Hello again, this is Jonathan Waibel. Just this week I finished the last of my job-shadowing sessions at Alliance Grain. This round we spent the majority of our time observing and participating in the elevator functions which pertain to rail loading. As before, JB Daughenbaugh, who is General Manager for Alliance Grain, graciously offered his time and insight, and personally explained the process to me. In today’s world of market inversions, it is often in the best interest of the commercial elevator to immediately sell and deliver as much of his basis ownership as he can logistically manage. In other words, Alliance Grain is currently maximizing their rail logistics to move as many bushels as possible.
Mr. Daughenbaugh took me to three different locations within Alliance Grain that were loading rail cars. Each was unique, and the various methods and procedures combined to provide me with a well-rounded perspective of rail loading. If the railcar is overloaded, then the railroad company will charge a fine for overweight and force the seller to come and reduce the load to the pre-specified parameters. This can be rather difficult, since some of the local railcars are first weighed in Mississippi or on the Canadian border. If too little of a commodity is loaded on the car, the railroad company charges something called “dead freight” to account for the “wasted” space in the hopper. To deal with this problem, Alliance Grain has installed scales to measure the weight of the railcar as it is being loaded and allow it to be filled up to the limit. An official grade must be given to the grain in each car. At one of the locations we visited there was a certified inspector on-site. This is highly advantageous as adjustments can be made on the fly by the loader to minimize FM, moisture, and other discounts. The alternative is to have the grain graded at its destination. The disadvantage of this is that if the grade were to show a higher than desired moisture on the train load, it is already a done deal; there is no fixing at this point.
One highlight of mine was climbing up to the “crows nest” where the operator(Tim) was filling the cars. Tim would communicate by radio with the engineer, who would then adjust the position of the car under the spout. When the scale readout indicated that the car was full, Tim would press a button and close the bin gate. As we travelled to different locations, Mr. Daughenbaugh pointed out to me that their original elevators were, in many cases, built right up close the railroad for ease of loading. Often they were also situated in the middle of a town. While it may have been convenient at some point, today it is better defined as cumbersome. Hard decisions must be made when a landlocked elevator needs to expand.
At our last stop I was able to tag along with the local elevator manager as he oversaw the loading of the cars. Two Track-mobiles were being used here, and they were pushing segments of 5 railcars at a time. I was impressed with the smoothness with which all the switches and run-backs were made. It seemed like ripe conditions for a pileup, but all the employees worked together and it ran like clockwork.
Overall, the experience was extremely positive. I have always noticed the trains traveling through our neighborhood, but I now have acquired a perspective of the railroad system that I will not forget. I am grateful to JB Daughenbaugh for sharing his time with me. And also to the rest of the team at Alliance Grain. Thank you!
Hello, again! I am wrapping up my senior year at the University of Illinois, and I spent my spring break shadowing Premier Cooperative’s facilities located in Central Illinois, as part of my industry immersion experience through the GFAI scholarship program.
On the first day of my shadowing experience, I had the opportunity to shadow two of their farm marketing specialists. I was able to learn about their strategies for networking with farmers in the area. As a cooperative, they explained that their major role is to work for the farmer and help them make decisions that will benefit them financially. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to observe a farm visit to one of their customer’s farming operations. It was evident in this meeting that they value their customers and strive to accommodate their needs. The marketing team was also very proud of their new phone application that allows customers to lock in prices for their commodities and review their seller information outside operating hours. To fulfill their mission to maintain high customer satisfaction, they strive to provide resources for their customers to make everything easily accessible.
The cooperative operates 25 different facilities across Central Illinois, and I had the opportunity to visit two of the facilities. Multiple facilities that they operate rely heavily on freight trains to transport their commodities, and it was very interesting to learn about the different markets and corresponding commodity prices associated with different rail lines. I was able to tour their elevator located in Dewey, which is one of their oldest and largest elevators with a total capacity of 7,380,066 bushels. At this location, they explained to me the recent upgrades and automation to their facility that allow them to drastically decrease the amount of time it takes to unload grain trucks bringing in commodities. The automation also allows them to load rail cars that are exporting their commodities quicker and more efficiently as well.
