Victoria Calhoun Grain (Vic-Cal)
In Placedo, Texas, Victoria Calhoun Grain (Vic-Cal) is a grain elevator company serving the Coastal Bend area of South Texas. The company’s locations — Placedo and McFaddin — are accessible by truck and rail and close to the major ports of Houston and Corpus Christi. Vic-Cal’s strategic locations are also in close proximity to large feeding markets in south central Texas, giving the company an advantage in marketing commodities such as corn, sorghum and soybeans. After decades of expansion, Vic-Cal now has nearly 2.3 million bushels of storage capacity.
“We’re one of the few elevator facilities along the coast accessible by rail, which allows us to move crops further than most elevator companies can,” says Brett Mock, now owner of Vic-Cal.
Vic-Cal was organized in the early 1950s by Zac Lentz, a prominent area businessman. The first concrete elevator was built in 1954 to serve farmers in Victoria and Calhoun counties with a 400,000-bushel capacity. The addition of rail siding and scales in the 1990s allowed Vic-Cal to add international business with customers in Mexico.
United as one
In 1991, a group of local farmers bought the elevator and ran it for more than 20 years until 2012, when Mock purchased the operation. An industry veteran, Mock rolled Vic-Cal and his existing grain facility in McFaddin, as well as a trucking company, into one entity. “I’d built my other businesses from the ground up and when the opportunity presented, I purchased Vic-Cal, which was actually a former competitor of mine and today I’m the primary stockholder and three of my children are minority stock holders,” says Mock.
In the first year of ownership, Mock doubled revenues from the 2011 numbers. The acquisition not only ramped up Vic-Cal’s storage capacity and volume, it also quickly expanded the elevator’s customer base. “The second year was large and the third year was even larger,” recounts Mock.
As with many rural elevator facilities, the business has been built in stages and expanded over decades, with varying objectives in mind. As agricultural markets change, Vic-Cal has diversified to better meet the needs of its customers. “Our challenges today include integrating various expansions and objectives to run as a seamless operation utilizing all facets,” explains Mock. “That allows flexibility to merchandise the grain products into the best markets available at the time.”
“We’re now selling a large amount of soybeans to crushing plants in Mexico, which crush the beans for oil used for cooking oil and soybean meal for feed applications,” says Mock. “Corn is our No. 1 crop, followed by sorghum and soybeans.”
Today ongoing expansion continues as Vic-Cal looks toward the future and more opportunities both locally and internationally. “We’re always modernizing and upgrading our facilities,” says Mock. “It’s a constant reinvestment. We just added new scales and capabilities to our outbound loading facilities. We’ve also put in a large container-loading facility — all in the last several years.”
Vic-Cal is in the process of upgrading rail and loadout structures and adding inbound handling equipment. “One of our largest projects this past year has increased our capacity by 25 to 30 percent and we’re doing another in 2016 to increase capacity by 30 percent,” says Mock.
Mock says the grain business is highly competitive and has become increasingly volatile. “It’s all about doing things faster and with more efficiency,” he says.
Variables in a global marketplace
As far as the long term, Mock says Vic-Cal’s goal is to build customer relationships over a broad geographic area to take advantage of growth in multiple markets — some as far as Southeast Asia. “China has recently been active in securing sorghum at premium price levels,” he says. “Through political decisions about internal corn prices, sorghum from the U.S. is able to compete, but the Chinese government seems to be cracking down on this now. In fact, I don’t see this market remaining for much longer; we’re moving away from sorghum and more toward corn in the next year. The situation has changed quite a bit in the last year.”
But the ability to handle whatever the market throws its way is most important for Vic-Cal’s ongoing success. “We’ve installed a container-loading system to service other specialty grain markets worldwide with large containers of grain. The goal is to open up some new markets with containers returning to Asia, maybe even doing some food-grade items.”
Vic-Cal stays abreast with global agriculture market information thanks to the help of organizations such as the Texas Grain and Feed Association, a trade group that Vic-Cal is a part of. “TGFA is beneficial to our operation by helping to continually educate and inform us in an evolving industry,” says Mock. “They host different seminars and meetings throughout the year on a range of subjects, everything from [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] and safety standards to insurance and transportation issues. We’re not afraid to ask questions to better understand an issue. I believe the greatest commodity you can have in today’s market is information.”
Armed with inside information and longstanding industry experience, Victoria Calhoun Grain is ready to take on whatever the market changes may be moving forward.