Teamwork Leads to Grain Business Success for WindRiver Grain, L.L.C.

Posted October 19, 2015

Loading the first 110-car unit train at WindRiver Grain, L.L.C. in Garden City took four days, far longer than the industry standard 15 hours. The process was plagued by rain, then snow that piled up higher than the locomotive. According to Bob Tempel, chief operating officer for WindRiver, “It was our first and most challenging train.”

Today, the view at WindRiver is much brighter. The independent company now handles between 40 and 50 million bushels of wheat, corn and milo each year. WindRiver sends shipments by rail to the Texas Gulf for export, across the border directly to Mexican buyers and even to flour mills in California. WindRiver not only exports Kansas wheat and milo, the company also imports corn into Garden City to service local end users. Tempel explained the ability to unload corn and reload wheat or milo creates remarkable efficiencies for both the BNSF Railway Company and WindRiver.

Capitalizing on Opportunities Presented

In 1997, Cargill, Inc. purchased facilities in Garden City from Bunge Corporation and decided to invest in a shuttle-loading location dedicated to sending 110-car unit trains loaded with hard red winter wheat directly to the Texas Gulf for export, according to Tempel. Today, WindRiver is owned by four additional companies, including the Garden City Co-op, Sublette Cooperative, Inc., Irsik and Doll Feed Services, Inc. and Scott Cooperative, Inc.

Even with five member-owners, Tempel said WindRiver has remained an independent and entrepreneurial company, allowing them to work with all the major players across the grain industry to find the best marketing opportunities.

For example, Tempel explained that when flour mills in California needed to source hard red winter wheat, readily available in Kansas, WindRiver saw a marketing opportunity. However, the track nearest to the flour mills could not support a full 110-car train. But, the BNSF was willing to work with WindRiver to break out these 110-car trains into smaller units to meet the needs of these flour mills. 

“The partnership and teamwork between the BNSF and WindRiver has been incredible for both companies,” Tempel said.

Expanding Beyond Grain

WindRiver’s partnership with the BNSF and their local owners has sparked additional business opportunities for the community of Garden City. First was the construction of an ethanol plant, Bonanza BioEnergy, LLC, which has the capacity to produce 55 million gallons of ethanol annually, using approximately 20 million bushels of feed grains. The ethanol produced is also shipped out via BNSF unit trains.

In addition, Garden City’s industrial park now includes a wind distribution center that unloads turbines and blades and the approved site for a dry milk processing plant, which recently broke ground. The Kansas Department of Transportation also approved the industrial park as a development site for a transload shipping center in September. Tempel said these expansions are part of a common effort to partner with other companies who have similar philosophies.

“We have learned our mission is much bigger than ourselves,” he said. “None of this would be possible without the dedicated people within each of our organizations who truly care about one another. Like production agriculture, it takes a lot of teamwork to make it all happen.  Developing these mutually beneficial relationships continues to create additional growth opportunities within the community.”

Humble Blessings

Tempel said WindRiver has a cooperative support network built from relationships with local owners, strong multinational companies as well as a very unique win-win partnership with the BNSF. He said the WindRiver team feels very humbled and blessed to have built partnerships with companies who are committed to helping each other grow.

“WindRiver would not be WindRiver without local cooperatives and their producers. They helped build this company,” Tempel said. “How fortunate we feel to be able to work within the agricultural industry; we wake up and go to work for people we really believe in.”

Check back each week for new stories of how farmer cooperatives are investing in the Kansas grain industry, benefiting their farmer owners and contributing to the reliability, quality and value of the Kansas wheat crop each year.

By Julia Debes