On the second day of the tour, I shadowed their administrative team at the headquarters in Champaign. I was able to meet with their Chief Financial Officer who explained his role in the cooperative. He informed me that his job is to provide information for their board of farmers that oversees the decisions made for the business. He was working on a spreadsheet that would show the board how different wage increases would impact their business. He also explained that these wage increases are necessary to maintain a reliable and qualified workforce. In addition to the CFO, I was able to meet with their merchandiser who handles most of the selling and purchasing of the commodities for the business. He explained how he makes marketing decisions in a volatile market to ensure that they can maintain the prices that their farmers desire. His day is spent primarily monitoring the markets and determining if it is in the best interest of the company to buy or sell commodities. He also explained how transportation impacts his decisions, as it is difficult to find semi-transport for their commodities.
I enjoyed my time at Premier Cooperative, and I learned a lot about their business. In all their facilities, I noticed they had a set of core values that their company strives to uphold. Among these core values was integrity, and after shadowing them for two days it was evident that they strive to maintain relationships with their customers and the community through mutual respect and honesty. I am grateful for the opportunity to shadow this business and I appreciate them taking the time to meet with me.
Hi again! The trade show this year in St.Louis was an amazing experience. Being able to reconnect with those I met this summer on the immersion tour, as well as meeting new faces helped me gain an even better perspective on the grain industry. The trade show was a one-of-a-kind experience, and I am glad I was able to be a part of it.
After the trade show, I was able to come home for spring break and continue my elevator experience with Consolidated Grain and Barge. I visited the Albany location along the Mississippi River and was able to learn the operations of a barge loading facility. The timing was perfect, as the river had just reopened up from the winter and they loaded two barges that day. I worked there with Nick Starr, where I was able to go out to the river and see the loading process up front. Taking barge measurements and reading drafts of the barge is very important. If these steps aren’t done correctly, the barge could be overloaded on one side and cause it to tip over or weigh too much to be shipped away. If the barge is overloaded, it won’t be able to make it down the river without getting stuck in the bottom. Learning the process of transferring grain from one facility to another was very interesting to me and is something I would like to learn more about.
Later that week I returned to Albany and met with Jake Holschlag, the Grain Manager at CGB. There I was able to learn about merchandising, managing, and marketing. Jake also taught me about barges, how they are bought, and where they go after they are loaded. I was also able to attend a marketing meeting with that day with Mike Hogan, the corporate grain originator. This was an amazing experience for me, and I was able to learn a lot from Mike and about the current grain markets and drivers of demand.
While I did not have the typical college spring break experience, I am glad I was able to return to the elevator in Albany and work that week. My job shadowing experiences were unique and being able to see several facilities and jobs at each one helped me piece together the operational process. I look forward to continuing working in this field and learning more about it.
Hello again! After an eventful and educational day at the annual convention and trade show, I returned to FS Grain to learn more about the daily operations within the company and some more about the industry as a whole. I was able to spend some time with Molly Fanning to learn about state contracts and the way in which brokered truck freight is handled within FS Grain. In addition, I got to speak with Mark Trainor and learn about the safety procedures at the 22 locations and how the company presents its policies to the employees. I got to take part in a Grain 101 presentation by Lisa Scribner where I was able to learn about the types of contracts and marketing strategies FS Grain has to offer. To wrap up the first of my spring days, I sat with Collin Graves who is the controller and accountant for FS Grain. He was able to provide some insight on what the company looks at and the measures they use to guide the decision making process for the future of the business. On my final day, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go on several client visits with Ryan Whiteaker, a marketing strategy advisor. During our time together we discussed different approaches he and others use to bring grain into the company and the factors that have an effect on price offerings across the company’s 22 locations.
Being able to job shadow with FS Grain employees was both interesting and educational. I was able to learn a lot about the grain industry and some of what a successful grain business does in its day-to-day operations. I would like to thank the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois and FS Grain for these great opportunities!
Grain & Feed Association of Illinois
3521 Hollis Dr.