Jerry Rowe is the CEO of the Heritage Grain Cooperative. He uses a lot of math, accounting, and customer service skills to run his grain elevator.
A cooperative grain elevator is a first purchaser of grain that is owned by a group of farmers in the community. The elevator is run by a Board of Directors – and Jerry says that having an excellent Board of Directors is one of the highlights of his job!
As farmers harvest grain in the fall, they take it to the elevator to either sell on the spot, or to have the elevator store the grain for them until they are ready to sell. As commodity prices fluctuate, the elevator offers farmers competitive prices, and farmers decide to sell based on their own budgets and marketing plans. The elevator then sells the grain to other markets (export via rail or river, livestock).
Jerry’s job is extremely important. If the elevator becomes unprofitable at some point, farmers loose another option to sell their grain. Competitive options for selling grain is important to make sure farmers can sell for the very best prices.
Lindsay: What are your primary responsibilities?
Jerry: I’m the General Manager-CEO of the Heritage Grain Cooperative. I’m responsible to make sure things run smoothly, we serve our farmer customers and farmer owners as best we can, and we make money.
Lindsay: What do you love most about your job?
Jerry: I enjoy grain trading, planning and logistics.
Lindsay: Planning and logistics I understand, but tell me more about grain trading.
Jerry: Grain trading is where the elevator takes the grain off the market when the basis is wide and the carry is large (i.e., there’s more grain in the system than needed). When the market does not want it, it our job to store and repackage it in larger units and different delivery methods. Like instead of selling and delivering via truck, we might sell and deliver via rail. We take the grain off the market when it is not wanted (wide basis) and sell it into the market when it is wanted (narrow basis).
Lindsay: What skills/education do you believe have helped you to be successful?
Jerry: I have definitely needed good math skills for this position, in addition to knowing how to talk to people and how to listen. Math is very important for the commodity trading part of my job, people skills are super important for the farmer customer service part of my job.
I’ve also needed some accounting skills, as I deal with money coming in and going out all day every day.
Lindsay: How did you land in this job?
Jerry: I started my career here 1977 as a manager trainee with Illinois Grain Corporation. I was an assistant manager at two other locations, then managed a small elevator when this position opened.
I have been working in Central Illinois my entire career. I knew all the people here and when this job came open, I was in contact with the right people and had developed the right skill set.
Lindsay: Do you think young people today should be considering careers in agriculture?
Jerry: Yes! Agriculture has been very good to me. There is always a future in ag for bright young people who want to work. I never did want to live in a Chicago. If you like the smaller towns and rural areas in Illinois, then working in a grain elevator is one of the best jobs in a small town.