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!
Hello, my name is Jonathan Waibel. I live in Forrest, IL, and I am just finishing up my tenure at Parkland Community College where I studied Agricultural Business Management with the goal of becoming involved in Grain Merchandising. I am grateful to have been named a scholarship recipient by the GFAI this year, this has presented to me opportunities that otherwise I would have missed. For my job shadowing this fall I spent two days at Allliance Grain in Gibson City. I spent most of my time the first day with Adam Moritz, who is Grain Merchandiser for Alliance. My highlight of this session was our discussion on the grain flow between their facilities and also the arbitraging that takes place to hit their many different markets. I was intrigued by the topic of rail logistics: the specific rail lines that link specific destinations, the amount of volume that can be handled compared to truck logistics, and the specialized equipment that is used to load the cars at each terminal. The second day I shadowed JB Daughenbaugh, who is General Manager for Alliance. My time with JB was mainly focused on Alliance’s 15 locations. Being spread over such an area geographically has its benefits, such as short travel time from any given farm in the county, but it also presents a set of difficulties. Equipment at 15 different locations needs to be maintained, bushel flow needs to be managed especially at harvest to maximize storage capacity, and then the 20-some million bushels of grain in storage must be conditioned so they don’t spoil. JB took me on a tour of Alliance’s southern locations, I believe we checked out 6 different places. JB also explained to me the process of cooling, conditioning, and storing the grain. If this is not done correctly, the grain will heat up and begin to burn, which phenomenon causes great headaches to all involved. JB could speak from experience as he has dealt with burning grain in the past. Overall, the 2 days of shadowing were extremely beneficial for me. Observing and dealing with business operations in the real world provides an experience that cannot be replaced. Thank you to team at Alliance Grain!
Jaycie VanKampen, U of I
Hello! My name is Jaycie VanKampen, and I am a junior at the University of Illinois, studying Agricultural and Consumer Economics with a focus in business markets and management. I am from a very small town in Northwest Illinois, called Thomson. Coming from such a rural area (with a town population of 524 people), I have always had a love for agriculture. My passion for the grain industry started when I began working for Consolidated Grain and Barge 2 years ago as a freshman in college.
After being paired with CGB for my job shadow, I was able to travel and work for two new facilities within the company. I spent some time working for Nick in Albany, and some time working for Hoyt in Homer. These were both new places for me, and I enjoyed every minute spent at each facility. In Homer, I was able to work at a facility that had lots of storage and loaded trains that were then sent to Decatur. I was also able to spend some time in the office, learning about farm accounts and merchandising. While in Albany, I was at a facility along the river that loaded barges. There I was able to observe how barges were loaded and the flow path of commodity storage. Though both facilities are grain elevators, the operations of train loading and barge loading are very different from each other.
My job shadow experience was unique, and I am so thankful for the opportunity. Being able to work at two different places and learn two different market strategies was very interesting to me. I was also able to work with several different employees, and shadow jobs ranging from operations to merchandising. This experience taught me what it takes to run a successful facility, and I was truly able to experience a day in each person’s shoes.
I would like to thank Joanne, Jeff, Nick, Jake, Hoyt, Bruce, and Kris for helping me along my journey and welcoming me into their facilities. I appreciate the time spent working with me to ensure that the experience I received was as beneficial to me as possible. The experiences I had in Homer and Albany has helped shape my career and professional life and has taught me more than I ever imagined. Thank you to the CGB team as well as the GFAI for providing me with this great experience!
Isaac Brockman, ISU Renewable Scholar
This year, I was fortunate enough to have been selected as a GFAI Renewable Scholarship Recipient. This selection allowed me to have the opportunity to job shadow within the Illinois grain industry once again.
A lot has changed since my last blog post in April. I started a GROWMARK Internship mid-May at the Main Office of FS Grain, which is in Morris, IL. This twelve-week internship allowed me to sit at the merchandising desk and learn more about the grain industry. I soon recognized that while classroom education provides a solid foundation, nothing compares to the knowledge learned by doing and seeing. I am appreciative for the willingness Bryan Rader and Justin Burke, both Merchandisers, had in answering questions I asked. By sitting with them each day, I was able to pick up some key terminology and concepts within the grain industry. This increased my confidence while talking about specifics within grain merchandising. Additionally, I was able to pursue some projects that added value. This included working on a project that overhauled the internal process of creating and posting bids each day. This project was created to save time and prevent errors. This summer affirmed to me that I want to start my career within the grain industry.
