The Two Worlds Of Lange-Stegmann

Michael Stegmann Lange-Stegmann

In many ways, the office of Michael Stegmann, president of Lange-Stegmann Co., reflects the personality of his company as well — a perfect blend of old and new. Alongside a modern-looking printer and telephone is a set of overhead cabinets filled with old beverage bottles. On the floor is farming equipment dating back to the early 1900s. Likewise, the company’s office building dates back to the 1940s, with wood paneling and brickwork in abundance. Yet just a few hundred yards away on the 80-acre site, construction workers are busily installing shiny new stainless steel fertilizer blending and transportation equipment in a modern-looking, 21st century-style warehouse facility and laying the foundation for a state-of-the-art granulation plant.

According to Stegmann, this mixing of history with modernization is deliberate. “I believe for any business to grow and prosper, you have to look for new opportunities as the marketplace changes,” he says. “But you should never forget what role your history has played in getting your company to where it is today.”

Back To The Beginning

That history extends back to 1926, when Stegmann’s grandfather, Henry Lange, founded the company with his great uncle, Dewey. “At the time, the Lange brothers saw tremendous growth potential for fertilizers in the U.S. agricultural market,” says Stegmann.

During that part of the 20th century, animal by-products were the primary source of fertilizers. So the Lange’s original facility sprung up in St. Louis near the city’s animal stockyards, located on the Mississippi River. The brothers would take animal manure, meat scraps, and other by-products, process them together, and package the resulting mixture in 125-pound burlap sewn bags. These bags would then be shipped in railroad boxcars, with each boxcar containing 15 to 20 tons.

In 1960, Henry’s son-in-law, Richard Stegmann, joined the company. Five years later, Lange-Stegmann Fer­tilizer Co. was formed, with Henry and Richard as proprietors. By this time in its history, Lange-Stegmann had replaced its original fertilizer business with a warehouse/bagging model catering to a single large customer, The Olin-Mathieson Chemical Co.

In 1979, says Stegmann, two watershed events took place that would help shape the future direction of Lange-Stegmann as a company. Mid-year, Michael formally joined the family business, working in the warehouse. A much bigger moment occurred in December, when sole customer Olin-Mathieson announced its intention to get out of the fertilizer business.

“Obviously, that news sent some shock waves through our company,” says Stegmann. However, he adds, the company didn’t panic, instead viewing the impending loss of a customer as an opportunity to refocus and rebuild Lange-Stegmann into something entirely different.

“My father realized that the key to success in the fertilizer business would be materials handling,” says Stegmann. “The ability to outflank competitors with smarter logistics and faster transportation could keep the company moving forward.”

By 1984, Lange-Stegmann had embarked on an ambitious expansion program. It built large storage domes with a self-engineered center pivot conveyor system and barge docks on the banks of the Mississippi River. The company also added a 15,000-ton liquid storage facility on its grounds. Finally, Lange-Stegmann diversified into moving commodities for other manufacturers such as chemicals, feed ingredients, and salt. It was during this time frame that the other Stegmann children — Rick and Debbie — also came aboard.

By 2000, says Stegmann, Lange-Stegmann’s was firmly established. The company’s facility was located at the northernmost port on the Mississippi River that is lock-free and open year-round. It boasted a 100,000-square-foot covered storage area, 15,000 tons of liquid storage, and 80,000 tons of dry granular storage capacity. The operation also had the second largest rail yard in the St. Louis area, covering three miles.

Besides its wholesale fertilizer business, Lange-Steg­mann also branched out into complimentary areas. In 2000, the company purchased the Agrotain technology from IMC Global (now The Mosaic Co.) and formed a wholly-owned company called Agrotain International, L.L.C. to market it. “These two companies operate separately, with Lange-Stegmann overseeing the wholesale fertilizer side of things and Agrotain responsible for the fertilizer innovation/technology side,” says Stegmann, who has served as president for both companies since 2003. “However, both companies follow the same general business philosophy as the other — providing the best products possible while surpassing customer expectations and regulatory standards.” As in the beginning, approximately 80% of Lange-Stegmann’s and Agrotain’s businesses cater to the agricultural marketplace, operating warehouses for several basic fertilizer producers.

