Waukon Feed Ranch
In Waukon, Iowa, the Waukon Feed Ranch (WFR) is home to a feed mill that supports more than 150,000 pigs daily in the northeast corner of the state. While the feed service is a huge portion of WFR’s business, the family-owned company is a source for regional producers in terms of full-service swine management, grain marketing and storage, transportation, energy, agronomy and more.
“My grandfathers and my father were all farmers,” says Brad Herman, general manager and second generation co-owner of WFR. “We’re used to being in the trenches so to speak and we have a good understanding of what our farmers and customers put up with on an everyday basis and the challenges they face.”
With a family farming background as the basis for the business, WFR started in 1976 when Nyles and Ruby Herman entered into a partnership with Rich Robertson. The Herman’s saw the feed mill as good fit with their current farming operation.
At that time, the company had one site and one small office space. In 1977, the Herman family took full ownership of WFR. “I was brought up on the farm along with my brother and sister, so feed, livestock and grain are all very near and dear to us,” explains Brad.
On to the next generation
After the family assumed full ownership, Brad’s father turned to him for help running the business. “I was in grad school studying biology and science,” he recounts. “He asked me to come home and run the company until he found someone else.”
“Almost 40 years later and I’m still here – I guess he hasn’t found anyone yet,” jokes Brad. Today, the second generation of the family leadership has stepped up to lead WFR. Brad, his brother Brian, and sister Kim Winters carry on the family tradition. “Kim is actively involved in the business as owner and chief financial officer,” says Brad. “Brian oversees the Herman Family Farms operation.”
“The generational shift has been a challenge,” admits Brad. “A lot of work has gone into the transition and ensuring it happened smoothly from a financial and planning standpoint.”
“I think one of the biggest things that set us apart is that we’re a diversified, family-owned company,” says Brad. “Although we have a 3 million bushel facility, we don’t fit the mold of just a grain elevator or feed mill. We have grain, feed, full service agronomy, energy with LP and transportation, which are all fairly common among companies in this industry. In addition, we build ag building structures and maintain those facilities along with our swine management being a substantial part of the business.”
Since the company first launched as a feed mill in 1975, WFR has grown in many directions. The transport division has grown to have more than 20 trucks on the road – moving feed, grain, fertilizer and various other agricultural products. The grain division has added a second facility and expanded temporary storage capabilities. An on-site repair shop has been added to support the different businesses. “WFR’s ability to diversify continues to drive our ability to meet the needs of farmers in northeast Iowa,” adds Brad.
Piggybacking on a complementary business model
In 1996, with weak dairy and hog prices, WFR was looking for a way to further diversity and sustain the business. With an already strong network of hog feed customers, the company found an opportunity in the hog integrator/contractor sow farm model. “We’ve built a symbiotic relationship with our integrator partners in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin and it continues to work well for both parties,” says Brad.
One such integrator WFR partners with is Holden Farms in Minnesota. WFR works with Holden Farms to secure an investment group of local farmers and agribusiness people. “We started with a 1,200 sow unit and now we’re managing more than 22,000 sows across eight sow farms,” details Brad. “In just the last year, we’ve increased our numbers by 3,000 sows.”
“We furnish the feed and management under our contract with Holden Farms,” explains Brad. “We are like a hotel, delivering the maid service and taking care of guests, which are the sows.”
“We work with local growers by providing oversight of finishing barns and nurseries,” he continues. “In addition, we facilitate nutrient management plans and facilities construction.”
Through this oversight, WFR helps ensure safe food production, natural resource management, safe and ethical work environments, animal well-being and public health. All employees of the sow farms are Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA+) certified. “This program teaches and instills proper handling and treatment of animals in our care,” says Brad. “In addition, care is taken that all areas of the standard practices of the hog industry go above and beyond to ensure proper attention and welfare for the animals in our care.”
Realizing full potential
The company’s agronomy division is closely tied to the hog business and WFR’s nutrient management. “We furnish management plans for many farmer customers in our area and try to tie together crop production and nutrients so they can maximize their profitability,” explains Brad. “Our professional agronomy team is always looking at hybrids and various applications to maximize yields.”
WFR agronomy division offers custom application services, including dry and liquid fertilizers, pesticides applications and custom anhydrous ammonia application as well as crop scouting, soil sampling and mapping.
“What it all comes back to is being family-and farmer- oriented,” says Brad. “This is where our roots lie, in wanting to provide a service at a reasonable cost to the farmer that will help him profit. If he profits, so do we. And being small and local in our size, this profit and investment goes back to our local communities – something I am very proud to be a part of.”
Waukon Feed Ranch continues to help farmers meet the challenges of the business, with a diverse range of value-driving services and quality pork promotion and management.