For my manager interview I decided to interview Gene Miller, an elevator manager in Fairbury, IL for Prairie Central Co-op. Gene began his career in the grain and feed industry with Honegger’s feed mill in Fairbury back in the early 1980s. His main responsibilities were loading feed trucks and taking care of feed inventory bags. Taking inventory was crucial to managing the supply chain of products for customers, and maintaining the necessary quantity of supplies to meet consumer demands based off of sales trends. After several months, Gene was introduced to an open position in 1989 with Prairie Central in Acoya, IL. Gene maintained the dryers for storage of grain and once again unloaded grain via train and truck. He eventually worked his way up to manager of the site in a few months. At the Fairbury elevator Gene also oversees grain quality, and blending and shipping to meet standards of processers. Much of his corn is sent to the Pontiac location, which is usually transported to chicken feed processors down south. The soybeans are sent to Incobrasa in Gilman IL. Another responsibility he has is taking monthly inventory of grain. The amount of grain on hand directly impacts the commodity prices of both corn and soybeans, so keeping an accurate record of grain stocks is important. Safety and housekeeping records are responsibilities that have become more prominent since Gene first started working in the grain industry. Safety regulations have increased or become stricter over time; thus, Gene has had to adjust to these rules to not only keep himself safe but also other employees. For example, a harness is required when entering the bin. Also, no one can be in the bin when the sweep auger is running. These are just a couple examples, but Gene mentioned that safety is one of the most important aspects of his jobs to ensure no one is harmed on the job and the grain is stored safely. Another major responsibility Gene manages is supervising seasonal help during the harvest season. Although, additional help is greatly needed during the busiest time of the year, managing part time help can be one of Gene’s most difficult challenges. Part time help isn’t always the most dependable, and having the ability to teach newcomers not only how to do the job but to also be aware of the safety standards is challenging to say the least. The major changes over the course of Gene’s career have mostly happened with farmers. Bigger equipment and less farmers have resulted in faster harvests. Technology has made processes more automated with less manual labor necessary. With that said, Gene still prefers to do things the old-fashion way. For example, many elevators no longer write the grain prices for farmers to see on a white board but Gene continues to do so for those few farmers that prefer this method over receiving text updates.
In regards to advice for someone interested in this industry, Gene suggested suitable characteristics that one would possess would be a strong work ethic and would enjoy working outside although in dusty and uncomfortable conditions at times. Working well with others and knowledge of equipment are a positive attribute to have as well. To successfully prepare for a career in this field Gene stated there aren’t really in required steps necessary. Ultimately, as demonstrated by Gene himself, owning an inherent ability to work hard and being motivated to learn will lead to a prosperous and satisfying career. As for obtaining a four-year degree, Gene suggested earning one isn’t imperative to have a solid career in the grain industry. Although one may be beneficial, through internships and the never-ending desire to attain more knowledge, one can easily work their way up the ladder in the grain industry. The last topic we discussed was Gene’s favorite and least favorite part of the job. As much as Gene likes working outside, fighting with defective equipment in unfavorable weather is never ideal. On the other hand, having the regular opportunity to converse with farmers and working independently are nice benefits of the job. Overall, Gene provided me with great insight to what his job consists of and some valuable information that will benefit me as pursue my career after graduation.
This last month I had the privilege of conducting an interview with Justin Burke to learn more about the grain and feed industry. Justin is a Grain Merchandiser for FS Grain in Morris. There his duties include the selling of grain to the different markets available to him at his northern Illinois location. Some of these markets include container, river, ethanol, or rail. Justin also oversees FS Grain’s hedging platform to manage the risk of the company.
