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June 21
More to Propane than meets the eye

Propane is one of those products that a lot of customers don’t think too much about. It normally goes by unnoticed, even though it’s present in some way in most of our daily lives. If you farm, you probably use it to dry your grain. If you live in a rural area, you may use it to heat your home, and if you enjoy grilling out during the summer (and aren’t a charcoal aficionado) you use it to cook your food. Propane is also an important, and growing, part of our business in the GROWMARK System.

Prior to this week, I would have lumped myself in the “taking propane for granted” category. I knew what it was used for and that we sold it, but beyond that, I didn’t know much. Then I travelled to Washington, D.C. with some of our FS members from Iowa and Illinois for the National Propane Gas Association’s “Propane Days.” Propane Days is a time once a year when propane retailers visit the Capitol to talk with elected officials and their staff about legislative issues facing propane.

 

The issues that our FS members shared were interesting to me, someone who knew very little about propane going into the week. A few of them were:
  1. To treat propane equally to natural gas. Despite the strong similarities between propane and natural gas, policies sometimes allow favorable incentives and credits to natural gas and exclude propane. Our members asked Members of Congress to equate propane to natural gas in environmental and energy policy debates.
  2. To extend the federal tax credit for propane autogas and propane autogas refueling stations through 2016. Autogas is the world’s third largest vehicle fuel and is a growing part of many of our FS members’ businesses. Autogas is already being used to power school buses in many FS territories and advances for fleet vehicles are on the near horizon. Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA) is sponsoring S.656 to extend these important tax credits through 2016, which will give the propane autogas industry, and our members, a sense of stability as they invest in this new technology.
Our visits with legislators and staff were enjoyable and productive. FS members got to meet with Congressmen in meetings in their offices, at casual receptions, and at Sen. Harkin’s (D-IA) weekly constituent breakfast. The opportunity to share our issues and educate about propane was second to none.
 
I had no idea that there was so much more to propane. Plan on reading more about the new look and many uses for FS Propane on the blog soon! HarkinBreakfast.jpg
Pictured Front L-R: Paula Michel (wife of Tom Michel, AgVantage FS), Sherri Harder (Iowa NPGA member), Elizabeth Davis (Iowa NPGA member), Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Jay Christie (New Century FS), Doug Dall (AgVantage FS), Iowa NPGA Member, Back L-R: Tom Michel (AgVantage FS), Iowa NPGA member, Terry Davis (Iowa NPGA Member). Photo courtesy of Sen. Harkin’s office.
 
Also participating in Propane Days on behalf of the GROWMARK System were Mark Orr (Ag View FS), Chris Olson (Illini FS), Gerald Witges (South Central FS), Scott Long (GROWMARK), and Chuck Spencer (GROWMARK).

 

June 07
Senate Farm Bill

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The Farm Bill process in the Senate is drawing to a close as Senators are scheduled for a final vote on the Farm Bill on Monday. An almost two year process at this point, well over 100 amendments were filed, debated, and voted up or down on this year's Farm Bill. GROWMARK, NCFC, and the American Farm Bureau support the passage of the Senate Farm Bill as it currently reads and several organizations have issued action alerts to urge constituents to call their Senators to request a "Yes" vote on the Senate Farm Bill. The House is expected to vote on their version of the Farm Bill next month.

The Farm Bill is a crucial piece of farm legislation. Within the Farm Bill are provisions for federal crop insurance and risk management programs, conservation funding, and the largest part of the bill, food programs like food stamps. Without a Farm Bill, farmers lack important tools for managing the financial risks associated with a volatile business like farming.

GROWMARK staff and Board members will be in Washington D.C. next week participating in the NCFC Washington Conference. As part of the conference, Board members will be making visits to Capitol Hill to discuss important legislation, like the Farm Bill, with members of Congress and their staffs.  

For more information on the GROWMARK System position on the Farm Bill, click here.

May 24
On the road with GROWMARK - Day 5

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We finally made it home from our marathon journey around the GROWMARK System! We spent our final day at Midwood Agronomy Services, a fertilizer facility near Bowling Green, Ohio.

The Midwood facility was another exceptional stop. The people at Midwood went out of their way to show us their location and help us with our video and photo needs and talk about the facility's safety measures.