Continuing To Plan Ahead

According to Stegmann, one of Lange-Stegmann’s greatest strengths over the decades has been the ability to recognize and take advantage of significant shifts in the market it serves. “Many of the trends that helped move us forward during the past two years had their roots back in the mid 1990s,” he says.

Since that time, the fertilizer industry has seen more and more of its products coming into the U.S. through imports from around the globe. This has been particularly true for Lange-Stegmann’s main product, urea. During 2007, for example, approximately 6.8 million tons of urea were imported into this country from overseas markets, with 2.4 million tons entering through the Mississippi River system.

“So from this perspective, Lange-Stegmann is situated in an ideal location to capture this market,” says Stegmann.

Coupled with this volume of fertilizer moving by its facility grounds, Lange-Stegmann’s grower-customer base is getting more spread out. “There’s no doubt that urban sprawl is taking a large percentage of our customers away,” says Stegmann. “It used to be that you could travel just a few miles west of our location and find growers. Today, you have to go out approximately 60 miles before that happens. That’s putting pressure on profits and margins for everyone in this business because they have to move product further distances than ever before.”

Recognizing these facts, railroad companies have begun altering the way they handle fertilizer as well. According to Stegmann, most major rail lines move bulk fertilizer by unit trains, which can be loaded, shipped, unloaded, and returned for another load in as little as seven days. Single car loads of fertilizer can take up to 45 days to complete this same cycle.

Bigger Trains Ahead

Today, the average unit train consist of a minimum of 65 cars. “But the railroads we do business with — the ones that are committed to moving product by unit train and not in single-car loads — have made it clear that they want to increase the minimum unit train requirement to 85 cars. Then, they want to up this again, to 110 cars. As a result, the railroads have for some time been encouraging companies like ours to make the necessary adjustments to accommodate these changes.”

However, while receptive to the idea, Lange-Stegmann had some reservations about making this kind of  expansion to its facility. “At the time, we were actively looking at our business and wondering how we could grow it,” says Stegmann. “Initially, we considered buying a new location or retailer. But we didn’t because too much capital would have been needed to make that move.”

Instead, Lange-Stegmann began looking at how it could upgrade its facility to become more “unit train friendly,” serving as an alternative to the other Southern-based train cities of Galveston and Houston, TX. Still, the company held back because it couldn’t find the customer base needed to make this kind of upgrade practical and profitable.

“But by 2005, we had several of our customers coming to us asking for Lange-Stegmann to make these upgrades — and they offered to support us with the effort,” he says. “Plus, at that point, our Agrotain business was growing fast enough that adding some production at our facility made perfect sense.”

Building For The Future

For the past two years, Lange-Stegmann has been busily expanding and upgrading its facility to capture this vision. With the assistance of Waconia Manufacturing, Inc. (which provided the fertilizer blending and handling equipment) and Marcus Construction Co. (which worked on the warehouse facility itself), Lange-Stegmann’s new St. Louis Urea Center includes 63,000 tons of storage capacity in 15 bins, with eight bins dedicated for urea only. For train distribution, the facility consists of 23,000 feet of track with three company-owned locomotives on-site to handle the unit trains as their come into the facility. With these upgrades, the Lange-Stegmann operation is now capable of loading 360 tons per hour, or 8,000 tons per day.

“The railroad companies have made it clear that they want to drive their trains onto your property without breaking them into pieces, drive their locomotive away, have the facility take the cars, unload them, clean them, and put them back into position to be picked up inside of 24 hours,” says Stegmann. “With our new upgrades in place, we can now easily accomplish this, no matter how large the unit train happens to be.”

Besides its rail capacity, the Lange-Stegmann facility has also upgraded its barge operations as well. According to Stegmann, upgrades to the river terminal include replacing the current dock, improving the overhead conveyor system, and the installation of a product conditioner to ensure high quality product off the barges. “With these improvements, we can now unload four barges per day, or 6,000 tons per 24-hour period,” he says.