After learning about his position, I asked about his history within the agriculture industry. Justin grew up a few miles away from me in northern Illinois on a family grain operation. While attending Western Illinois University he got his first experience working for the GROWMARK system while interning as a crop scout for Ag View FS. Upon graduation, he started his career at Ag Land FS. After a few years there he started working for Maplehurst Farms before taking on his current position. In these two positions, he worked in more of an elevator operations role as well as buying grain from farmers. Although he enjoyed his time learning in these roles he loves working as a grain merchandiser. When asked why, he responded by saying it is due to the constant change of the markets. With factors in the market always changing so does the prices. You never know what your day is going to be like.
During our interview, I also asked him how he was trained and how he continues to learn. When coming to FS Grain Justin used a lot of his prior experience to be successful. Soon after starting he was beginning his role. He learned by doing and what he didn’t know he asked others for their advice. This mentality has made him a successful grain merchandiser for the 23 different FS Grain locations he sells for. In the future, he plans to continue to learn more about the different markets available to sell to.
When asked about why he choose FS Grain he said it was the culture of the company. He loved being part of a large company with many entities but wanted the small company connection. Being a part of FS Grain provides him this. Because GROWMARK is a cooperative he feels it has a greater connection with the farmers they work with.
I enjoyed getting to know Justin and his experience at FS Grain better. It was interesting to learn about the position from his perspective.
My name is Taylor Hartke and I am currently a junior studying at Southern Illinois University majoring in Agricultural Communications and minoring in Agribusiness Economics. I hail from Teutopolis, Illinois where I was raised on my family’s diversified grain and livestock operation. The experiences I gained on the farm as well as through student organizations allowed me to develop a deep passion for serving the farm, the farmer, and the consumer. I am honored to have been named a 2020 Industry Immersion Scholarship Recipient. During both the kick-off tour this summer and my two days of job shadowing experience I was able to expand my knowledge about the grain and feed industry while networking with industry professionals. On December 21st & 22nd, I spent two days job shadowing at the Corporate Headquarters of Total Grain Marketing in Effingham, Illinois. Over these two days, I was able to watch exactly what happens when farmers call seeking advice or wanting to sell their grain. I saw first-hand what steps must occur in order for grain to be acquired, sold, and transported. I learned more about why markets were fluctuating on those given days which included wage stricks in Argentina as well as China’s continued purchases of US commodities. Since TGM is where my family, sells our grain, I found it interesting that half of their grain is transported by rail and half by truck. On those two days, I not only learned about each individual’s roles and duties, but I also helped with filing paperwork, writing the end of the day numbers, completing spreadsheets, and any other tasks that arose. Thank you to Kim, Lori, Austin, Wendy, Ken, and Tisha for allowing me to spend my two days there. Overall, this scholarship experience has broadened my knowledge, and I look forward to returning this spring for another chance to continue learning and experiencing what the industry has to offer.
- Taylor Hartke
I worked two days at my local elevator, Tuscola ADM. I was able to witness how a train is loaded at our facility. Todd Wiessing talked so much about how important safety and culture is at his elevator. The second day I asked to be in the office. I was able to shadow Kenny Hadden and witness how the merchants handle customers. Mr. Hadden talked to me about how important a relationship with a farmer is! I feel blessed to have such a great elevator filled with wonderful people so close to home. I am thankful for the opportunity Tuscola ADM has given me the past couple of years.
During the Fall 2020 semester, I had the opportunity to spend two days job shadowing at Eric Howell Grain. I observed the daily work of Heather Howell who has multiple titles due to it being a smaller operation.
Eric Howell Grain is a grain elevator located in Benton, KY and they have two additional drop-off branches in Murray, KY and Stella, KY. They buy and sell white and yellow corn, soybeans, and wheat. Due to the historical increase in commodity prices at harvest time they currently have multiple farmers that are having to fill contracts below what the current cash price is today.
Farmers have the opportunity to grow Enogen corn and Eric Howell Grain will pay a premium price per bushel for the grain. They’ll then sell it to the ethanol plants who will pay a higher price for the corn because it enhances ethanol production. Ethanol production is helping to lead us to a cleaner environment by helping to reduce carbon emissions.
