we have 110-car siding and we can load 110-car unit trains, which is key to our business,” explains Schwertner.
Kasberg Grain can now store 150,000 bushels, but Schwertner says the company relies heavily on rail capacity during harvest. “We can load a train every three days,” adds Schwertner.
Increased capacity is important as Kasberg Grain strives to keep pace with producers. “Equipment and improvements on the farm are making it so we’re harvesting in two to three weeks what used to take six to seven weeks,” says Schwertner. “We’ve got to be able to move faster. The rail industry is also moving to higher capacity too. Now they want 110 cars no matter what.”
Overhead such as equipment, rail track repair, logistics, financing and insurance all put the strain on Kasberg Grain. But Schwertner says effective management and staying out of debt help keep businesses flowing. “It’s a matter of constant maintenance to keep the track up to shape,” says Schwertner. “The first 27-car spot we built, we built ourselves, so we can maintain it. The rest we hire out to the same company to do repairs and touch-ups because the equipment is expensive.”
As far as area competition, Schwertner says there are two other elevators on the same rail line, about 16 miles from Kasberg Grain and two truck elevators — both cooperatives, just south of the company’s home base. “The rail track helps us actually handle some of their grain that would normally leave out in independent trucks, but now we put it on the rail and this helps it move it faster, makes everyone happy and hopefully makes everyone a little more money,” he says.
While the company’s focal point is buying and selling grain, Kasberg Grain is fairly diversified and tackles a couple side projects to keep cash flowing in the offseason. “We have a feed mill, which is about 5 percent of our business. It’s small but it helps keep us afloat. We steam-flake corn and milo for a handful of large dairies in this area,” says Schwertner. “We can do anywhere from 250 to 1,000 tons a month, depending on the demand. We also recently starting dealing in DuPont Pioneer seed, which keeps us busy.”
As a member of the Texas Grain and Feed Association Kasberg Grain stays abreast with industry changes, regulations and rules.
Schwertner sees expansion in Kasberg Grain’s future: storage plans and the prospect of a seed-cleaning facility have been in the works for some time, but he is waiting for the right moment. “I’ve had some big grain companies offer to help fund these projects, but we’re not sure we want to be married to them; it’s nice to be small and independent because it allows us to negotiate our own terms,” he says.
Whether that expansion pans out in the near future or not, Schwertner says he’s satisfied and work doesn’t feel like a daily grind to him. “When people come in and tell us they’re really happy with the job we do, that’s the most satisfying part and why I like my job,” he says. Kasberg Grain continues to deliver during harvest and in the offseason, keeping grain moving and producers happy.