United Cooperative: Environmental Respect Is Etched In The Culture
The South Beaver Dam, WI, location of United Cooperative is located about 30 miles from Madison in the glacier-carved fertile soils of central Wisconsin. “The cooperative strives to be good stewards of the environment every day. Even when I’m in the planning and building stages for additions, environmental safety is always a priority,” says David Cramer, United Cooperative president/CEO.
The facility exemplifies what planning for environmental impact really means. “There are acres of blacktop out there,” says Kevin Williams, vice president for agronomy operations. “Whenever there are small spills, we are not dealing with digging in the dirt. We can get Oil Dry, lime chips or whatever is needed to contain any spill, and we can catch every spill or drip before the vehicle leaves the plant.”
The South Beaver Dam agronomy location includes 28,000 tons of liquid crop nutrient storage and 24,000 tons of dry storage. “We take great pride in both our dry and liquid plant nutrient facilities,” says John Hying, agronomy operations manager. “All products are stored under roof or within tanks featuring secondary containment.”
The automated mixing and loading building was constructed in 2004. “Bulk crop protection products are dispensed through our Junge automated system,” explains Hying. “We have a dedicated line from every bulk tank so there can be no cross contamination. Everything is measured by weight to maintain consistency. The system automatically triple rinses after each load.”
The system injects crop protection products into the carrier and automatically holds back 3,000 pounds of carrier which is used to flush any product out of the line as the load is completed. “Our orders are all computer generated and the entire mixing system is controlled by the computer,” says Hying.
The dry fertilizer side of the business is handled in much the same way as the liquid product. “One click of the mouse and the order is entered into our system,” explains Duane Swenson, dry fertilizer facility manager. “From that point on, all I have to do is push a couple more buttons and the entire order is loaded into the blender and dispensed into the truck. I don’t leave my perch and the driver never gets out of the truck.”
The Human Factor
With all of this automation, humans still play an important role in the operation, and it’s not hard to imagine how busy the blacktop roadways just outside the mixing facilities can become. John Schoenfeld’s job as safety and compliance manager is to make sure human error does not create unsafe conditions. “We’ve instituted a near-miss unsafe conditions report,” says Schoenfeld. “The report allows employees to communicate any risk behaviors or conditions that they witness everyday that could lead to an accident. We often see things and forget about them so this is a tool to record near-miss information.”
The South Beaver Dam facility relies on information gained each season from its grower answer plots. These plots create test situations upon which to recommend new products and help educate customers on all aspects of crops including seed selection, crop protection products and fertility strategy. United Cooperative services includes a precision ag program.
“Farming in this region started to change dramatically about five years ago,” explains Jim Kemink, vice president, seed and agronomy sales. “We went from a dairy-based farm economy in the late 1990s and started to transition into a grain economy. Yields started to increase dramatically, so we took a much closer look at fertility programs. We started to see that our potash and potassium levels were dropping. We realized that with yields going up, there was a lot more demand for borate fertilizers.”
Reaching out to the community around Beaver Dam is all in a day’s work for the United Cooperative employees. The cooperative focuses its financial and volunteer support on ag-related organizations and rural emergency agencies. Local schools have an opportunity to learn more about the work of a retail farm supply.
“We have big plans to increase our use of precision ag and associated technology,” says Cramer. “By using variable-rate phosphorous, potassium and aglime with variable-rate nitrogen, our growers can continue to increase yields while reducing potential impact on the environment.”