Roanoke Farmers Association: Preparing Illinois for the Future of farming

Roanoke Farmers Association (RFA) was founded in 1917 to serve the farming communities in central Illinois. Today, RFA operates four locations to dry and store local grain producers’ harvests. With over 95 years of experience, the RFA team understands that the service it provides represents a great deal to its customers. The RFA team prides itself on being a part of its communities as well as helping communities and families grow together. By focusing on the needs of its customers and relying on its long-term partners, RFA helps ensure the future of Illinois agricultural communities.

“We’re very fortunate to know our members personally and it’s why we take a very straightforward approach to our business. We believe in treating others the way we want to be treated, which is not a complicated philosophy, but one that has worked very well for us,” expands Terry Bline, general manager at RFA. Today, RFA maintains locations in Roanoke, Benson, Copper Station and Evans Station, Illinois, with grain elevators, dryers and storage capacity to prepare the local crop for market. RFA handles approximately 20 million bushels of grain, primarily corn, soybeans and wheat.

The increasing globalization of the commodity markets has resulted in increased volatility; RFA has in turn adopted new risk management solutions to stay ahead of the competition. RFA implemented technologies and software that monitor market conditions to capitalize on the most favorable market opportunities. RFA also has the ability to communicate with customers through its website, text message and telephone to distribute bids, which it manages through an electronic trading platform.

Staying a Step Ahead

Additionally, RFA collaborates with local industry associations to stay ahead of market trends and gain a competitive edge. As a member of the Grain & Feed Association of Illinois (GFAI), RFA can stay on top of health and safety regulations for the industry and find ways to stay competitive. GFAI’s mission is three-fold. The association strives to provide critical information to its members, promote education in the industry and work to develop alliances with state and federal regulatory entities.

In turn, RFA has partnered with the Office of Futures and Options Research at the University of Illinois’ Agricultural & Consumer Economics Department. The partnership provides a second- or third-year undergraduate student a one-day mentoring experience. Monitoring global commodity trends is part and parcel of RFA’s business and the mentorship is intended to show students how the work of the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange affects the work of companies and individuals in a variety of industries from finance to food processing. In addition, Bline himself is a graduate of the University of Illinois’ Agriculture & Consumer Economics program, with 22 years of experience at RFA and a strong background in agricultural marketing.

In more recent years, RFA has focused on maintaining strong financials to prepare and accommodate the growth of the local grain producers. Instead of expanding into agronomy services, RFA focuses on maintaining its assets to keep up with production levels and mitigate volatile commodity prices as well as possible. “In the past 10 years we have probably expanded our storage capacity by one-third, adding six million bushels of storage space,” explains Bline.

Collaborative Growth

Grain yields in the past 10 years have consistently shattered previous records and with all signs pointing at a continued upward trend, RFA will be preparing for a similarly significant expansion. In 2011 alone, RFA added additional storage, drying and dumping capacity. “Agriculture is experiencing an amazing period of growth right now and we are very focused on developing the right capital investment plan for our short and long-term needs,” states Bline.

In lieu of the financial crisis of 2008, financial institutions nationwide have become increasingly picky about extending lines of credit. In turn, RFA will work closely with CoBank, one of the largest agribusiness lenders in the country and a co-operative itself. “CoBank is extremely knowledgeable about our industry and very in tune with the challenges we face and our needs, which has made the process less challenging,” says Bline.

Simultaneously, RFA will begin looking for further technologies and software products to enhance its interactions with its customers. The RFA website provides links to relevant news, weather forecasts and market statistics, but Bline hopes to find an integrated solution for customers to access data that is targeted specifically to RFA’s demographic. “We have made some improvements, but there is still a lot of room left for improvement. There are a number of options available so we will begin exploring the direction we want to take this winter,” expands Bline.

In the meantime, RFA will continue to provide the quality of service its loyal customers expect. In the process, the Roanoke Farmers Association will continue to help farming families make a living and preserve farming traditions for future generations.