As a Grain and Feed Association of Illinois scholarship recipient, I was given the opportunity to have great job shadowing experiences over the last few months. For my job shadowing experience, I was paired with The Andersons grain facility in Champaign, IL where I spent four separate days with the companies Regional Sales Manager. Each day that I spent at the Facility was unique, which was exciting and allowed me to learn about all aspects of the company. For my first visit I went to the facility during the mid-harvest season. We spent the day discussing the odds and ends of how the facility operates and touring the entirety of the facility. Mid-harvest is one of the facilities busiest times and it was very insightful to witness how operations were handled throughout the facility at this time. My next visit was during the winter and I met with the company’s operations manager. I really enjoyed this experience as his position was very relatable to the future job I wish to have. As a Technical Systems Management Major at the University of Illinois, seeing how all of the operations of the facility were handled was of great interest to me.
My spring job shadows were also unique. I learned how the company has many different aspects that are incorporated throughout different times of the year. In my two spring visits, we spent a lot of time discussing the different groups of the company and how they all work together to achieve a common goal. I also spent time learning about how the commodity markets work. Before my experiences at The Andersons, I had no idea what the scope of an elevator really entailed and thanks to the wonderful people that took the time to meet with me I now have a much better understanding. I am very thankful for the opportunities that the GFAI scholarship foundation provided me, and I would like to thank everyone involved in the program and also those facilities that generously gave their time to provide such great job shadowing experiences.
For my Spring 2021 semester job shadowing experience, I traveled down to Henry, TN, and spent two days learning from Caleb Haywood at Tosh Farms. Tosh Farms is the largest pork producer in Tennessee and the 30th largest pork producer in the United States. Caleb is the Grain Manager for Tosh Farms, he manages the 18,000 acres of land, which is half-owned by the company, and then the other half is owned by 83 different landowners. They grow seven different crops on this land: white corn, yellow corn, soybeans, milo, wheat, canola, and barley. Caleb will buy grain from any local farmer, typically within a 50-mile radius of Tosh Farms, for the right price. Caleb is willing to buy any grain a farmer wants to sell to him because he sends that grain to their feed mill and any surplus he sells at the nearest river terminal.
Tosh Farms, Henry TNTosh Farms has a separate company called Tosh Pork. The feed mill at Tosh Farms sustains their 35,000 pigs spread out across various farms in TN. Tosh Pork provides care for around 36,000 sows producing over 850,000 market hogs each year. Tosh Pork operates by seeking out contract farmers that can operate either a sow barn or wean to finish barn.
I got the opportunity to speak with Caleb on how COVID-19 affected their pork operations. Caleb said because the pork processing plants had cut down their demand by nearly a quarter of what they had been selling at the market pre-covid. They tried every measure, such as raising the temperatures and cutting all of the energy out of their pigs. Despite these measures, they were forced to liquidate one sow barn. They are still recovering from this major setback.
I also had the opportunity to receive a tour of all the facilities with Caleb. We walked around the property, and he showed me the different styles of grain bins, scales, unloading areas, feed mill, and by-product building. The most unique part of the tour was the by-product building. In this building, you have mounds of ground-up by-products going to go to waste and that Tosh Farms receives from different companies and then mix into the pig feed. These products include dog food, peanut butter, chip bags, and rice. Incorporating these by-products into their pig feed can save millions of dollars on soybean meal a year.
Hello, my name is Morgan McCarthy, and I recently graduated from Southeast Missouri State University this past December while studying Agribusiness. I am from a small, rural community in Monroe County known as Valmeyer, IL. I am extremely grateful to be one of the 2020 GFAI Scholarship Recipients as it has not only helped me financially, but it has also expanded my understanding of the grain and feed industry in our state. I had the privilege of shadowing several individuals at CGB, Inc. in Scott City, MO. I was already slightly familiar with the company and this location because I worked part-time for them during my junior year of college.
My first two days at CGB I job shadowed one of their grain merchandisers and fellow SEMO alum: Lenice Jensen. Lenice was extremely kind to me as I was trying to pick her brain about her roll at CGB. She explained to me how her career started with a grain merchandising internship with CGB when she was in college. She absolutely loved her experience and decided to accept a full-time merchandising role not long after her internship. She has been a merchandiser for CGB for about seven years now. I started off by asking Lenice what she does during the middle of December. She explained to me that she receives a lot of calls from her growers who are wanting to sell their grain that they have been storing in their bins. During this time, she also calls her growers to get an idea of how many acres they want to plant for the 2021 growing season. She also purchases new crop for 2021 from her growers who are ready to sell. The main crops that Scott City takes and the merchandisers purchase are corn, soybeans, wheat, and a little milo. Lenice said that the main contracts she works with are priced/cash contracts, basis only contracts, and futures only contracts. This time of year, she was also promoting CGB’s PMP (Professional Managed Pricing) Program which is a grain selling program where marketing professionals determine the best marketing strategy for growers. To participate in this program, growers agree to a contract that states they must pay CGB a certain fee per bushel that is put into this PMP program. Lenice said that growers normally put a percentage of their new crop in this program opposed to putting all of their future bushels in it. I was so grateful to learn from Lenice for two whole days to soak up as much as I could since I can see myself becoming a grain merchandiser one day.
