By Krin Mims
If you live in Christian County, you know, as the weather begins to warm up, more action takes place in the fields. Everyone can identify a stalk of corn, and you may even know it’s cut with a combine. But what happens next? Where does it go? How does it get there, and who is involved in this process?
The local row crops go on to do great things all over the world, and the journey begins right here. It’s something in which we all should take great pride. I spent some time in two local grain elevators recently and learned a great deal about the voyage our crops take before they become a part of our daily lives.
The process for both companies is fairly similar. Farmers can presell their crop before it’s even planted by signing a contract with the grain elevator. In the same way, buyers are also pre-buying from the elevators.
Crops are harvested — wheat is thrashed, corn is shelled and beans are cut — and producers will either dry and store their own harvest or bring it to the elevator.
Upon delivery, commodities are weighed and checked for moisture, foreign material and quality. Everything is cleaned and dried for storage. A ticket is written for the farmer with the price that particular elevator is offering. They have the opportunity to get paid for each delivery or wait until the end of the season.
Meanwhile, Ben Westerfield and Eston Glover with Hopkinsville Elevator and Pat Covington, president of Christian County Grain Company, are shopping the markets, making sales and scheduling deliveries of product.
Tell me about your company as a whole.
HE: [laughing] Well to start, we want folks to know we don’t actually sell elevators or the parts! You’d be shocked to know how many phone calls we take from businesses trying to get their elevator serviced. We are a farmer-owned co-op of over 3,200 members from California to New Jersey. We have 60 total employees in seven locations across Kentucky and Tennessee. We believe everyone plays a big part in this business and we’d be nowhere without the support of our skilled employees.
CCG: Christian County Grain Company was purchased by my grandfather in 1954. In the ’50s there were actual shellers here shelling the ear corn — something now done on the farm by machine. Soon after, my father ran it with a business partner and in 1972 we became a family-owned business. I was 2 years old when I started riding around with many of the farmers I still work with today. I have about 13 to 14 employees here.
Tell me about your grain.
HE: We see a little bit of everything. A majority of our wheat goes to Siemer Milling here in Hopkinsville or travels by barge to the Gulf. The southeast market has a majority of the corn we deliver. Corn is in everything though — we see it travel to dog food plants, even distilleries. The major mode of transportation for our grain is by rail.
CCG: We buy and sell about 40 percent wheat, 40 percent corn, and 20 percent soybeans with a handful of other commodities. About 80 percent of the corn here travels out of state. I have about 2.5 million bushels of storage to keep everything dry until I can find a buyer, make the sale, find a truck, load and deliver.
What’s your average day like? Highs, lows?
HE: No one day is the same — each has challenges, setbacks and gifts. In the end though, we know that a happy customer equals a happy day. For our producers, it’s all about the volume — more bushels, more profit. We spend a good part of the day watching the market to get the best price
CCG: Depending on the time of year, things can be pretty crazy around here. I have to do a lot of number watching and make sure I jump on the best possible price for the commodity. I really enjoy working with the farmers, building relationships with them and earning their trust. The present time is a lot more cutthroat than the past. It’s difficult to see bad years and know that my friends are struggling. I know their situation because I’m in the same boat — so much of this business is a gamble. It’s also difficult to see the larger, more corporate farms come in and knock out the little guy.
What should readers take away from this?
HE: We try to divide our efforts between agriculture and educating the community. We believe in educating people on issues like water quality. We want the community to know that farmers work hard to preserve the quality of the land and water. We aren’t just about buying and selling corn — we represent a diligent group of producers that try to take from the ground and community and equally give back. And please, stay aware of anyone in agriculture on the road.
CCG: I care a lot about the farmers I work with and the families they represent. I want to continue to deepen those relationships with the next generation of producers. Business is very different today — I wish it wasn’t about tax dividends and credits. It should be about treating everyone fair no matter who they are or how much land they work. When my father died, I wanted to honor what he worked to do — he loved these farmers and his relationship with them.