E-mail and cell phone help, but how well do things really work when management is 100 miles away four out of five days per week? "Pretty darn well, indeed!" is the answer at ADM Alliance Nutrition's feed plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, Most Improved Feed Mill for 2006 in the annual American Feed Industry Association and FEED MANAGMENT magazine program.
"In fact," says plant manager Darin Sigler, "that schedule could not work without our high quality employees at Grand Island."
The ADM-Grand Island plant manufactures nearly 18,000 tons per year in a US Food and Drug Administration-licensed facility running a single shift of seven production employees, one maintenance employee, two clerical employees, and ‘one-point-something' supervisory employees. The ‘something' amounts to Sigler's joint responsibility for management of two ADM feed plants in Nebraska.
"Two years ago," Sigler told FEED MANAGEMENT's editor and American Feed Industry Association's Keith Epperson, "I took over operation of our Grand Island mill from long time manager Harlan Prieksat who moved to our South Sioux City facility. However, I only visit Grand Island one day per week, so the folks at Grand Island have taken a certain degree of ownership' of their mill."
Sigler lives at Cozad, another hour-and-a-half west on I-80, where he also is the plant manager of ADM's other central Nebraska feed plant. He can electronically access most of the day-to-day data he needs to virtually' manage the Grand Island plant. He also can e-mail or phone Grand Island production supervisor Paul Ewers, customer service employees Christine Smith and Diana McCoy, and others (see Team' photo and table). But, Sigler emphasizes, for any plant manager, long-distance communication is not the same as actually being on-site.
For that reason, he says, it takes an especially self-reliant, self-disciplined, and dedicated team. He is proud they can consistently produce a full range of high quality products, under all the usual and unusual challenges, to serve the plant's direct customers and 45 dealers, most of whom are within a 75-mile radius of Grand Island.
"Basically," Sigler smiles, "I facilitate the Grand Island team and they run the show. They are very detailed in their work and dedicated to doing a good job. They know their customers well and understand that good relationships are key to the success in the feed business. I'm proud of this plant and our employees."
Built and run to "add value"
With mill tower and two grain bins erected in 1967, the steel plant at Grand Island occupies a 4.5 acre site leased from Union Pacific Railroad. The plant's main structural improvements date from the 1970s:
Early 1970s: two more Butler grain bins and warehouse addition of 50x18-feet;
Mid 1970s: addition of three Columbian hopper-bottom ingredient bins; and
In 1979: four 1,100 cubic foot finished feed bins added to the original 12-bin cluster of 600 cubic foot bins.
Sigler estimates the plant's multi-shift production capacity at around 50,000 tons per year. With current output around one-third of that, there is room to grow, and the Grand Island team has been raising output, increasing tonnage from FY2004 to FY2005 by 4%.
"At ADM," Sigler says, "we pride ourselves in our ability to add value to farmers' crops. In order to do this, ADM has experts who can provide guidance to formulate feed to get the right product for whatever species, anywhere in the world."
Nebraska is one of the USA's top beef-producing states and Grand Island is at the heart of the state's beef production. About 70% of the Grand Island tonnage is beef feed products, particularly the ADM line of pelleted beef creep feeds. At 10% each, swine, dairy, and specialty products round out the remaining tonnage.
"Surprisingly," Sigler says, "our species mix has not changed much in the past five years. We are comparable in size to most other mills in the region, but extremely flexible. While most of our distribution is in Nebraska and Kansas, we do ship products as far away as Coloradospecialty products that are made using spray fat."
Pelleted products make up 83% of production at Grand Island, with meal or mash products at 17%. Bulk feed makes up 66% of the output, with the remainder in 50-lb bags. The ADM-Grand Island warehouse is used as a distribution point for liquid feed tubs and other products manufactured at other ADM facilities.
"Our network, in whole, is comprised of more than 500 storage and distribution facilities," Sigler notes, adding that Grand Island benefits from ADM's "unparalleled system of railcars, trucks, barges, containers and vessels to meet the needs of our feed customers."
