By Ronald Ahrens
From reading Wayne G. Broehl, Jr.’s huge history of Cargill, I’ve become alert to other news about the grain-trading behemoth. So a Wall Street Journal article, titled “Growers’ New Clout Tilts Farm Economy,” caught my eye on Aug. 16
“Powerful farmers push Cargill, ADM for better prices, and may soon compete,” the sub-headline reads.
According to Jacob Bunge’s story, several factors have risen in importance to give large farmers more leverage.
One is that farmers have more storage capacity for their grain. They don’t have to sell soon after harvest, going to the local elevator and accepting the current price.
A second factor is more options for direct sale of crops to stock feeders or ethanol plants.
And like everything else, there’s a digital aspect. “Venture capital-backed startups are developing services that scan a wider range of grain buyers or connect farmers directly with food makers,” Bunge reports.
Bunge’s story in the Journal tells of a Cargill grain buyer who “said his job got harder still after Cargill in 2016 sold the Burlington, Colo., grain elevator–and later, nearby cattle feedlots that were reliable destinations for the grain grown by many of [the buyer’s] contacts.”
Here we skidded to a stop. Burlington, Colo., is in the records of Tillotson Construction Co. My uncle, Charles J. Tillotson, worked on Burlington and recalls a 1950 incident there involving a train and cement mixer. The locomotive derailed, but no one was injured.
The 300,000-bushel Burlington elevator had eight tanks of 20 feet in diameter and 115 feet in height. It was a twin-leg elevator with a pit 19 feet deep. The cupola measured 23 feet wide, 63.75 feet long, and 44 feet high. Pulley centers were 168 feet apart.
Could this be the same elevator Cargill sold two years ago? The big company has “divested itself of some far-flung grain elevators that aren’t near a railroad or river.”
And Bunge recounts another marvel: the anecdote concerns an Illinois farmer–one who tills 9,000 acres and rents out 5,000 more–who partnered with another farmer to buy a 750,000-bushel Cargill elevator.
If they don’t find it too expensive to operate and insure, dispatching large quantities of grain when and where they want will be a challenge for Cargill and ADM to face.