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Cooper’s big break

By ANDREW McGINN - Jefferson Herald | Jan 5, 2021

The new feed mill near Cooper will use 8.5 million bushels of corn annually in order to manufacture 400,000 tons of feed for hogs in a 45-mile area.

By ANDREW McGINN

The Jefferson Herald

Dan Dix, general manager of NEW Cooperative, admittedly wasn’t sure what the name of the little town off in the distance was when he eyed an existing Morton shed along Highway 4 as the place from which to stake a claim on the local anhydrous ammonia market.

The town was Cooper (pop. miniscule).

So in 2014, NEW branded its newest agronomy division outpost as Cooper – even though, technically, 2272 Neola Ave. is a Jefferson address.

But what’s in a name? Cooper quickly became NEW’s leading market for anhydrous.

“We’ve built it, and they’ve come,” Dix explained recently.

The Fort Dodge-based co-op is now banking on Cooper to do it again, this time for its feed manufacturing division.

What began with a single existing Morton shed will soon be the site of a feed mill and grain elevator – the equivalent in rural Iowa of a new skyscraper.

When it begins producing livestock feed in January of 2022, the Cooper mill will grind 200,000 bushels of corn a week for hogs in the surrounding area. In all, the mill is expected to consume about 8.5 million bushels of corn annually from farmers in the vicinity.

NEW’s management team recently held informational meetings for local farmers about the project – which seemingly has jumped from concept to reality in a matter of months. Cement work at the site is set to begin Monday, NEW grain manager Mark Walter said.

The project has, in reality, been three years in the making, and is necessary to serve existing demand in a 45-mile radius, they say. Dix made it clear at one meeting last week that it’s not being constructed in the hopes that more hog barns will pop up. The hogs are already here – and they’re hungry.

NEW’s closest feed mill, in Lidderdale, is currently running at 144 percent capacity, Walter said.

NEW is the first to make good on plans for a new feed mill locally.

A representative of the multinational agribusiness Cargill appeared before the Greene County board of supervisors several years ago about its interest in constructing a feed mill near Grand Junction.

“We’ve got the critical mass already to justify putting in a feed mill of our own,” Cargill’s representative told the supervisors.

That mill – which never came to fruition – would have produced feed specifically for hog producers under contract with Cargill in a 40-mile radius. The company, however, made no secret at the time that a new feed mill would likely attract additional hog confinements.

Ames-based Landus Cooperative had been scouting locations in the area for a new feed mill as well. In fact, less than two weeks after leaders from NEW first explained their plans for Cooper to county supervisors in February, Landus announced plans for a feed mill of its own just 11 miles down the road at Yale, in Guthrie County.

Landus Cooperative has since abandoned those plans, according to media reports last month.

NEW’s Cooper feed mill will be its seventh feed mill. The co-op’s six existing feed mills consumed 43.2 million bushels of corn in fiscal-year 2020, and manufacture 2 million tons of feed annually for hogs and chickens.

While the Cooper site is designed to handle two commodities, Walter said, the elevator will take only corn from local farmers to start with, beginning next fall, with the feed mill producing 400,000 tons of feed a year.

The feed mill will have the capacity to manufacture 500,000 tons of feed annually – an undertaking that would create demand for 10 million bushels of corn.

Thanks to a propane-fueled drier, the elevator will be able to accept wet corn as well, Walter said.

A new grain elevator is likely to be a welcome addition given that Landus closed its Scranton elevator in the spring of 2019, citing a risk of falling concrete at the site.

“We’ve got growing market share here, and we’ll be feeding the existing livestock,” Walter said. “It’ll be exciting for farmers.”

NEW, which has 5,500 members, operates 39 locations across the western half of Iowa, from Wright County to the Missouri River. The co-op, in fact, kicked off a major project this past summer right on the Mighty Mo.

NEW is at work on an $11 million new port near Onawa – the Port of Blencoe – that will be the largest, northernmost port on the Missouri River. The Sioux City Journal reported that the port will have the capacity to load and unload six barges at a time, giving NEW direct access to export markets.

“If that were open today,” Walter said of the port, “we would be shipping, shipping like crazy.”

According to its 2020 annual report, NEW is coming off a banner year in which all three core departments – grain, agronomy and feed manufacturing – set sales records. Sales in fiscal-year 2020 totaled $1.1 billion.

When scouting locations, Cooper emerged as the frontrunner for the new elevator and feed mill.

“We had a presence,” Dix told local farmers who gathered to hear about the project, “and we had great support from you folks.”

In addition to the obligatory ballcap and rain gauge, each farmer left the informational meeting with a complimentary ham.

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