To some, co-ops are merely the white prairie skyscrapers they see dotting theKansas skyline, but to farmers these cooperatives mean much more. These organizations have changed as farming itself has changed, not because they simply want to, but because they needed to. Agricultural cooperatives have responded to farmers’ changing needs by continually investing in new infrastructure, innovative services and helpful resources for farmers, all of which were celebrated during National Co-op Month in October.
A group of entrepreneurial farmers joined together in 1919 to form the Garden City Co-op. Advancements in farming technologies and overall increases in crop production have allowed the cooperative to grow from a single country elevator to an extensive network of facilities and services. Today, approximately 150 employees serve more than 2,050 members. The grain division now includes 20 elevators from Ulysses to Shields with a total storage capacity of nearly 28.3 million bushels. Other divisions of Garden City Co-op include crop production, petroleum, transportation and safety, investments in grain storage facilities and precision agriculture services.
In 104 years, Farmway Co-op has grown from a single petroleum cooperative to one of the largest agricultural cooperatives in the United States. Today, Farmway encompasses 37 locations in nine counties and includes 166 full-time employees, 2,700 voting members who are active producers and 4,500 non-voting members. In fall 2014, USDA named Farmway as 70th in the top 100 largest agricultural cooperatives in the United States, based on 2013 revenue and assets.
Pooling resources to achieve better results than could be accomplished individually is the reason many cooperatives formed. That goal is one which Mid Kansas Cooperative Association (MKC), one of the nation’s largest agricultural cooperatives, has abided by since its inception. In October 2015, USDA listed MKC as the 69th largest agricultural cooperative based on total business volume and total assets in 2014. This includes the addition of more than 18 million bushels in storage capacity in the last five years, not including the high-speed train loader in Canton which will have 8 million bushels in storage capacity when completed in spring 2016.
Farmers Cooperative Grain Association accepted the first load of grain at a single elevator with 250,000 bushels of capacity and an office in 1955. Today, the cooperative has seen remarkable growth with more than 4 million bushels of capacity at three locations in Belle Plaine and Conway Springs as well as several fertilizer rigs and fuel, propane and feed trucks.
In southwest Kansas, WindRiver Grain, L.L.C. is a familiar name to farmers. The independent company handles between 40 and 50 million bushels of wheat, corn and milo each year. WindRiver sends shipments by rail for both domestic use and export. WindRiver’s partnerships have sparked additional business opportunities for the community of Garden City. First was the construction of an ethanol plant, Bonanza BioEnergy, LLC, and then a wind distribution center that unloads turbines and blades, as well as the approved site for a dry milk processing plant which recently broke ground. These expansions are part of a common effort to partner with other companies who have similar philosophies.
Investing in infrastructure and service improvements has been vital to the growth of Kansas Cooperatives.
According to MKC President Dave Christiansen, “Part of our growth has been driven by our ability to meet the customer’s needs… We get up every day with the intent of making our farmers more successful and people seem to like that.”
by Julia Debes and Jordan Hildebrand; Kansas Wheat