The Grand Island plant's overall design is simple and easy to maintain, Sigler points out: "The equipment has been properly sized which makes the overall process flow well. Each time equipment is upgraded, we install the best components to meet our customers' needs.
"Of course," he adds, "none of this would matter if we did not have outstanding employees to operate the plant."
‘Toolbox meetings' on safety
The Feed Mill of the Year entry from ADM-Grand Island especially reveals the employees' sharp focus on safety, which during FM's recent visit tallied at nearly 1,800 days without a lost-time accident and nearly 1,300 days without a recordable accident. Sigler helps reinforce safety in creative ways.
"ADM has a strong corporate commitment to safety, integrity, and responsibility," Grand Island's plant manager notes. "We hold monthly meetings for training and the Grand Island safety committee provides feedback. We have toolbox meetings', which take place on the production floor when employees identify particular safety risks. Grand Island employees usually figure out solutions on-the-spot and implement them right away.
"We also perform safety audits and use newsletters to communicate about safety issues and solutions. Our weekly Safety Observation Reports help keep safety at the forefront of all we do.
"My favorite tool," Sigler says, "is an ‘annual safety commitment' meeting I have with each employee in January. This helps set the tone for each new year and the meeting helps to keep safety at the forefront of our work atmosphere."
Quality product from veteran plant
The Grand Island team conducts quarterly quality assurance meetings, which help the plant's processing technology extract maximum value from raw materials.
"We are committed to producing only the highest levels of quality in our products," Sigler says, "which we achieve through our Quality Assurance program to detect challenges before a problem is caused."
In particular, employees pay close attention to quality of incoming raw materials, routinely testing for mycotoxins, mash size, and density, along with other parameters. Moreover, continuous, careful maintenance of 39-year-old ADM-Grand Island continues to pay off in consistent production of quality products. For example, the plant's main mixeroriginal equipment Hayes & Stolz 3-ton double-ribboncontinues to perform well, achieving a mixing co-efficient of variation of 1.42% in its last test.
Most of ADM-Grand Island's processing equipment is original with the plant and operates mainly by manual control, with only the pellet mill under automated control with a Beta Raven system (see table Major equipment').
"Currently, we do not have plans for automation at the facility," Sigler says. "However, we are continuously monitoring our customers' needs and determining ways that we may better serve them.
"We also put existing office technology to good use by inputting production information from each feed that we manufacture into our plant accounting system. This system allows for us to track and measure annual production in numerous ways."
Linking local communities to wider opportunities
ADM Alliance Nutrition at Grand Island is a key component of the larger ADM corporate network, Sigler points out.
"We have great people here in central Nebraska who are proud to work with and support our communities in a variety of ways. For example, we have several employees who are regular Red Cross Blood donors."
The Grand Island plant also can tap into a range of ADM corporate community programs, including:
ADM Community Partnership Grant Program provides four $10,000 grants to fund community improvement initiatives in ADM communities, particularly helping to strengthen agricultural areas of the USA;
ADM and Future Farmers of America partner to offer scholarships to the next generation of agricultural leaders; and
ADM's sponsorship of Farm Safety 4 Just Kids' helps enable that organization educate families about how to keep children safe on and around the farm.
Even with two recent hires, the average length of employment for production employees at ADM-Grand Island is more than a dozen years. The plant's unexcused absence rate is zero, which is a good indicator of dedication and commitment of employees.
"Each person at Grand Island is critical to the day-to-day success of the plant," Sigler explains. "They rely on each other to get the work completed."
ADM Alliance Nutrition's Cozad-Grand Island plant manager offers a telling example: "The last new hire at Grand Island basically had a seal of approval' from the staff before I made the offer for employment. They knew the person's work record was good and wanted him on the team."
E-mail, cell phones, and other technology can help Sigler maintain a ‘virtual' presence at Grand Island. But to solve problems on the fly and keep one of ADM's top plants performing at peak, he counts on the Grand Island team's Cornhusker can-do' spirit, dedication, and self-reliance.