I was able to look at and calculate the shrink reductions costs and drying costs that are dependent upon the moisture percentage the corn is brought in at. Farmers in Western, KY are experiencing much higher moisture levels due to cooler and rainy weather.
Lastly, I was also able to take a look at the end of the months reports that Eric Howell Grain has to turn in to their financial lender which is River Valley AgCredit. River-Valley AgCredit wants to make sure that they are making strides to pay-off their loan and keeping accurate records. In the 2019 end of year financial reports, I was able to review and analyze different key statements and components that were compiled together by a third party accountant.
My name is Isaac Brockman and I am a junior Agribusiness major at Illinois State University. I am from Verona, IL, which is where my family farms corn and soybeans. It has been a blessing to have been selected for the GFAI Scholarship, as this scholarship has gone beyond just a one-time recognition. In the summer, fellow recipients and I were able to enjoy the information-filled and eye-opening Industry Immersion Tour. This experience allowed us to network, gain a wider perspective on Illinois agriculture, and understand how important the grain and feed industries are to the economy, infrastructure, and communities of Illinois.
In addition to the Industry Immersion Tour, we recipients were fortunate enough to be set up with job shadowing experiences in the fall and spring. I was fortunate to be connected with FS GRAIN, which is based in Morris, IL, only about twenty-five minutes from my home. What made this experience even more valuable was that I was working towards earning an internship with FS GRAIN for next summer. At the main office, I was able to meet the staff and understand how they worked together for the function of the organization. I spent valuable time learning from Bryan Rader, Merchandising Manager, who explained the core business functions of FS GRAIN and how they utilize the many markets available in Northern Illinois. In the afternoon, I had the opportunity to travel to one of FS GRAIN’s container loading facilities, where I was able to learn how grain, especially soybeans, move efficiently from rural Illinois farms to Asian markets. Because of the awesome people at FS GRAIN and GROWMARK, I was able to earn and accept an offer for a summer 2021 GROWMARK Internship at FS GRAIN, shortly after the first job shadow day! Weeks later, I was called back for my second day and traveled to one of FS GRAIN’s modern rail-loading facilities. There, I was able to learn from Facility Supervisor Paul Hogan, who gave a great tour of the facility and was a great resource for questions I had about their operations. I was amazed by how quickly they fill railcars. It was also quite impressive to hear that the inbound grain can be dumped so quickly at this facility, which definitely provides value to farmers in the rush of harvest and even in the slower months. I had an awesome couple days this fall and look forward to continuing my GFAI Job Shadow experience at FS GRAIN in the spring!
My name is Austin Ator and I from the town of Pittsfield, Illinois. Pittsfield is a small farming town and I consider myself blessed to have been raised in a community that is centered on agriculture. I was even more fortunate to have grown up on my family’s corn and soybean farm. This is where my passion and love for agriculture came about and I decided to pursue a career in the agriculture industry. I am currently a Senior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Technical Systems Management with a minor in Agribusiness Management at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. My goal is to use my degree after graduation to help make the farming process as easy as possible for farmers and aid in the further advancement of the agriculture industry.
This past year I was very fortunate to have been selected as a GFAI Scholarship recipient with I am beyond grateful for. I am honored to have been chosen as a scholarship winner through the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois and greatly appreciate all of the opportunities that the scholarship has and will continue to provide to me and the other recipients. One of my favorite parts of being a recipient was attending the Industry Immersion Tour during the summer of 2020. I really enjoyed the tour as it was a very eye-opening experience that gave me a better understanding of the grain handling process from beginning to finish. A specific memory of the tour was getting to tour the Peoria lock and dam. Most people would not think of the river system as part of the grain industry, yet it plays a vital role in grain transportation and having been able to go on this tour really helped to develop my appreciation of the expansiveness of the grain industry. The GFAI Scholarship program has also provided me with the opportunity to job shadow a local grain elevator during the fall and spring semesters. I look forward to completing my job shadows and sharing my experiences in the spring.
