StateLine Cooperative (SLC) came together in 1996 as a merger of six separate agricultural cooperatives in north central Iowa. “The individual co-ops go back to the early 1900s,” says Larry Sterk, CEO and general manager of SLC. “In 1975 our current shuttle loading facility along the railway came about, which continues to serve as our main grain facility. We buy and sell farmers’ grain, supply ag inputs and provide feed manufacturing services to customers.”
According to Sterk, the company’s feed customers are mostly integrators. “We currently process 150,000 tons of feed annually and plan for that tonnage to double,” he continues. “All our cooperative member/owners grow corn and raise soybeans. They deliver the grain to us and we manufacture it and deliver a balanced diet to the livestock. Our feed processing capacity is 8 million bushels of grain annually. Full time, we have 135 staff members. During the spring and fall, for planting and harvesting, we have additional seasonal help.”
SLC purchases grain from the farmers and manufactures the balanced diet of the company’s feed production process. “After that, we deliver the feed to our feed customers,” he continues. “A new service we are providing through our new state-of-the-art feed mill in Halfa, Iowa, is offering a pelleted feed option to our customers to help them to be more efficient in their livestock production business. We do our own payroll, with a certified public accountant on staff. We have accounts payable and accounts receivable services in-house. We have crop advisors that assist farmers in their crop production needs, too.”
It is evident that SLC is pushing to be as efficient as possible, and it seems to be working. “For grains, we have 14 locations for storage,” Sterk continues. “We purchase corn, soybean meal, salt and drugs from a number of suppliers. We get plant food from manufacturers, including potash, phosphate, nitrogen and crop protection products. We purchase from, and are members of, Land O Lakes and AGP, which process soybeans and other feed diet ingredients. Ethanol plants provide dried distillers grain for us. Our supplier choices are built on repeat business. Our mission statement “Committed to working and growing together for the future” with our tag line “Real People, Real Pride” shows that we are a relationship cooperative.”
The agricultural industry faces a unique set of challenges in regards to growing conditions and the economy. Sterk notes that the weather has been a bit volatile in the last season, being either too wet or two dry.
“It won’t be a record crop this year,” he explains, “But it also won’t be a total disaster. We have had to deal with changing regulations and other economic conditions that are beyond our control.”
According to Sterk, government regulations and higher quality food standards will encourage feed manufactures to use more technology to reach those quality standards and efficiencies. “Now our new feed mill can be run by three people instead of 12, because of new technology,” he explains. “Production costs continue to increase and that will drive more efficient operations.”
Nonetheless, Sterk is sure to put his staff first. “We offer full benefits to our employees,” he continues. “It is a major expense, but quality employees are a key to the success of any organization and we are proud of the employees that work here. We have a low turnover with our employees. We are proud to be a part of the food system that has the most abundant and safe food supply in the world and American farmers haven’t been appreciated enough for that.”
Regardless of the challenges, SLC continues to grow. In order to keep up with growing demand, the cooperative is opening a new grain receiving facility in southern Minnesota. “Expanding and upgrading our facilities is an ongoing priority and we want to expand our footprint into Minnesota,” Sterk says.
Sterk goes on to note that he regularly meets with SLC’s board of directors and consultants to discuss where the industry is and where it is heading. “We studied and documented the need and profitability of the project and moved forward,” Sterk says of the Minnesota expansion. “This is truly a story of farmers helping farmers. Minnesota farmers called our farmer directors and we decided it was a win-win project for farmers and the cooperative.”
With major expansions underway, Sterk and his crew maintain a strong focus for the direction of the cooperative. “If we service our customers properly at a fair price, that is the key to our success,” says Sterk. “Our people really care about the customer and will bend over backward for them. We have to maintain profitability so we can defer income back to our members.” StateLine Cooperative continues to serve members better than the competition, which will guarantee continued success in the coming years.