What really stood out about Midwood was the computerized custom blending operation for bulk loads of fertilizer. Midwood has the first system of its kind in the United States. With this system, one person is able to run the entire dry fertilizer operation with the click of the mouse from an office within the storage building. Midwood has six ten-ton hoppers and two one-ton hoppers (for micronutrients) which the computer can control to achieve the perfect custom blend for the customer. Altogether, the Midwood facility has storage for 7,000 tons of product! The new, clean, and beautiful facility was the perfect way to wrap up our trip.

This past week has been eye-opening and very special. I loved the GROWMARK System before I left and I thought I understood the breadth and depth of our organization. Tonight I am filled with knowledge of exciting efficiencies, loyal and warm employees, and a strong and well-positioned System. I am proud and humble to be a part of this organization and am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet the people and see the facilities that I have visited this past week. We are truly blessed to be a part of the GROWMARK System!

May 23
On the road with GROWMARK - Day 4

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Today we visited our final SEEDWAY location - the home office in Hall, New York. The people in Hall welcomed us like family. They were thrilled to meet us, happy to share their office with us, and to take the time out of their day to tell us about their jobs. Once again, I was left feeling fortunate to be a part of the System - our culture of warmth, caring, and integrity is truly beyond compare.

Hall has received a lot of rain the past few days so it was too wet for the staff to do any plot planting. We still had plenty to see in the seed germination labs, the warehouse, and the office. We also spent some time talking with staff about the upcoming festivities to celebrate SEEDWAY's 50th anniversary. The company was founded in 1963 and everyone is very excited to celebrate the rich history of the organization and the bright future that lies ahead.

Tomorrow is our last day on the road. We've had a wonderful time meeting the outstanding people and seeing the remarkable sights of the GROWMARK System.

May 22
On the road with GROWMARK - Day 3

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Today was quite the day! We spent the morning on the SEEDWAY farm in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was a beautiful setting and a beautiful morning. SEEDWAY staff were busy at work transplanting melons into the fields, planting seeds, and starting variety trials. After wrapping up at Hershey, we headed to Elizabethtown, PA, another SEEDWAY location. Here we witnessed the warehouse operations, some seed sorting, and packaging. I was impressed by the variety found right within our own System – SEEDWAY is very different from anything else I have seen since joining the GROWMARK System!

After leaving SEEDWAY, we hit the road again for Philadelphia. In the city of brotherly love we spent some time on the docks. The GROWMARK Philadelphia Fertilizer terminal is right on the Delaware River and the location is in the process of constructing a huge crane for unloading deep water ships. The crane was still under construction today but it will definitely be a sight to see when it is completed! We also checked out the dry fertilizer storage at Philadelphia, housed in four large domes, capable of holding 15,000-20,000 tons of fertilizer each.

Since leaving Philadelphia, we’ve been on the road for about six hours. Any ideas where we’re headed? I’ll give you a hint – it’s not home (yet)!

 

May 21
On the road with GROWMARK - Day 2

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Today's adventure took us through two states (three if you count the fact that we woke up in a tiny sliver of West Virginia). We spent the morning with Jan and the amazing people at the East Liverpool, Ohio fertilizer location. They were unloading a barge full of MAP and I was so impressed with the efficiency of the unloading process. The crane operator moved the product directly from the barge into a large hopper and the hopper dumped straight into the trucks of the lined up customers. No middle man there!

Also at East Liverpool we got to check out the custom fertilizer bagging setup. The automation and precision of the operation was definitely a sight to be seen (don't worry, we took plenty of video so you can see it yourself soon)!

After wrapping up in Ohio, we headed to Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania, where we visited our first SEEDWAY location of the trip. At Mifflinburg the cheery and accomodating staff were working with their own bagging operations - both turf seed and treated corn seed. We met some wonderful people, got some great footage, and saw some beautiful countryside.

As night two wraps up, I'm left excited about our day tomorrow and touched by the warm welcome we've received everywhere we've been so far. Stay tuned for more stories and photos tomorrow.

