Driving south from I-80 on Highway 81 toward Fairmont, NE, you’ll see plenty of elevators and grain legs jaggedly brushing the skyline. Nearing Fairmont, you quickly spot a new elevator, about a mile west of the Highway 6 and 81 intersection. You have to wonder, why here in the midst of so many other grain operations, with an ethanol plant a few miles south, did someone sprout a 2.1-million-bushel facility?
You’ll get an answer rather quickly. It’s there because “everything fell into place,” assures Bob Fifield, CEO of Cooperative Producers Inc. (CPI), based in Hasting, NE. The elevator is a joint venture of CPI and Lansing Trade Group. Talking with Fifield, along with Dan Olson, CPI’s COO, and Calvin Diehl, facility manager, and getting a tour of the facility, it’s hard to disagree.
The “everything” Fifield refers to includes location, market research, need and opportunity, design, permitting, construction and the final outcome — a safe, efficient facility completed on time and on budget. Perhaps most interesting, the elevator was little more than an idea in mid-2011. In fact, they first met with railroad representatives on a potential site in August 2011, Olson pointed out.
That meeting was key. CPI/Lansing has a joint venture shuttle-loading facility in Red Cloud, NE, and saw the need to grow with a second shuttle-loader facility. With a BNSF rail running parallel to east/west Highway 6, and near the four-lane, north-south Highway 81, Fairmont was a viable option. Research showed “there was about a 35-mile void, north and south,” for storage, Olson states. Lansing’s research on production and freight spreads and CPI’s research of the competitive landscape and logistics zeroed in on the location, and the railroad folks agreed. From fall of 2011 they went into design/build mode, began construction in January/February of 2012, and brought the new facility online in March of this year.
The design process was smooth, the CPI staff says, because so many of the design concepts were thought through ahead of time. Many of the ideas came from Fifield, who worked several years for ADM, including involvement with facility construction.
Built for speed, expansion
Traffic flow was a key factor in designing for fast receiving and load-out while leaving room for expansion. To understand the flow, picture two traffic loops sitting next to each other — one on the west for rail, one on the east for trucks.
Whether east- or west-bound on the main line, trains switch onto the CPI-Lansing loop at the southwest corner of the site. They then head east on the loop, entering load-out from the north or south, depending on their original direction.
Trucks enter from the southeast corner of the site, head west, then follow a loop north around the office, and south across the scale. The relatively long access road will prevent crowding and allow for a steady traffic flow during harvest.
At their closest point, the two loops are separated by a two-story control center. An operator on the ground floor monitors receiving; an operator on the second floor can see the tracks, monitor the railcars and load-out, and easily cross the room to see what’s going on in receiving. Each of the two rooms has a touch-screen control panel so operators can track grain movement and conditions throughout the facility.
On both sides of the control center, capacity equals efficiency. The railroad has agreed to continue powering the cars and CPI-Lansing will have three people trained to handle the engine. So, fed by a 60,000-bushel/hour load-out leg with bulkweigher, and with no need to unhook and change power, cars are loaded quickly (three to three and a half minutes) and keep moving to get back on the main rail line.
On the receiving side, drivers swipe an RFID card, roll onto the scale, and the load is probed and weighed. They’re then directed to one of two side-by-side pits. Two hoppers can be unloaded at the same time and, with each 1,200-bushel pit feeding a 30,000-bushel/hour leg, grain moves fast. “We had to let some of the drivers know it was OK to crank their gates all the way open,” Diehl notes.