Past to Present, Farmers Cooperative Grain Association Adapts to Meet Changing Agricultural Needs

Posted October 26, 2015

Kansas history is filled with stories of farmers who banded together to establish cooperatives, build communities, thrive in good times and survive in bad. Farmers Cooperative Grain Association in Conway Spring shares that narrative of coming together and adapting to changing agricultural needs throughout its more than 60 year history.

After conducting community meetings and consulting with other cooperatives, local farmers joined forces in 1953 to form a cooperative and raise funds for a grain elevator. Farmers Cooperative Grain Association accepted the first load of grain at that single elevator with 250,000 bushels of capacity and an office in 1955. Today, the cooperative has more than 4 million bushels of capacity at three locations in Belle Plaine and Conway Springs as well as several fertilizer rigs and fuel, propane and feed trucks, according to Pat Lies, Farmers Cooperative Grain Association general manager.

Lies said recent investments have included a new leg, additional storage and double scales at the Belle Plaine location. Additionally, he reported the cooperative has returned approximately $14 million to farmer/owners in cash over the last five years, which benefits not only farmers/owners, but also local stores, area implement dealers and other community businesses.

“The Co-op seems to have had and still does have steady growth,” said Lies. “The Co-op’s main revenue streams are fertilizer/chemicals and grain. The focus has been mainly on these core units of the Co-op.”

With lower crop prices, however, Lies said the cooperative will have a lower margin structure. He explained all cooperatives will need to help their members thrive in a changing agricultural economy. 

“Co-ops will need to eliminate any unnecessary cost and yet keep up with the increasing speed at which producers can harvest a crop and bring it to the elevator,” said Lies.

Luckily, cooperatives like Farmers Cooperative Grain Association have a long history of adapting to an ever-shifting agricultural landscape. All thanks to a group of farmers who made the initial investment in a better future for all.

According to the cooperative’s website, “From the beginning the Co-operative met it challenges and ‘hats off’ to those early stockholders who 50+ years ago sacrificed their time, effort and invested in the future unselfishly.  If it wasn't for the co-operative pioneers of years past, today this history wouldn't be written.”

By Julia Debes