Grain Companies And Cooperatives In Expansion Mode

Nebraska Notebook

New large storage and rail load-out facilities changing grain trade landscape in Nebraska.

Published on: July 18, 2013

Under construction. That's one way to describe the grain handling and shipping business in Nebraska.

Despite the impact of last year's drought on dryland crops and concerns over irrigation water withdrawals in parts of the state, several cooperatives and grain companies are expanding grain storage and rail load-out facilities in Nebraska.

The days of farmers' cooperatives in most small towns are over, and in effect have been for some years now. We're looking at large regional cooperatives expanding across the state and across state lines.

That's the name of the game today. Farms with livestock are shrinking in number. More and more, farmers are concentrating on increasing grain production and competing for the fewer and fewer tracts of land that come up for sale. It easy to see the shiny new and larger bins are emerging on farms.

I wrote in this blog recently about both farmers and livestock producers who've gone on overseas trade missions to promote Nebraska commodities or they've hosted foreign buyers to Nebraska, all with the purpose of seeking more export sales.

The grain trade is responding to this expansion of corn and soybeans and other crops with new storage and handling facilities.

Some examples are:

•Aurora Co-op has made big news this year with several ventures. This spring, it announced a project with CHS, a giant energy and foods cooperative owned by farmers, to build a high-speed loading facility near Superior. "Superior East" will have a storage capacity of 1.25 million bushels and include a 120-car-capacity circle rail track on the BNSF line to move corn, soybeans and hard red winter wheat to markets in the west and south, including Mexico.

•More recently, Aurora Co-op announced the expansion of its agronomy and ag aviation divisions into other states, including Texas and south Dakota. 

•In northeast Nebraska, Agrex Inc., a Kansas City, Kan.-based grain merchandising company and leading U.S. grain exporter, broke ground recently in Laurel on a 110-railcar shuttle-loader facility for corn and soybeans. Its aim is to give farmers access to markets in the Pacific Northwest, Mexico and the Gulf.

•The Stateline Producers Cooperative in the Nebraska Panhandle has historically specialized in dry bean production, but now it's added a new division for receiving, processing and marketing field peas. Field peas are not only finding their use in cover crop blends for the benefit of soil quality, but they are becoming more of a staple in food aid programs.

Other regional cooperatives in Nebraska like Cooperative Producers Inc. and Central Valley Ag also have expanded storage and rail load-out facilities to take advantage of increased Nebraska corn and soybean production.

It's not just corn and soybeans, either. Bayer AgriScience's first North American Wheat Breeding Station is in Nebraska, which should pump more life into the state's wheat industry.

Its headquarters building is expected to be ready in early 2014.

Sorghum may get new life as well with the Abengoa ethanol plant in Ravenna opting to use sorghum instead of corn as the feedstock.

Grain is big business in Nebraska and will become even bigger in the future.