I am grateful that, at the end of the summer, I was provided an offer to work full-time with FS Grain upon graduation. This offer was for a Grain Consultant position in Ransom, IL, which would essentially make me responsible for grain origination in that area. I accepted the offer and have continued to be excited for this opportunity, which is now just a few months away. This open position was due to the retirement of a long-time grain originator at the facility. This led me to request to job shadow for the GFAI Renewable Scholarship at this facility. I spent two days learning as much as I could about the ins and outs of the FS Grain Ransom facility. I focused a majority of my time with Pat Knapp, the retiring Grain Consultant. Through our conversations, I was able to see the application of building and maintaining strong relationships with the farmers. This included some morning talk with local farmers over a cup of coffee to start the day. It is actually impressive that with a significant customer list like she has, she has been able to maintain the strength of relationships with farmers for all these years. Furthermore, she shared great resources for learning more about the grain markets and where to seek out daily news updates. It gives me great confidence knowing that she is handing over the origination role in such a strong position.
What took this job shadowing experience to the next level was the ability to meet people from all aspects of the facility. That included Kenny Kral, Facility Supervisor. He was able to share key information about the outside, physical assets of the facility, like the rail loop, bin set up, ground pile space, loading and unloading, and much more. This information and tour gave me great perspective on how the facility works and what its advantages and disadvantages are. I also got to sit with Abby Zeimetz, who shared a lot of information about the accounting and settlement pieces of FS Grain. I appreciated the opportunity to see how these day-to-day duties were carried out. I also got to meet other operations personnel and scale operators, who all play an integral role in making the facility run smoothly. This two-day experience has led me to be more prepared and more excited to start in May!
All in all, I have a few takeaways. 1.) The grain industry, especially within the FS GROWMARK System, places and emphasis on people and the relationships with people. 2.) Asking questions will be key to my growth and success. 3.) Farmers are key to success—value, maintain, and, for me, build those relationships.
Justin Huff, U of I
Hello, my name is Justin Huff, and I am a senior at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign majoring in Animal Science with a concentration in Pre-Veterinary Medicine. My career goal is to become a large animal veterinarian and provide services to food animals in the underserved rural America. My experiences at the University of Illinois sparked my interest in animal nutrition, and I was excited to be paired with The Maschhoff’s for my fall immersion tour. I have a strong connection with the company having served as an animal care technician while obtaining my Associate of Science degree from Kaskaskia, so I was very excited to return to the company in a new area.
I shadowed Mark Nagel for both days of my experience, and I really appreciated his time and the opportunity to learn about their feed mill. He began by giving me a tour of the mill and discussed how the Maschhoff’s pellet nearly 90% of all diets fed to their commercial herds. He explained to me the process of diet formulation and the addition of ingredients to make the desired ration for the various facilities they maintain. My favorite part of the tour was taking the elevator to the top of the mill and seeing the Maschhoff’s “penthouse view.”
In addition to the tour of the facitilty, he discussed the importance of safety at the mill. In the past, they had an explosion at the feed mill site which taught them a valuable lesson about grain safety and the importance of maintaining a clean and safe environment. He explained that the mill remains very conscious of safety and has not had any serious accidents in a considerable amount of time.
Another aspect of the mill that I experienced was the control room, where all the “magic” happens. Connie Kujawa allowed me to observe her methods for mixing feeds, running the pellet machine, and loading trucks all with a click of a button. On some occasions she had to unload some ingredients by hand but most of the systems are automated. In addition to controlling the machinery, she is also responsible for collecting samples from all shipments of feed that leave the facility. This sampling allows them to track any feed that leaves the facility if an accident were to occur. Connie also discussed the importance of being cognoscente of medicated feeds that leave the facility, as it is vital that antibiotics are not given to market hogs to prevent antibiotics from making it into our food system.
My experience at The Maschhoff’s feed mill was very valuable, and I enjoyed learning about the technical aspect of the most important expense in swine production, feed.
Carlie Mettler, U of I
My name is Carlie Mettler and I am a sophomore at the University of Illinois majoring in animal science with a minor in crop science. I grew up in Highland, Illinois just east of St. Louis. Both sides of my family farm, so I’ve been around agriculture and farming my whole life. I loved going to the elevator with my dad and was always interested in learning more about the grain industry. In the future, I hope to be an animal nutritionist, so although I am a non-typical applicant for the Grain and Feed Association Scholarship, I still think it's beneficial to know the whole process of the grain industry and how it works with the animal nutrition industry.
For my job shadowing, I was paired with the Highland Top Ag elevator. This elevator was just recently bought out by Top Ag and was originally Oberbeck Grain. I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the experience, but during my two days there I learned a lot. I spent some time talking to a former grain merchandiser and owner of Oberbeck grain, Bob Luitjohan. Knowing nothing about how the grain markets work, he answered a lot of my questions. I learned that there is a lot of risk in trading, a perfect timing for everything, and with experience you start to learn the best time to buy, sell, or keep. I also found that there are many aspects and factors to consider when trading: the weather, other countries' crops, inflation, the value of currency, and a good crop vs. bad crop year are all factors to consider when making decisions.
