From concept to completion, it was a celebration more than five years in the making—or some might say, more than 100 years in the making.
The MFA Rail Facility in Hamilton hosted an open house June 20-21 with festivities befitting the historic occasion. The shuttle-loader grain operation is MFA’s largest single investment in real dollars in any geographic region, and it’s the first such facility for MFA Incorporated and its partner in the project, MFA Oil.
The facility will benefit farmers in north central Missouri and southern Iowa by providing them a modern, high-speed grain facility to deliver crops and quickly unload during peak seasons. It will also provide new efficiencies for MFA Incorporated’s grain operations as well as access to large and diverse markets such as exporters, poultry and cattle operations, and other end users of grain in areas that stretch from the Gulf Coast to the West Coast and Mexico.
“I’ve been asked, ‘Why would MFA want to build a shuttle-loader facility at this point in its history?’” said Mitch Dawson, MFA Incorporated director of grain operations. “The question is really, ‘Why not?’ MFA has been around 103 years, and we’ve served all aspects of agriculture. What we haven’t done is give farmers the most up-to-date grain-handling site and access to markets they’ve never had before—until now.”
Several hundred guests at the two-day open house had a chance to hear from company officials, see grain-receiving demonstrations and take tours of the newly completed facility. Local farmers and MFA employees had the honor of ceremoniously unloading grain during the event.
“When we saw those first trucks come through, it was like a dream come true,” said Adam McIntyre, MFA regional manager who serves the area. “We’ve been waiting so long for it to happen, and it’s finally here. When I looked around today and saw the look of amazement on the faces of our employees and customers, it was really a proud moment.”
One of the inaugural trucks through the facility was owned by Hamilton farmer Ted Sloan, a former MFA Incorporated director, and driven by neighboring producer Quintin Jones. Both raise several hundred acres of grain and say they believe the facility will be a big boost to the local farm economy.
“I served on the MFA corporate board for more than 25 years, so it was an honor to be one of the first ones in line,” Sloan said. “This is something our community has been needing for a long time. I’ve really enjoyed watching this facility go up. My wife and I would come out here every week and check out the progress. We’re fortunate to have something like this here.”
Not only does the Hamilton facility represent a change in the skyline of Caldwell County, it also represents a change in MFA’s approach to the grain business, MFA Incorporated CEO Ernie Verslues said, addressing the open house crowd.
“What you see here today is a culmination of more than five years of searching, scouting, analyzing, designing and building a facility that will take MFA’s commitment to another level in the grain business,” Verslues said. “Opportunities don’t just happen. You must create them. We’ve created an opportunity here at Hamilton.”
The joint venture between MFA Incorporated and MFA Oil Company brings resources and expertise from both cooperatives and a significant investment in local communities. MFA Oil installed a 60,000-gallon propane tank to power the grain dryer and plans to build a Petro-Card 24 fuel station adjacent to the site as well.
“This facility, to me, is all about vision,” said Mark Fenner, president and CEO of MFA Oil. “Farmers working to build something more than they could build on their own is really what set our companies in motion. This grain shuttle project exemplifies that vision. We are proud to partner with MFA Incorporated in bringing it to fruition. Today, we just got better.”
The two companies broke ground in May 2016, but the idea took root in 2012 when MFA began exploring the feasibility of putting a large rail facility in north central or northwest Missouri, Dawson said. MFA has 20 local grain elevators in the region, which is rich in corn and soybean production.
The construction site was strategically chosen because of its location on four-lane Highway 36, proximity to Interstate 35 and connection to the Union Pacific Railroad. With a side track off the main line to accommodate a 110-car “shuttle” train, the facility is also known as a “loop-loader” because the track is in a circle linked to the main line. Railroads prefer to load grain via shuttle for ease of movement from a point of origin to a destination.
“When we started talking to the Union Pacific railroad, they told us there were only three or four places left on their system where a new shuttle-loader would work,” Dawson said. “One of those spots was in north central Missouri.”
Officials say size and efficiency for a growing grain industry are the objectives of the facility, which can move 60,000 bushels per hour as farmers deliver grain. A 110-car shuttle train will hold approximately 420,000 bushels of corn or 380,000 bushels of soybeans and can be loaded in fewer than eight hours. The operation will position MFA to potentially reduce truck traffic by 14 to 15 million bushels of grain annually.
While the Hamilton facility is designed to move grain rather than store it, there are 2.1 million bushels of permanent grain storage and 1.5 million bushels of temporary storage on site. This can help relieve harvest-time pressure on existing MFA facilities and give farmers a year-round outlet to sell corn and soybeans.
“We think we’ll run approximately 17,700 semis through this facility a year, and the majority of that grain will be pulled 50 to 90 miles from this location,” Dawson said. “We believe we are doing something here that will benefit the farmer, benefit MFA members and benefit the region as a whole.”
The facility will be operated by MFA Incorporated with seven full-time employees, including grain operations superintendent David Jones, and offer seasonal part-time jobs as demand grows. After retiring from a military service in 2006, Jones began a second career in the grain industry, including managing three different shuttle facilities from Texas to Colorado and, most recently, Kansas. The St. Joseph, Mo., native said the MFA Rail Facility offers advantages in economics and efficiency.
“You get better rates on shipping 110 rail cars with 420,000 bushels in one shot than trucks with 1,000 bushels at a time,” Jones explained. “So, this facility opens the door for better pricing and gives farmers a better market for their grain. They don’t have to go to the city, where they might spend six to eight hours in line versus coming here and getting out in five to 15 minutes.”
That convenience is what Maysville, Mo., grain producer Brad Bray is looking forward to the most come harvest time. His farm is about 25 miles away from the Hamilton Rail Facility, a much shorter distance than the 70 miles to Kansas City where he normally transports grain.
“Instead of hauling grain to the city, we can get it here a lot quicker, and that allows us to get the grain off the farm and keep more storage open,” Bray said. “It will help us with shorter travel distances, quicker return times to the field, and hopefully, a faster harvest. At harvest, time is everything.”
While the June events marked the official opening of the Hamilton facility, work has continued throughout the summer to complete construction and work out any issues before harvest hits. The first shuttle cars are expected to be loaded and shipped in late August.
“The real work has just begun,” Verslues said. “It’s up to us to take advantage of our strength in this area. We have all the ingredients and the people to make it successful. It’s an investment for the long haul.”