Solving for the Supply Chain

For any producer, getting your goods to your customers efficiently is critical for continued relationships, yet for many growers in America’s grain belt, access to reliable transportation has been a hurdle for many years. Farmer-owned Topflight Grain Cooperative is tackling the transportation problem with a combination of ample storage and a new rail facility that will provide access to multiple rail lines.

Topflight Grain was founded in 1998 through the merger of three smaller cooperatives; today, after several additional strategic mergers as recently as 2014, the cooperative has grown to 15 full time facilities with a 46 million bushel combined capacity – enough to hold its 2,100 members’ entire annual crop of corn, soybeans and smaller volumes of wheat.

“We used to need to ship up to 10 million bushels of grain during harvest, but through mergers and building storage we now have the capacity to handle our members’ entire crop, so we don’t have to rely on logistics to ship grain out as soon as it’s brought in,” says Derrick Bruhn, the cooperative’s general manager. “This means we can market the grain when the market calls for it, selling quickly when there’s an inversion or holding the grain to take advantage of carry markets.”

CoBank understands our business and our cycles, and always works with us so we’re able to support our members.

Being able to hold its grain reserves for the best market opportunity is a valuable strategic advantage, but Topflight’s management remained concerned about being able to get grain moved to end users. Their solution: building a new rail loading facility at its Pierson location in the southern part of the cooperative’s seven county territory.

“We were looking to expand into new markets, and decided to capitalize on Pierson’s location, which gives us access to three Class 1 railroads,” says Derrick. “Being able to send grain in multiple directions out of one grain site will help immensely from an efficiency and logistics perspective.”

The Pierson expansion was an 18-month undertaking. In addition to rail access, the expansion includes additional dumping, drying and storage to support local patrons. With the expansion completed in early 2023, Topflight leadership is already looking forward to the co-op’s next strategic initiative.

“We’re always working on finding the next opportunity to grow and access new markets, with an eye to what things will look like 10 or 20 years from now,” says Derrick.

CoBank has been supporting Topflight through its growth trajectory for many years, including a term loan for the Pierson project and an annual line of credit to support operating costs and market changes. In the recent volatility, the partnership is appreciated more than ever.

“The past three years have been more challenging than normal with farmers aggressively selling even prior to and during harvest, which requires us to have higher than normal cash reserves,” says Derrick. “CoBank understands our business and our cycles, and always works with us so we’re able to support our members.”