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75 Years in the Making

Extensive Co-op infrastructure provides efficiency in serving farmers
Story by: Morgan Graham 3/25/2020

 

The LaVergne feed mill opened for production in February 1958 and later added a second mill in 1970. These mills operated separately until the mid 1990s when the facilities were completely renovated and expanded with additional storage.
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Service has always been at the heart of Tennessee Farmers Cooperative (TFC). Since its inception in 1945, TFC has focused on developing and maintaining a network of facilities to efficiently service the member Co-ops and their farmer-owners.

 While striving to provide the highest quality products available, TFC strategically built and bought facilities in East, Middle, and West Tennessee to provide feed, fertilizer, and seed and to efficiently distribute items to their customers.

“These facilities and the vital role they play in providing products for our customers are key components of the value of Co-op to its members,” says TFC Feed, Farm, Home and Fleet Division Manager Joe Huffine.

With feed mills in each of the state’s three grand divisions, Co-op has developed facilities that allow for the production of rations for multiple species, including swine, dairy cattle, equine, poultry, beef cattle, sheep, goats, wildlife, and other species as requested. Through the years, the feed mills have been expanded, modified, and remodeled as customers’ feed demands have changed and as technologies have become available. The feed mills once produced 75 percent bulk feed, whereas today the plants are producing a 50-50 mix of bagged and bulk feeds for customers across Tennessee and seven adjoining states.

In the center of the state, the LaVergne Feed Mill, built in 1958, was the first of the TFC mills to be constructed. A second mill was added at the location in 1970. Even though these mills are within 110 feet of each other, they operated separately for more than 20 years. In the mid-1990s, TFC’s board of directors approved renovation of both mills that took nearly eight years to complete. During the renovation, the facilities were connected via the installation of metal storage bins. New production equipment, conveyors, elevators, and distributors were also installed. The added storage increased efficiencies, and use of modern technologies vastly changed the mills’ processes.

The Tenco Feed Mill, located at Rockford in East Tennessee, was built in 1961. A second mill was added in 1973. The smallest footprint mill, located at Jackson in West Tennessee, was established to assist the LaVergne facility by producing an additional 30,000 tons a year. The West Tennessee plant was constructed in 1966. The following year, the facility manufactured 50,000 tons.

“The mills are placed strategically across the state,” says Huffine. “That allows us to provide product to a large number of our stores and farmer-owners within a 125-mile radius.”

All mills have undergone renovation and upgrades to help them stay updated with the current technologies and regulations, says Huffine. With updates, TFC has taken food-grade measures to ensure safe, dependable products. TFC feed mills follow strict precautions and procedures to ensure safety and quality of Co-op feeds. To maintain these safety protocols, all Co-op feed mills are registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and fully comply with the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act. In addition, Co-op mills are certified as Safe Feed/Safe Food facilities.

“As a part of these food safety measures, we monitor the integrity of inbound feed ingredients,” says Feed and Animal Health Sales Manager John Houston. “All ingredients are inspected, tested, and screened for foreign materials before being unloaded.”

Drivers delivering ingredients must verify what they last hauled. If the substance isn’t conducive to food safety, they must prove where proper protocols were taken to clean the trailer before hauling TFC ingredients.

“All medications used in Co-op feeds are strictly calculated, monitored, and reconciled each day. This ensures medicated feed is produced with the exact amount of medication required,” says TFC Mills Operation Manager Randy Henley.

A sample is retained of ingredients and finished manufactured products for accountability. All Co-op feed products can be tracked back to the ingredients used in each batch. This tracking system saves valuable time and creates accountability.

As the Southeast’s livestock diversity evolved, so did the TFC feed mills. Dairy, poultry, and swine feeds once dominated production. Today, beef feeds hold the top tonnage spot.

In recent years, the Co-op facilities have utilized available capacity to produce feeds for other companies to allow the feed mills to grow their footprint and to become more efficient.

While growth and efficiency are important, feed mill employees have been pivotal in TFC’s success, Huffine stresses.

“The only thing better for our mills than updates and renovations is maintaining and continued education of our employees,” Huffine says. “When you take those key components and blend them with standard operating procedures, it makes us attractive to other companies to manufacture their feeds. This is why Co-op feeds are well known for their high quality.”

He credits the high quality of Co-op’s feed to the research initiative it has with partners at the University of Tennessee and Cooperative Research Farms (CRF). TFC has been a long-time member of CRF’s shared research group. TFC collects data from these research trials that allows continuous benefits to the species being fed. In some cases, the result is increased milk production, average daily gain, or improved consumption. In each case, the CRF research has allowed Co-op to add more science in every ton of feed manufactured. The final key to the success of our mills has been a continual investment for maintance, improvements, and safety from TFC board and management. If investments and preventative maintenance aren’t made, then the machines’ lives are shortened.

“We have a tremendously dedicated and talented group of employees at all of our mills,” says Henley. “In the last six years, the Tenco and LaVergne mills have been recognized as national feed mills of the year.”

 
 
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