Last September, Granite Falls Energy made the decision to allow their grain procurement agreement with Farmers Elevator Cooperative to expire. Since then, GFE has been procuring their own corn directly from farmers. GFE also hired two grain originators, Austin Behrendsen and Will Steffel, who have been working directly with area farmers looking to sell their corn at the ethanol plant.

“We want to add as much value to your farm as possible,” said Steffel. “We’re not trying to nickel and dime farmers, we want to be fair and provide them the best price we can.”

This new approach to grain acquisition makes GFE something of an outlier when compared to other regional operations. “We are different from others in the marketplace because they mostly buy the corn and trade it somewhere else,” explained Steffel. “We are an end-user, so the corn we buy, we grind, and then we sell as ethanol.” Steffel added that “the [old] grain procurement agreement, GFE paid somebody else to procure grain for us for a fee. Now we’re doing it internally to be more cost-efficient while also trying to provide farmers with higher prices.”

According to Behrendsen, the new arrangement provides benefits to both farmers and GFE. The plant is always producing ethanol, which means that GFE has consistent demand for farmers’ product. Additionally, because GFE doesn’t sell the corn to another consumer, they don’t markup the price like other middlemen. “We’re out here trying to provide the highest market value,” said Steffel. “Farmers can come directly to us instead of having to go through a middleman.”

The new grain origination program has worked to expedite the delivery process. “The biggest issue in the past was our lines. The lines would be all the way out to highway 212,” said Behrendsen. GFE has cut down on wait times by installing an automated scale that eliminates the need for drivers to exit their vehicles.

GFE has received positive feedback from farmers. “A lot of farmers have been really impressed with the shorter wait time. That was really the biggest issue for guys delivering to us,” said Steffel. “Some of them were shocked,” interjected Behrendsen. “It used to get bottlenecked, but now it’s much smoother.”

“Another change is that we are now open 5 days a week generally from 7:30 am until 4 pm,” added Behrendsen. Steffel said that farmers seemed to like the flexible delivery times but on occasion GFE does have to close the scale early due to truck volume and the dust limits under GFE’s MPCA air permit.

Steffel explains that they get grain from around the surrounding 6 county area. Both Steffel and Behrendsen joined GFE in part to make connections with local farmers. “We’ve been a really good partner serving over 300 different farmers so far,” explained Steffel.

Steffel is a recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin, River Falls where he majored in agricultural business and agronomy with an emphasis in crop science. He was hired in June of last year, and says that he liked being able to help build a new program from the ground up. “You get to really put yourself into the program -- not just being another number on a trading floor. What really drew me here the most was that I wanted to make a difference in farmer’s operations, and this was the best way for me to do that.”

Behrendsen grew up in northwest Iowa on a dairy farm and attended Iowa State University where he received a double major in agricultural business and economics. Like Steffel, he applied for this position almost immediately after graduating. “I really thought this presented a unique opportunity with starting the foundation of a grain origination program,” he said.

The two say they’ve enjoyed meeting face-to-face with local farmers, and are excited by the opportunities to get out of the office and work directly with corn growers. Granite Falls Energy strives to continue partnering with local farmers to help add value to their farms. For more information about the grain origination program, or Granite Falls Energy, please contact Austin Behrendsen or Will Steffel at 320-564-3100.