On the production side, Lange-Stegmann will soon open a 125,000-ton granulation plant on its property — the first such operation to be built in the U.S. in “decades,” says Steg­mann. “Primarily our concept here at the facility is bring in urea, take it off the railcar or barge, and put it into storage until it’s time to ship,” he says. “But we do have some customers that want their urea upgraded. That’s where our granulation plant comes into play.”

In this case, the urea is moved from the warehouse to the granulation plant for what Stegmann calls “phase modification.” Through this process, the urea is melted using heat, turning it into urea liquor. Once liquid, the company adds Agrotain’s ingredients to the product and re-granulates it using a falling curtain process.

“This creates very round and uniform granulars, making for a great finished product,” says Stegmann. In another part of the plant, Lange-Stegmann can make sized urea for its customers.

With these upgrades in place, Lange-Stegmann’s facility will move an additional 300,000 tons of fertilizer through its operations during the first year. “Our goal is to get that figure up to around an additional 600,000 tons of fertilizer eventually, in one form or another,” says Stegmann.

Beyond that, he adds, Lange-Stegmann will remain true to the principles that the company was founded upon — providing the best possible products to customers in a timely fashion. “The trend towards efficiency in transportation is here to stay in the fertilizer market,” says Stegmann. “We are now in the unique position to do this, and change as the industry demands us to change as well. Ten years from now, I still expect our company to be leading the way for this marketplace, no matter what the distribution requirements are.”

Leave a Reply

One comment on “The Two Worlds Of Lange-Stegmann

  1. Mr. Stegman I definitely believe quality goes in before the name goes on because companies like a bang for there buck Joseph Evans Quality Sales when nothing else won’t