My second two days at CGB in Scott City, MO I had the privilege to learn more about the operations side of the business. I had a discussion with Rick Loker who is the location manager for Scott City and Cape Girardeau. Rick has been with CGB for 44 years! He had worked for several different locations within the company including Cahokia, IL, which is not far from my hometown. When I arrived, Rick was finalizing paperwork from the safety audit the location had the day before. They normally have two safety audits a year to make sure that everyone is complying to set safety regulations. Rick later explained to me how Scott City normally loads 120 barges in a year, and they can do about three per day during fall harvest. However, 2019-2020 did not meet that average because their loading tower required major maintenance and was inoperable during the first few months of 2020 while it was being worked on. All the grain that CGB sends down the Mississippi eventually ends up in Convent, LA, which is where their headquarters reside. From there the grain is loaded onto a vessel and sent to Japan. Scott City also has about 350,000 bushels of storage space to store grain before it gets loaded onto a barge. Rick has a ton of responsibilities including the safety of his employees, loading barges efficiently, determining when he needs to load a barge to free up storage space, and much more.
The day after I shadowed Rick, I shadowed Tripp Elliot. He is a group location manager who oversees three locations: Scott City, Cape Girardeau, and Bird’s Point, MO. The location managers for those three locations, including Rick, look to Tripp when issues arise and if they have questions that need to be answered. So, Tripp has a huge number of responsibilities as well. A few of them include creating daily position reports that show how much grain they have on hand and ordering parts that need replacing in the elevator. Later in the day I noticed that Tripp asked the three grain buyers at Scott City if they would be able to have their growers deliver soybeans to the elevator because he needed to fill a barge that was scheduled to come. Tripp later explained to me that he has to deal with grain quality issues when they come up. He said that poor grain quality can become a major issue if it is not addressed properly. A couple of the main quality issues he sometimes has to deal with are moisture and heat damage. He recently had to deal with a strange odor that was coming from the soybeans they had on hand. He believed the COFO was coming from treating the stored soybeans for insects.
I am extremely grateful for the experiences that the GFAI has given me, including the monetary award, the immersion tour, and my job shadowing days.
My name is Kyler Masching and I am from Cabery, Illinois. I have grown up surrounded by agriculture and when deciding what to pursue a degree in, I knew I wanted agriculture at the core of my studies. Currently, I am a sophomore at the University of Illinois studying Agribusiness: Markets and Management with a minor in Crop and Soil Management. I was blessed to of been chosen as one of the recipients into the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois Scholarship Program. Ever since being selected as a recipient into the Grain and Feed Scholarship Program, I was looking forward to attending the Grain and Feed Industry Immersion Tour. I enjoyed all of the tours we were able to go on and I feel I learned something new at each destination we toured. A few of the tours that really stuck out to me were the Peoria Lock and Dam, Marquis Energy, and Zimmerman Feed and Grain. The tour we were able to have of the Peoria Lock and Dam was very interesting as we saw what a drained lock and dam looks like. The lead engineer explained how vital these locks and dams are to the Midwest economy, especially to the agriculture industry and the repairs being made over the summer had taken years to plan in order to be completed as efficiently as possible. The tour of Marquis Energy was very interesting because Marquis Energy is one of the biggest ethanol plants in the world. It was remarkable to listen to the number of bushels of corn used every day at the plant in order to produce ethanol. Finally, our last stop on the tour was of Zimmerman Feed and Grain. We were able to observe all that goes into making hog feed and how careful the feed mill has to be when making feed.
Apart from the Industry Immersion Tour, I really enjoyed being paired with Consolidated Grain and Barge in Dwight, IL. This was a great 2-day job shadow as on the first day I was able to observe the grain merchandizers in the office and they explained to me where their purchasing area is and how they determine what basis to set for their grain based upon the grain’s end destination. I was able to sit in on a container marketing call and was explained why there is a container shortage in the agriculture industry in the United States and the complications that are included with that. While in the office, I learned about the different pricing programs CGB offers and then explained how these programs operate. On the second day of my job shadow, I was able to get a tour of the operations side of the grain elevator. This was very fascinating as I toured the flat storage building on site that holds 2.2 million bushels of grain. I want to thank Larry, Kevin, Sam, Hailey, and Mark for taking the time to give me a great 2-day job shadow. I am excited about my next blog post to share more about my job shadow experience!
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!