With a corporate mantra like “Rising,” it’s fair to assume exciting things are happening at Aurora Cooperative. This bold statement is based in the firm’s pride in moving itself away from the old cooperative mentality, and shifting its focus toward a progressive business approach.
For more than a century, Aurora Cooperative, a grain marketer and agricultural supplier, has been a partner in the success of agriculture in its market area. Serving Nebraska and surrounding states, the cooperative operates locations in 31 communities in south-central Nebraska and northern Kansas. It employs 475 full-time employees, and provides products and services to its 4,500 patron owners.
The firm brings in approximately $700 million in annual sales across its four core businesses: grain, agronomy, feed and energy.
The grain division handles 80 million bushels annually within a network of 19 elevators, all but one located in Nebraska. Keeping in line with the firm’s commitment to innovations, the cooperative took a fresh look at the static storage of grain, and has put greater emphasis on the high-velocity movement of grain in and out of its facilities.
“Every year our grain customers exceed expectations with their ability to produce crops at ever-increasing yield levels,” says Mark Cleveland, head of Aurora Cooperative’s grain operations. To keep up with this growth, the company has sought out to solidify grain markets for its customers.
In February 2010, the cooperative announced its plan to expand its grain storage, drying and handling capabilities at its three railroad terminals located at Sedan, Grand Island and Aurora (West), NE. The goal of the $11 million expansion is simple: To access existing and emerging grain markets — especially global export markets — through ports in the Pacific Northwest, West Coast and Gulf of Mexico.
The three locations sit within a 60-mile radius of each other in south central Nebraska. The cooperative also operates a fourth 27-car loading terminal in Superior, NE.
“[This expansion] is further evidence of the leadership, vision and determination of the patrons of the Aurora Cooperative — the American farmers — who make this company the market-leading entity that it is today,” says George Hohwieler, president and CEO, Aurora Cooperative. The message an investment of this scale sends to its members: We’re here for you, and we’re here to stay.
Feed & Grain traveled to Nebraska to check in on the progress.
Rail drives expansion
Aurora Cooperative’s grain terminal upgrades will increase the velocity of grain movement in receiving, staging and loading unit/shuttle trains operations at each facility. Once complete, each grain terminal will have the full capability to handle multiple varieties of grain, including yellow/white corn, soybeans and winter wheat under Class 1 railroad shuttle-train specifications.
“[The expansion] will strengthen our partnership with the railroads, Union Pacific and Burlington Northern-Santa Fe, and allow us to meet the time requirements necessary to take advantage of their incentive programs,” explains Mark Jorgensen, merchandiser, Aurora Cooperative-Sedan. “Ultimately, we’ll be able to offer the best prices to the producers; it will also allow us to access the best markets.”
With Todd & Sargent at the helm, construction began at the Sedan and Aurora West locations during the spring of 2010; both sites plan to utilize their expansion capabilities for the 2010 fall harvest. Meanwhile, Grand Island’s expansion began in the fall of 2010, and is scheduled to open in the summer of 2011.
As railroads have gotten more efficient — growing more concerned about how much they can move and how fast they can move it — they moved toward 100- and 110-car shuttles, average car size grew to 3,550 bushels/car, and with heavy axel to 4,000 bushels. With more power and increased efficiency and effectiveness, the industry struggles to keep pace with demands; and having access to at least 100-car shuttle loading is critical.