May 20
On the road with GROWMARK - Day 1

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I've been with GROWMARK for four years and I've had the wonderful opportunity to travel a fair amount within the System. However, I'm still amazed at how much I haven't seen. This week, a few locations will be crossed off of that list. This week, myself and three of my corporate relations coworkers have loaded up a minivan full of cameras, notepads, and chocolate and hit the road. Over the course of the week, we will visit 8 different System locations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. Our trip will take us to fertilizer facilities, SEEDWAY locations, and more. You can follow our trip here on the blog and on the GROWMARK facebook page, where you can guess where we are that day based on a photo that I post.

Today, our first day on location, we visited the GROWMARK Fertilizer Facility in Cincinnati, Ohio. This facility, formerly a CF terminal, then a part of a joint venture between GROWMARK and Bunge, is now a wholly-owned GROWMARK location. Equipped for 60,000 tons of dry fertilizer storage and 32,000 tons of UAN storage, the terminal is located on the Ohio river and receives all product by barge. With a staff of 10, the incredibly efficient facility can load 120 trucks in an 8-hour day.  

While the statistics and process at the Cincinnati terminal are very impressive, what really stood out to me were the people. Throughout our visit, I had the opportunity to meet nearly all of the 10 staff members and spoke with several customers. I was proud to hear each and every employee remark about what an excellent facility it was and how pleased they were to work there, and to be a part of the GROWMARK System. Customers remarked at how much they liked doing business with the Cincinnati facility compared to competing terminals in the area. I left Cincinnati feeling honored to be connected to System of hard-working and loyal employees and members.

I will give a brief recap of the journey each day here at the blog but we will be using the footage, photos, and stories from our trip in a variety of ways, including in Spirit magazine. ​

May 16
Midwest Food Bank Recognized as #1 Food Bank in U.S.

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I was first introduced to the Midwest Food Bank about two years ago during a tour with the GROWMARK Volunteer Network. Immediately, I was inspired by the mission of the food bank and the hundreds of volunteers who make achieving that mission possible. The Midwest Food Bank was founded 10 years ago by a McLean county farmer and has grown to serve over 200 food pantries in the area, providing more than 400,000 cases of food last year to those in need. 

The Midwest Food Bank is entirely non-profit, employing only three full-time people; an administrator, an operations manager, and an office manager. All other activities, everything from warehouse management to truck driving to food sorting and distribution, is handled by hundreds of volunteers. Donations power the food bank and I’m proud to say that GROWMARK is a sponsoring organization – providing in-kind donations for all of the Midwest Food Bank’s graphic design, printing, and social media needs. GROWMARK employees also volunteer at the food bank three times a year (there is such a long waiting list for a volunteer time slot that we can’t get in more often than that). 

So it was with great pride that I recently read that Charity Navigator, a New-York-based non-profit agency which assesses over 6,000 U.S. charities on their financial accountability and transparency, ranked the Midwest Food Bank as the top charity in Illinois and the BEST food bank in the country, an outstanding (and well-deserved) honor. Its report shows Midwest Food Bank spends 98.5 cents of every dollar donated on feeding families and the rest on administrative costs.

Although I never questioned GROWMARK’s support of such an admirable organization before, I understood the connection even better after learning of the Charity Navigator report. It only makes sense that the GROWMARK System, a System owned by farmers, would support an organization founded by a farmer, whose mission is to alleviate hunger, and who takes such great care with the funds they receive that 98.5 cents of every dollar goes towards fulfilling that mission.

Congratulations to the Midwest Food Bank, we are proud to be your partner!

May 08
The Farmer's Wife

With the drought last summer and the strange weather this spring, we've spent a lot of time talking with our farmer customers about the weather. How's it impacting their business? What's the result on the System? These are the questions that we talk about with our farmer-customers and board members a lot. We don't often think to ask the farmer's wife those same questions. 

The wives of our farmer-customers are a huge part of the family farm operation. They may be the farm's major decision-maker, the bookkeeper, tractor-driver, or off-farm second income earner. Regardless of their role in the farm, one thing is certain - the farm wife is a major source of moral support on the farm! One farm wife, Bridget Chinowth (also an AgriVisor farm market advisor) shared this glimpse of life as a farm wife on the AgriVisor blog, AgriZone. Thanks Bridget, for all that you do for your farm family and the GROWMARK System!