My name is Miriam Hoffman and I hail from a diversified crop and livestock farm in north central Illinois, where my passion for agriculture began. As I became heavily involved in FFA during my time at Earlville High School, I began to see how I could build a meaningful career in the agriculture industry by serving both farmers and consumers. As of fall 2020, I am a junior at Southern Illinois University Carbondale studying agribusiness economics; I will be deferring both 2021 semesters to fulfill my year of service as a National FFA Officer, and look forward to learning and sharing more about the beautifully diverse industry of agriculture in that role. I am so grateful to have been selected as a 2020 GFAI Scholarship Recipient. This fall, I was placed with the Mound City CGB location in the southern tip of Illinois. I spent two days shadowing the facility manager, Jonathan Pounds, and learned about both barge and rail operations. We also travelled to the Birds Point, Missouri, location that Mound City oversees; the intersection of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers is an incredible sight and I was fascinated to learn of some of the history that made the location what it is. One of my favorite parts of the two days was walking out across the catwalk to see the barge operations over the river. The barge loading and unloading point is across the Illinois-Kentucky state line, so I visited two new states during my time at Mound City CGB! Mr. Pounds introduced me to a number of other employees at the location, from operations to accounting to grain merchandising. I experienced a broad range of potential opportunities in the grain industry and I am grateful for the experience provided by the GFAI. I look forward to returning with a blog post in the spring, where I will relate my National FFA experiences to the grain industry.
My name is Jacy Castlebury and I am a junior at Western Illinois University studying Ag Business with a minor in Economics. Over the past two summers, I have interned with Dearwester Grain Services, a grain elevator and feed mill based out of Golden, IL. While I was there, I was able to gain a lot of knowledge and hands on experience about both the grain and feed industries. My favorite part about working at Dearwester Grain was learning about the grain markets and how the futures and basis work. In my future, I want to pursue a career in grain merchandising, and this internship helped me to learn a lot of the important basics, like basis trading and contracting.
This year, I was chosen as one of the 2020 GFAI Scholarship recipients. I am extremely grateful for the GFAI and the scholarship that they have provided me with to support my education. Along with the scholarship, I have had the opportunity to job shadow at Western Grain Marketing in Adair, IL. I was very impressed with how nice this facility was and how smoothly it was ran. After spending some time in the office, we took a tour outside. The morning that I was there, they were loading a rail car. I thought this was the most interesting thing that I had seen there, because I had never seen a rail car being loaded before. I was even able to go up to the top of the stairs and see how they loaded it from up above. Overall, it was a great day and I learned a lot from it. I appreciate Scott Sims and the rest of the crew at WGM in Adair for having me and taking the time during the middle of harvest to show me what they do!
My name is Parker Karrick and I am from Patoka, Illinois which is in Marion County. I am currently a senior at Murray State University where I am studying Agriculture Leadership. This year, I was blessed with being chosen as a Grain and Feed Association of Illinois Scholarship recipient. This scholarship has already enabled me to network with new individuals, experience different aspects of the industry, and have hands-on experience. As part of my job shadowing, I had the opportunity to go to Tosh Farms in Henry, Tennessee. While there, I shadowed Caleb Haywood who is the Elevator Operations Manager at Tosh Pork. Mr. Haywood took the time to show me their elevator process and explained to me how they use it as a feed mill to support their hog operation. On my first visit there, I mainly just toured and learned about the company and on my second visit, I dove in and helped test the grain that was coming in. This is a task I have done in previous jobs, but it allowed me to see how similar tasks can be different depending on the location that you are in. Although similar, the growing season, crops, and other aspects of the agriculture industry have their differences from Tennessee to the rural area of Illinois that I am used to. Overall, this was a great experience for me to partake in and I look forward to returning to Tosh Farms in the spring!