Stewart Grain Co. Inc.: Elevating Its Market and Community

Stewart Grain Co. Inc. (SGC) was founded in 1922 when Bert Etchison decided to join A.J. Miller and Joe Weaver in forming an Indiana grain elevator company. In 1928 the Etchison family bought the other partners out, and Bert’s son Elmer Etchison began his career by keeping the steam engine fired at the age of 10. The business hauled ear corn up the elevator hill and used steam power to shell it, and then it would elevate the shelled corn into bins that would feed railroad boxcars on the way to Chicago or New York.

The 1930s proved difficult for SGC, as for most businesses, as the Great Depression and drought took a toll on the country, but SGC made ends meet selling fertilizer, John Deere implements and other things. Bert continued to run the company until Elmer returned from World War II, at which point the second generation took over the business, which has stayed strong through the decades by building on a foundation of ethical practices.

A Legacy of Loyalty to Staff and Customers

Elmer assumed the presidency in 1946 and immediately began to build on the solid foundation that his father had set down. Even as the business flourished in the wake of the post-WWII economy, Elmer started thinking about the future of the company. Elmer wanted to ensure that SGC would remain a family-owned and -operated company, but he also wanted his son to explore his opportunities and be of a certain age and experience, if he chose to pursuit the Etchison endeavor. Elmer expanded the grain and fertilizer business throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and then in the late 1970s he leased the company to a local co-op in order to retain ownership but relinquish operations responsibilities while battling cancer.

During this same period the future of the company was being reinforced, as Elmer’s son was gaining the education and experience he would bring to SGC. “I was still in college when [my father, Elmer] made the wise decision that I should get a job somewhere else first,” remembers Burton Etchison, current president of SGC. Burton was named for his grandfather and possesses the same spirit for business and agriculture that his namesake did. After college Burton began work at Consolidated Grain and Barge (CGB), and in 1982 when the co-op lease ran out he assumed the presidency of SGC.

Burton, who just celebrated his own anniversary of 30 years at the helm of SGC, is excited to celebrate the entire company’s 90-year anniversary in 2012, and looks back on the company’s history with contentment. “I’m buying [grain] from the grandsons of people my grandfather bought from,” observes Burton.

Locally Owned and Oriented

SGC is still the only locally owned grain elevator in its county in Indiana, which is a point of pride for Burton. The valuable service of buying and selling grain that SGC provides to the local communities has led to the company increasing its storage capacity repeatedly, and another achievement for SGC during Burton’s tenure as president has been the acquisition of 10 miles of railroad. This railroad (now operating under the name Bee Line Railroad Inc.) was going to be abandoned during 1994, but SGC purchased it to assure the most efficient outlet for the company’s grain. This acquisition was a watershed moment for SGC and the company was able to see its numbers grow substantially due to this new outlet.

The company currently generates $65 million in annual revenue and has the ability to house over 4 million bushels in storage. SGC has expanded physically as well and runs a satellite facility in Bismarck, Ill. “My wife is the present manager over there,” Burton explains. There’s 15 miles between the two grain elevators, and SGC’s 15 hardworking staff members are split between the two locations.

SGC’s branches provide additional services to local farmers by helping them find the right price for their crops, which has been very gratifying for SGC. “We like helping them analyze what’s a good price and when’s a good time to sell,” says Burton. This practice results in positive business for SGC, and the company makes a point to cultivate a relationship with its farmers. “If we help our good customer’s do better and be successful, it’s going to help us in the long run,” reasons Burton.

Burton remembers one farmer had an incredibly low price during harvest, because that was what this particular farmer was used to. SGC helped this farmer see that there were good prices available before the harvest and throughout the years. “He overcame the barriers that were causing him trepidation with selling ahead,” recalls Burton. This is especially beneficial to farmers that only harvest once per year, because SGC is able to lock in a price for them for that harvest.

It’s Burton’s opinion that agriculture has been a leader in the economic recovery, and SGC is looking at future growth into 2013. “Oftentimes agriculture is opposite to the main economy, and agriculture has been a leader in the past few years,” recognizes Burton. “These have been record years, and most of us will last.”

Since SGC is able to perform all physical work of receiving, storing and conditioning the grain the company is in high demand in its west-central Indiana region. The company has been built on a foundation of loyalty to its staff and its community, and as it progresses toward future growth Stewart Grain Co. Inc. will continue to elevate the local farmers’ grain market and the standards of the agricultural industry.