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We all wear different hats in our lives and I am no exception. In a typical day I juggle between my professional hat as a farm market adviser, the mother of two small boys and farmer’s wife.  The hat of a farmer’s wife, I likely wear with the most comfort, as I have been a farmer’s daughter for 35 years.  There is a quote in a movie, “It’s not too difficult to go from a farmer’s daughter to a farmer’s wife”.  My husband has been a part of our family farm operation for approximately 11 years, so this transition came extremely easy for me, but that does not mean that being a farmer’s wife does not come without its own challenges.

When you are married to a farmer, it is simply not his career, but it is the essence that defines your entire family.  The drought of 2012 and the current conditions unfolding this spring, tend to bring another element to the marriage.  On the first day there is a “hint” of spring in the air, his mood picks up, as he anxiously prepares for the coming planting season.  This year was no different; he disappeared to the machine shed for hours, as he went through the planter one last time.  Unexpectedly the weather started to shift, rains began to fall, and once again he was pleased.  As soil moisture reserves were extremely depleted, he welcomed the rains, as the drought was all too fresh in his mind.  As the month of April progressed and forecasts continued to call for above average precipitation, his mood started to decline.  One rainy evening I walked into the kitchen to find him staring aimlessly out the window watching the rainfall.  The only thing he said was, “Will I ever get to do my job?”  So, in that moment I had to give my best “pep” talk that everything will be fine. The entire time I am trying to silence my inner voice that is just as worried as he is about getting the crop put into the ground, however; you never let him know you are concerned too. 

I always remember growing up my mom saying winter was her favorite time of year because she did not have to worry about the weather.  After going through the drought last year and this wet spring, I think winter just might be my new favorite season!!!  As a farmer’s wife, you have ownership in what your husband is doing; you have a strong vested interest in everything that goes on in the farming operation.  You take on the role of a cook, accountant, weatherman, part delivery person, counselor, farm marketer, and much more.  However, at the end of the day, you would not change a single thing, as I cannot think of a better environment for my two young sons to grow up.   They have a strong moral backbone, incredible work ethic and a true passion for farming.  That does not mean they too do not worry, as on several occasions of being tucked into bed, the boys will comment on the weather and pray for the rain to start or stop so daddy and papa can get the crop in the ground.  Our entire family is on the rollercoaster ride of farming where the highs are exhilarating, the lows are tough, but it is something none of us would ever change.  While this spring is yet another hiccup in the process, I continue to repeat the motto of generations of farm wives that came before me, “Everything has a way of working out”……  

 

 

April 24
How will Midwest flooding impact the System?

barge-accident.jpgSevere weather last week brought excessive rainfall to much of the FS System. The imminent danger, flash flooding, shut down county roads and building offices and turned 80-acre fields into lakes. Then an even more worrisome danger began; the flooding of the area’s major river systems. Both the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers have experienced severe flooding, lock closures, and breaches.  

Our System has not gone without impact. The Mapleton, Ill. fertilizer facility has been closed due to high waters around the facility. The fertilizer bays themselves are dry but the terminal access road is under two feet of water, the truck scale is under three feet of water, and the roads within the facility are under four feet of water. Mapleton hopes to reopen the truck scale on Tuesday of next week and will evaluate the reopen date for the rest of the facility on Monday.
 
Lock closures along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers have caused barge delivery delays but sales likely won’t be impacted because System facilities have enough product in stock to meet demand. The Illinois River crested at Peoria overnight but remains closed until water levels fall at least another 3.3 feet. Locks at Marseilles and Starved Rock remain closed due to water conditions and damaged locks. The Mississippi remains closed from Muscatine to Burlington, Iowa and from Quincy, Ill. to Hannibal, Mo.
 
Some members have also been impacted either through location flooding or personal property loss on behalf of employees. Please keep these affected System members in your thoughts as we await more news of flood damage and impact.
 
Flooding has obviously kept farmers out of the fields as well. This delay has reduced seasonal demand for product from the warehouses but we anticipate that the end impact to the System and to farmers will be minimal and we will all be able to jumpstart the spring season soon.
 
How has the recent severe weather impacted you? How can your fellow System members help?

 

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