CropLife 100 Stories

Greystone Construction built the tension membrane fertilizer storage building (left) and steel seed treater building (right)
CropLife 100Pinnacle Plans President and CEO Transition
June 5, 2017
Pinnacle Operating Corp. has announced Kenny Cordell will be stepping down from his role as President and CEO in the Read More
Alfalfa
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Forms Distribution Agreement with S&W Seed Co.
May 31, 2017
S&W Seed Co., a leader in the alfalfa seed industry, has entered into a distribution agreement with Wilbur-Ellis, a leading Read More
GROWMARK-2017-Interns
CropLife 100GROWMARK Names 2017 Summer Interns
May 16, 2017
Forty-two college students are exploring agricultural career opportunities this summer as GROWMARK interns. They are working at FS member cooperatives Read More
Exterior view of CPS Big Lake facility which includes enclosed receiving and load out area
CropLife 100New Alternative Weed Resistance Traits Could Experience Slow Acceptance
May 12, 2017
It wasn’t too many years ago that ag retailers and their grower-customers could hardly wait for new options to fight Read More
Trending Articles
PrecisionAg Vision Conference
Precision AgPrecisionAg® Vision Conference: Focused on the Future
June 13, 2017
PrecisionAg® is pleased to announce the return of its PrecisionAg Vision Conference, October 10-12, 2017. Based on overwhelmingly positive response Read More
Redbanded-stinkbug-on-soybean-Photo-credit-Thomas-County-Ag
Crop InputsExperts: Mild Winter, Early Planting Will Increase Soybean Insect Threat
June 12, 2017
Higher than average temperatures this past winter affected much of the nation, especially the South and Midwest. The National Centers Read More
Eric SfiligojMonsanto ‘Picks Its Battles’ by Nixing Deere Deal
May 23, 2017
Having been in the trade journalism game since the mid-1980s, I remember several watershed moments during my career. One of Read More
Migrant farm workers
LegislationTrump: Immigration Crackdown Won’t Impact U.S. Agriculture
May 16, 2017
President Donald Trump said he would seek to keep his tough immigration enforcement policies from harming the U.S. farm industry Read More
AGCO Ratliff featured
Eric SfiligojRemembering Robert Ratliff
May 15, 2017
With all the fast-paced happenings in agriculture this spring, with multiple mergers in the works and planting season in full Read More
Case sprayer nozzle closeup
EquipmentSpray Application: A Nozzle Renaissance
May 2, 2017
If you had asked four-decade ag veteran Mark Bartel, President of Wilger Inc., just a few years ago what lay Read More
Latest News
ManagementDow Field Day and More Cooperative Consolidation
June 28, 2017
CropLife Editor discusses his recent attendance at the Dow AgroSciences Field Day in Indiana and shares news on another pair Read More
Young Corn Plants
Eric SfiligojLaunching New Seed Traits: Wait on China . . . Or Else!
June 26, 2017
In life, no one likes the waiting game. In agriculture, however, playing the waiting game is very important – especially Read More
Monsanto sign
Crop InputsMonsanto Speaks on Dicamba Issues in Arkansas
June 26, 2017
Monsanto’s Chief Technology Officer, Robb Fraley, issued the following statement following the Arkansas State Plant Board’s proposal to ban dicamba, Read More
Corn Field
Seed/BiotechCorn Insect Bt Technologies Offer Cost-effective, Proac…
June 26, 2017
When farm economics are challenging, farmers look for ways to bolster profit margins, including reducing input costs. Some may think Read More
Crop InputsArkansas Plant Board Votes to Ban Dicamba — Now W…
June 23, 2017
The Arkansas State Plant Board has voted to pass a proposed emergency rule to ban the use of in-crop dicamba, Read More
Engenia soybeans
Crop InputsBASF: ‘Closely Monitoring’ Dicamba Situatio…
June 22, 2017
BASF, whose Engenia herbicide is the target of more than 200 drift complaints in Arkansas, emailed the following statement to Read More
ManagementConsolidation Update
June 22, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss progress on manufacturer consolidation, and another big move for Midwest cooperative Central Valley Read More
Palmer pigweed seedhead in cotton
Crop InputsThreat of Dicamba Ban Looms in Arkansas
June 22, 2017
The Arkansas State Plant Board has rejected a proposed ban on the use of dicamba herbicide, but a procedural error Read More
Potash Agrium
Crop InputsAgrium-PotashCorp to become Nutrien upon Merger Complet…
June 21, 2017
Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc. and Agrium Inc. have announced today that once the anticipated merger transaction closes, the new Read More
Crop InputsMidwestern BioAg Hosts TerraNu Fertilizer Plant Opening…
June 20, 2017
Last Friday, Midwestern BioAg was joined by over 80 local farmers, media and staff to celebrate the grand opening of Read More
Soybean Field
Industry NewsAligned Ag Distributors Names New President
June 19, 2017
Aligned Ag Distributors LLC announced this morning the appointment of Mary Tolke to the position of President/CEO, effective July 1. Read More
ManagementPlotting Corn, AGCO/Asmark’s Applicator Training Center…
June 15, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about their recent visits to Columbus, OH, and Bloomington, IL, along with an Read More
Seed/BiotechDow AgroSciences Announces Launch of Enlist Corn for 20…
June 14, 2017
Enlist corn will be commercially available in the U.S. for the 2018 growing season. Dow AgroSciences announced the launch today Read More
ASMARK AGCO Applicator Training Center
EmployeesAsmark, AGCO Open Training Center for Beginning Applica…
June 13, 2017
AGCO Corp. and the Asmark Institute have opened a new Applicator Training Center, created in a collaboration between the two Read More
Power to Do More Contest Winners
HerbicidesDow AgroSciences Announces Three Winners in Power to Do…
June 13, 2017
Thousands of votes have been cast and three farmers have been awarded the power to do more with a $10,000 Read More
Frogeye leaf spot
FungicidesStrobilurin-resistant Frogeye Leaf Spot Threat Looms wi…
June 13, 2017
Heavy spring rainfall throughout the South and Midwest delayed planting and created the perfect environment for diseases like frogeye leaf Read More
PrecisionAg Vision Conference
Precision AgPrecisionAg® Vision Conference: Focused on the Future
June 13, 2017
PrecisionAg® is pleased to announce the return of its PrecisionAg Vision Conference, October 10-12, 2017. Based on overwhelmingly positive response Read More
CHS St. Paul, MN fertilizer terminal
LegislationICGA Praises President Trump’s Remarks on Waterwa…
June 12, 2017
Illinois Corn Growers Association President Justin Durdan, a farmer from Utica, issued the following statement regarding President Donald Trump’s comments Read More