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Formidable network

Multiple locations have been developed to efficiently serve farmers
Story by: Morgan Graham 4/24/2020

Editor’s note: In last month’s issue, we began a feature on the Co-op infrastructure that enables Co-op to efficiently serve farmers. The first story focused on Co-op’s feed mills. This month’s article continues that story with a look at the seed plant, fertilizer terminals, and distribution centers that make up this extensive network.

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.

Co-op was founded to ensure its member owners had access to a dependable, reliable source of basic farm inputs and services such as feed, fertilizer, and seed. And it takes a formidable network of resources to fulfill that mission. Over TFC’s 75-year history, the organization has developed multiple locations across the state for processing, manufacturing, and distributing those items. 

“Each facility has a dedicated staff that is willing to work long hours to meet the needs of Co-op’s farmer-owners,” says Crop Nutrients Manager John Duke.

Seed plant

TFC’s Seed Plant was built in a hangar on the site of the old Dyersburg Army Air Base in Halls. TFC bought six acres and the base’s largest airplane hangar, converting it into a seed-conditioning plant in 1959.  The facility operated until the mid-1970s when the old hangar was replaced by a new, more modern facility at the same location.

Today, the seed plant cleans a variety of different seeds across the state and region. TFC produces 10 to 15 varieties of soybeans, three to four varieties of wheat, three varieties of oats, three varieties of triticale, and one cereal rye seed per year.

“Technology has made the cleaning process more efficient,” says TFC Seed Manager Bryan Johnson. “The modern automation includes color sorters which helps remove diseased seed, while other equipment removes cracked, misshaped, or lighter seed.”

In additional to the new sorters, high and low sensors were installed in all bins and hoppers to help with continuous flow and proximity sensors and electric motors were placed on all valve and gates for operator safety. Sensors are controlled from a centralized computer system that greatly increases operational efficiency while also reducing the chances of cross contamination of varieties.

Fertilizer facilities

Like its feed facilities, TFC’s fertilizer terminals have continued to grow and expand across the state as the cooperative gained market share in Tennessee and neighboring states. Dry fertilizer terminals are located at Poplar Corner, La Vergne, and Rockford to better serve the state’s three grand divisions. A liquid fertilizer terminal in Caruthersville was purchased in the ‘90s to add greater capacity.

Duke credits a large part of TFC’s

success to the changing dynamics of agronomy specialists. Those individuals build personal relationships with member stores and farmer-owners and offer important advice and expertise as they serve as a resource to local Co-ops and to help farmers gain efficiency for their operations.

“This change in dynamics has played a key role in helping increase sales volume by more than 100,000 tons in the last five years,” says Duke.

Forming Ag Distributors, Inc. (ADI) in August 1992 was another step toward volume, according to Duke, as it positioned TFC to increase non-member business.  ADI serves as an independent fertilizer distributor in five states. The new venture has helped make fertilizer plants more efficient by increasing tonnage and allowing them to work at maximum capacity, he adds.

The venture also leases a fertilizer facility in Nashville, where both dry and liquid fertilizer are distributed, and owns a barge facility in Lenoir City that services the East Tennessee member Co-ops.

Ag Equipment sales and service

As agronomists have embraced improved technology, precision agriculture practices have driven the need for more sophisticated machinery such as variable-rate spreaders, which allow applicators to more efficiently and precisely disperse fertilizer rather than blanketing an entire area. TFC has grown its Ag Equipment sales and service facility to better serve members and customers outside the system that need a knowledgeable source of dependable equipment with the latest technological advances.

“While new technology has helped us become more efficient, it has also forced us to hire more technologically qualified employees,” says Trey Smith, TFC’s Ag Equipment manager. “Overall, the technology is valuable and worth the extra expense because farmers see the return in the yield at the end of the season.”

Distribution centers

The La Vergne distribution center is a 145,000-square-foot facility that serves as the primary storage staging point for the majority of the consumer products, farm and livestock equipment, and automotive-related items.

The first phase of the structure, built in 1953, also housed the TFC central office staff. Additions and upgrades were made in 1962, 1970, and 1984. The center also serves as the central cross-docking point for five other distribution and manufacturing facilities in the TFC system, including the distribution centers at Rockford in East Tennessee and at Jackson in West Tennessee.

Metal Fabrication Plant

TFC’s Metal Fabrication Plant was built in 1971 and has since been expanded three times. Originally focused on manufacturing gates, the plant has added fabricating corral panels, bale movers, post drivers, and hay feeders, including the popular Co-op Hay Saver Feeder introduced in 2006.

Processes performed at the facility are fabrication, welding, and painting. The plant usually employs around 20.

For three-quarters of a century, TFC has strategically expanded its footprint while working to more efficiently to serve its farmer-owners. As market share has grown, the cooperative has developed the necessary infrastructure to efficiently service its expanding customer base. With an eye to the future, TFC is focused on maintaining its commitment and dedication to the farmers it serves.

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