Wheaton Dumont Co-op Elevator: A Backbone of Local Agriculture

Wheaton Dumont Co-op Elevator (WDCE) began in 1905 as a small agricultural cooperative meeting the grain storage and seed and feed supply needs of the farming community of Wheaton, Minn. As farmer’s needs grew, so too did WDCE’s supplies and services.

WDCE began a full-scale consolidation effort in 1977 to align itself with other similarly minded cooperatives in the area. Today, WDCE represents the assets and capabilities of seven total mergers and acquisitions, all of which work in tandem to anticipate and fulfill its membership’s needs for today and tomorrow.

“Every time we merged with or acquired another cooperative it was always a strategic decision on both parts, and we have found a lot of growth that way,” explains Philip Deal, general manager of WDCE. Deal joined the Wheaton-based cooperative in 2001 as a grain merchandiser, having previously spent seven years working for a private grain elevator. Deal’s previous experience and strong will to succeed brought him to his current position at WDCE in 2006.

Likewise, WDCE continues to explore and expand. The cooperative serves a membership peppered across a six-county area that sprawls across Minnesota and the Dakotas. WDCE maintains headquarters in Wheaton, and operates a total of roughly one-dozen grain storage facilities, four agronomy centers and two grain terminals. The grain terminal in Tenney, Minn., is conveniently located along the Canadian Pacific Railway, a Canadian Class I railway stretching from Vancouver to Montreal. The strategic location enables WDCE to ship grain swiftly to customers overseas.

Additionally, some WDCE locations supply feed and tack equipment, as well as vaccinations for livestock. Other locations maintain focus on the agronomy side of the equation, supplying farmers with much-needed fertilizer, seed and customized application recommendations.

To note, only 25 percent of the total grain handled by WDCE remains within domestic markets. The remaining percentage travels to ports along the West Coast to be reloaded onto shipping containers and sent to markets across Asia.

For the Greater Good

A board of seven directors oversees the cooperatives’ operations, with Deal’s help of course. WDCE splits board membership into proportional representation for each of the three state districts the cooperative serves. Four board membership spots are reserved for Minnesota members with two spots reserved for North Dakota members and one spot for a South Dakota representative. The board also provides space for six additional advisory directors, though only three spots are currently filled.

WDCE’s board members are charged with not only acting in the best interests of the farming communities WDCE serves, but also anticipating what those needs may be. These days, these duties translate into an ever-growing need for grain storage and greater flexibility within WDCE’s organization. The company’s current grain storage capacity hovers just over 18 million bushels, with the largest storage unit holding some 5 million bushels in Tenney and the smallest holding some 470,000 bushels at WDCE’s location in Sisseton, S.D.

In 2013 WDCE’s total capacity will jump to 23 million bushels with the addition of a 4.5 million bushel grain elevator in Graceville, Minn. WDCE broke ground on the project in April 2012 in anticipation of growing grain production capacity in the years to come. “It has probably been five or six years since we had a really nice crop, but we are fortunate to have had a really good yield in 2012,” adds Deal.

Investing Internally

Furthermore, Deal attests that it takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months for a project like the new Graceville grain elevator to finally materialize from completion to commissioning. As a result, WDCE must continually move to allocate resources toward the greatest needs, whether storage, fertilizer, transportation or legging capacity. WDCE can arrange for transportation from a client’s production facilities to the grain terminal at a cost if needed.

Of course, the cooperative believes its greatest asset to be its employees, and the new grain elevator will reflect the cooperative’s longstanding commitment to workplace safety. WDCE purchased 25 new grain bin rescue tubes in 2011. The cooperative placed one at each of its facilities and donated the remainder to ensure each fire department in the area was equipped with one as well. These lifesaving devices can mean the difference between life and death should a worker fall into a grain elevator.

The device resembles panels of a steel tube with a ladder soldered onto the inside. Rescue workers push the tube into the grain surrounding the worker and lock the panels in place, building a makeshift tube around the trapped worker to alleviate pressure from the grain. Once the tube is in place, workers can vacuum out the grain and gradually pull the worker to safety if unconscious, or the worker can simply use the ladder to climb out himself. WDCE will include one at the newest Graceville grain elevator.

As the WDCE team moves to accommodate future demand, the cooperative will work to ensure its assets generate the best possible return for its membership. At the same time, the Wheaton Dumont Co-op Elevator will position itself to support the local agricultural community with the products and services needed to be competitive in today’s global market.