“From unloading trucks to opening gates, everything is automated here,” Panko says. “The system does everything for you — starting up every piece of equipment involved in that process and basically monitors that equipment and the load as it’s working because it has sensors everywhere doing that for you. Instead of monitoring the equipment, you’re monitoring what you’re doing, what kind product you’re putting in that bin, what’s running, managing your grade — you’re managing the product rather than the equipment.”
Less labor translates to the delivery of better products to the client at a better cost, Panko explains. It also allows a bare bones staff of four full-time and four part-time employees to move grain quickly and efficiently.
Expanding to contain increasing demands for storage capacity, Aurora West also added a 500,000-bushel concrete storage bin, upping the site’s capacity to 1.5 million bushels. The facility operates four dump pits, using two 30,000-bushel/hour legs; and loads railcars at 60,000 bushels/hour.
Grand Island handles soybeans
As producers rotate their crops and the cost of growing soybeans remains low, Nebraska has experienced more than a 40% increase in soybean production over the last decade. Acknowledging the area’s handling needs, Aurora Cooperative’s Grand Island facility will soon be offering soybean handling capabilities to its services.
“We’ve only been handling yellow corn so introducing soybean handling will allow us to tap into a huge opportunity in the soybean market,” says Scott Hart, operations supervisor, Aurora Cooperative-Grand Island. “Being able to load soybean shuttles at this terminal should prove to be a great strategic move.”
The location will take in more soybeans than the cooperative’s other locations — with predictions leaning toward the handling of up to 2 million bushels — made possible by with the addition of a new 560,000-bushel soybean tank.
The existing elevator’s current corn storage capacity is 2.5 million bushels; on average, it handles around 6 million bushels annually. In the next fiscal year, Hart predicts Grand Island will handle 7 million bushels of corn.
Grand Island will be able to load out 25,000 to 30,000 bushels/hour with its automated system, and will be able to bring in 15,000 bushels/hour. Last year, it took in over 100,000 bushels/day during the harvest.
Investing in the future
Huge yields, faster equipment, advancements in technology, the need to feed the world — agriculture has become more demanding, placing more pressure on grain handlers to keep up with volume and speed. To keep up with new combines, facilities must improve or they’ll get left behind as the farmers’ capacity is exceeding theirs.
“Farmers require more from us, and we require more from them,” Panko says.
“Customer expectations are high; it’s easy to do business with someone else,” Jorgensen says. “The pressures are there. Price dictates a lot, but pumping speed and customer service offer a lot of sway during harvest.”
Aurora Cooperative and its employees strive to provide the best service and have been rewarded with a dedicated patronage. “A farmer in any given area has four or five places to do business with, and we want to give him the right reasons to choose us,” Jorgensen says. “We provide competitive prices and services to keep him satisfied — and do so in a fiscally responsible way.”
While it requires a greater investment to provide these services, the cooperative aims to keep grain flowing to keep its cost low, but to grow it must balance between competitiveness and profitability, and build for the future.
“This was not a small investment, and the decisions made were not made easily,” Woeste says. “[The co-op] needed to prioritize where to allocate its resources, and decide on where the best investments would be made.”
Jorgensen agrees: “We try to be competitively priced, but we have to make sure we have requirements in place to advance toward the future. To pay for a project of this magnitude, while being sensitive to the profitability of business, we had to envision where we wanted to be 10 years down the road.”