I like to think that as an industry, we have a number of success stories to tell. Certainly we could point to milestones in the animal feed sector, as well as individual accomplishments among feed manufacturers, equipment companies, ingredient specialists and others allied with the feed business. All are evidence of our ability to gain ground and advance breakthroughs in feed manufacturing and animal nutrition. Some of the more recent ‘success stories' I've heard involve alternative fuel sources, conservation of energy, and ingredients that can reduce the carbon ‘hoof print.'

But as exciting and significant as some of these stories are, my thoughts most recently have been focused on success stories of another sort as the process begins for review of this year's entrants for the Feed Mill of the Year award. Feed Management is joining the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) in sponsoring the award for the 23rd consecutive year as we search out the elite in feed manufacturing.

Redesigned program

Just as our industry has evolved, so has the award and application process. The program has been re-designed to incorporate a number of enhanced benchmarking measures. Program categories have been updated and strengthened, including a new focus on truck fleet operations where applicable. The application process is more efficient and administration of the program has been streamlined to allow entrants the opportunity to focus more on the actual substance of their entry.

AFIA's Production Compliance Committee thoroughly reviewed the program and incorporated the modifications which were then approved by the AFIA Board of Directors. As part of the revisions, this year's applications have been completed online at www.afia.org. The completed applications will be reviewed and scored, with site visits conducted based on company standings in the program.

Several changes to the promotional and recognition phases of the program have also been put into place to help emphasize the newly created benchmarking aspects. Each feed mill that submits an application will receive direct feedback from AFIA to help improve its overall performance both in the program and existing operations. That aspect is one of the ways the Feed Mill of the Year program goes beyond being just an awards program and becomes a mechanism for feed mills to gain some valuable information on how they can improve as well as how they match up against others.

Entrants must be AFIA members and capable of handling medicated feeds. Entries are done by location, so companies with multiple locations have been asked to enter each location separately. Age, size and degree of automation of the facility are not considered to be contributing factors for entering the contest. Both a winner and runner-up will be identified. You can watch a future issue of Feed Management to learn all about this year's winners.

Highlighting the very best

The contest has long been a showcase for the industry's best. Last year's winner, Cargill at Giddings, Texas, had the distinction of being the only plant in the program's history to win top honors a second time. It reached the finals in 1989 after only a few years of full operation, and in 1991 received Feed Mill of the Year honors for the first time. Its repeat win in 2006 highlighted the excellent job the Cargill-Giddings team had been doing for the past two decades.

One of the factors that really helped that facility rise above some very tough competitors was its creative approach to safety and quality. Developed by employees themselves and coined the Q3-Zero-100 program, the facility's quality program stands for quality people producing quality products and services for quality customers with zero accidents. Among other areas in which the plant excelled were steadily improving electrical energy efficiencies and attention to promoting a clean workplace.

I look forward to learning how this year's winner will prove itself to be the best among the best and to bringing Feed Management readers a close-up look at some of the top facilities in the country.