In addition to talking with Bob, I also got the chance to talk to Angie Fears and Todd Luitjohan who work at the elevator as well. I watched and learned a little bit about how to insert tickets into the computer system and I helped sort all the tickets into a filing system. I also learned about how to create checks from tickets and put them in the office safe. Additionally, I learned a little bit about contracts, spotting, and taking phone calls from farmers. I witnessed farmers asking about their contracts, current prices, splitting tickets, and selling grain. With harvest coming to an end, the office wasn’t too busy but I was able to see a few trucks come in. I watched the grain be weighed, tested, and then driven into the elevator where they dump.
One of the coolest things I did during my job shadowing was going up in the grain elevator. Everything was a gravity system and it was interesting to see how they measure the storage bins to see how much room is left. We stopped at every level of the elevator and I even got to go on the roof and could see the St. Louis Arch. On the elevator is the town's huge Christmas tree that lights up the town every year so it was neat to see the tree up close. Going up in the elevator was an amazing opportunity and I will never forget it.
During my time job shadowing I also got to make some trips to other grain facilities. I went to the New Douglas elevator and got to see a bigger operation that has bigger grain bins and more storage. The dump pits were bigger and the scale system was a little more updated than the Highland location. I also got the chance to go to the river, which is where some of Top Ag’s grain goes, to see Bunge’s operation. It was so crazy and neat to see how a barge is loaded with grain. I never knew that basically an arm comes from the bins that is long enough to reach the river and just fills the barges. It takes about two hours to fill a barge, and at that operation they fill about five to nine barges a day. I also went to see Bunge’s competition in Cahokia which was Cargill, Oakley, and Consolidated Grain. It was neat to see other river operations as well.
I am so thankful I got the experience I had with Top Ag, and for Angie, Todd, and Bob. I truly learned a lot and the people were so nice and informative. I enjoyed my experience so much, and I can’t wait to return in the spring and see what else I can learn.
Luke Lovgren, Illinois Statue University
My name is Luke Lovgren and I am currently a senior at Illinois State University studying Agribusiness and Agronomy Management. I am pleased to have been given a great opportunity to learn more about the grain and feed industry through the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois and FS Grain. Both of these organizations have and are connected to very knowledgeable people that are able to share a great deal of information about the industry they are involved in each and every day.
Having the chance to spend some time doing some job shadowing with FS Grain gave me a brand-new perspective on the grain industry as a whole and a company from my local area. During the two days I spent in the Morris office, I was able to meet and speak with a wide variety of professionals within the company from those in human resources and grain settlements to others that work with farmer customers to purchase grain and develop marketing strategies. On the first of my two days I was able to learn about different markets that the company participates in. The markets I was able to learn the most about were the rail and container markets. The container markets are especially difficult to take part in at this particular moment in time for not only FS Grain, but companies all across the country and the world. Issues related to supply lines and export shipping have tied up containers, therefore decreasing the number available for grain export. FS Grain also ships grain by rail to the southeastern and southwestern United States and the west coast. This variety gives them an array of opportunities to generate a profit.
The second day, I was able to spend some time with the market strategy manager on the structure and process of grain origination within FS Grain. She was able to share with me some of the techniques and approaches she and her team take to develop good customer relationships and continue to build a larger book of business. In addition to that, I was able to learn about the platform the company uses to be able to determine what upcoming opportunities may be advantageous to participate in for the business and its customers.
To conclude my fall job shadowing, I was able to see several containers being loaded for export at one of the larger facilities. This was one of the pieces of the puzzle that helped bring everything full circle within the organization.
All in all, these two days were great experiences and very educational and I look forward to continue to learn more about FS Grain and the grain and feed industry in the spring.
My name is Olivia Kepner, and I grew up in NW Illinois on my family’s farrow to finish hog farm. I attended Highland Community College where I graduated in 2018 with my Associate of Science degree. Directly after graduation, I transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville where I majored in Animal Science with a double minor in English and Strategic Marketing & Visual Communications. Since graduation from there in December 2020, I’ve been working at our local cooperative, Pearl City Elevator, Inc. While here, I have been working within their Marketing & Communications department. Quite a few of my projects involve highlighting our Employee Anniversaries on our social media platforms, welcoming new employees, assisting in video filming & editing, photographing our employees and landscapes, as well as interviewing and writing our Women in Agriculture series that is on our webpage. A number of these projects have allowed me to work hand in hand with our grain team. I’ve participated in numerous filming opportunities to capture grain updates, share our average price contract options with our producers, and give large market reports. I led our participation in Grain Safety Week and spread awareness through our social media platforms. At the beginning of the year, I was also an integral part in filming a video series that highlighted a feed salesman and her expertise in diary nutrition on farm. Through these experiences, I have been able to work closely with our grain team this year and am looking forward to continuing my education this fall at UW-Madison in my graduate program where I will be studying Environment & Resources.
Grain & Feed Association of Illinois
3521 Hollis Dr.