- Storage/Marketing -

Expanding Infrastructure

In Tifton, Ga., four local farmers open
Southland Grain, LLC

By Carroll Smith

Two years ago when prices jumped and farmers across the South developed “corn fever,” the elevator infrastructure in most areas struggled to handle the huge crop. And, it wasn’t just corn. Additional acres were being planted to soybeans, milo and wheat, too.

The question on top of everyone’s mind was, “What are we going to do with all of this grain?”

Georgia producer, Tommy Stone, who farms near Tifton with his sons, Shane and Zach, and friend, Terry Nichols, was asking himself the same thing. Their answer to the grain overload was to purchase and re-open an elevator that had closed a few years before, and, thus, Southland Grain, LLC was born. The state approved the facility for 250,000 bushels.

“We do have a large demand for corn within a 100-mile radius of us and truck all of our grain to company end-users,” Stone says. “Initially, ethanol got everybody interested in corn. An ethanol plant in Camilla just opened about a month ago, and we have a lot of poultry facilities close by.

“There is another elevator in Tifton owned by a good friend of mine, but with the increase in grain acres, farmers now have an additional facility to utilize,” he adds.

Farmer To Farmer
Stone says they are flexible in working with farmers who do business with them. Southland will store grain as long as space is available to let their customers watch the markets, and some basis contracts are offered.
“We try to help everyone make the best marketing decisions they can,” he says. “We’re on both sides. We know what it is to farm and market our commodities, and now we know what it is like on the other side, trying to find and get the best price we can for our customers. We also emphasize getting them in and out of here as quickly as possible when they bring in loads. We know how important it is to get that truck back to the field and keep everything going.

“We try to treat our customers with respect like we would want to be treated when dealing with somebody.”

And how do Southland Grain’s customers respond?

Chris Goodman, a local diversified farmer, says, “I’ve known Tommy my whole life, and he is very reputable. I’ve done business with Southland since they have been open for two seasons.”

Another customer, Chris Honeycutt, who farms 3,700 acres in both Colquitt and Thomas Counties, likes the convenience that Southland affords.

“Southland is a close facility, so I don’t have to worry about trucking my wheat all the way to Macon,” Honeycutt says. “Plus, I didn’t want to invest in any grain facilities of my own. I like the logistics of Southland, and Tommy does a good job.”

Group Effort Pays Off
Farming along with operating additional agriculture-related businesses could be a daunting task. Stone says they make it work because everyone is willing to do his share. He does most of the buying and selling at Southland Grain, while his sons and Nichols take care of the farming operation.

“The real key is that I have good help,” Stone says. “We have two employees on the farm and one employee who drives a truck for us at Southland Grain.”

His wife, Sandra, and daughter-in-law, Sarah, also have taken on responsibilities. Sandra takes care of the secretarial duties, while Sarah puts in a few hours a day at Southland Grain keeping records.

Challenges And Rewards
Expanding an operation doesn’t come without its challenges. Stone said the biggest challenge Southland Grain faced was getting established and procuring business.

“We’ve been able to get customers primarily by word of mouth,” he says. “Farmers we know and people we deal with in the fertilizer business have recommended us, and cotton gins that we do business with also do business with us. Consequently, we’ve managed to bring in business from the surrounding counties.”

Stone says it’s important to consider maintenance of the facility, too.

“Initially, we made some repairs, such as improving our unloading facilities to get full capacity out of those,” he says. “However, there are still some things we want to do. We’re just trying to walk before we run.”

The next items on the “to do” list include going to a new drying system fueled by natural gas, which Stone says is better for the environment and more reasonably priced than propane. They also want to paint and improve the facility’s overall appearance.

Pointers:
Diversified Operation Profile

• Located in Tifton, Ga.
• Farms 1,500 acres: Corn, milo,
  soybeans, peanuts, cotton, snap
  beans and watermelons.
• Handles a line of FRM feed.
• Operates Southland Grain, LLC.
• Buys and sells grain: Corn, soybeans,
  milo and wheat.

The most rewarding part of operating Southland Grain, Stone says, is getting to know farmers from the surrounding areas and maintaining a good relationship with the customers that he already knows.

“If we can help our customers do a little better with marketing their product, then that makes us feel good,” Stone says. “That’s our goal at Southland Grain.”