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Pierson Grain Cooperative, An Impressive Sight and Facility

The awesome look of Pierson Grain Cooperative from Rt. 36

Staff Writer

Driving down Rt. 36 between Atwood and Hammond, is a small town named Pierson Station. To some this may seem like a boring drive, nothing but flat land with corn or beans. Then, all of a sudden, there is Top Flight Grain Cooperative, Inc. on the north side of 36. You can’t miss it because it is an awesome sight seeing huge grain bins and state of the art equipment rising to the sky. It is a little risky, pulling over to the side of the road just to enjoy the view, but that is what you want to do.

Pierson Grain elevator has been in Pierson Station for many years, a small but effective grain elevator system. As new markets arise, grain companies take advantage. This is what TopFlight Grain Cooperative, Inc. set out to do in 2021. The 16-site coop in east central Illinois realized an opportunity to access new rail markets created in 2018 when the WATCO Short Line Railroad Co. bought trackage by the coop’s Pierson Station elevator from CSX.

According to information from General Manager and CEO Derrick Bruhn, this enabled the elevator to connect with Canadian National (CN), CSX, and Union Pacific (UP) rail systems for markets in the Southeast and Gulf of Mexico.

In 2019 was when the coop started planning an upgrade at the 3.6 million-bushel Pierson Station elevator to load 100-car unit trains. TopFlight purchased 12 acres of ground west of the elevator. Bruhn says that much of the planning for the project was derived from the coop’s 2011 expansions at its Milmine elevator 10 miles east of Pierson Station.

The heart of the expansion is a trio of GSI’s steel tanks in diameters of 105 feet, 78 feet, and 36 feet, making a total of 1,321,550 bushels of storage capacity for corn and soybeans. The 105-foot tank is GSI’s first EVO 50 tank built in the United States.

According to Bruhn, the coop decided to try the new EVO 50 tank because they are less likely to leak, feature tighter construction, and are quicker to erect. Bruhn also added that the EVO 50 tanks offer the following:

• Maximized strength at every connection with fewer bolts and holes cutting down on how much weather can get inside the tanks.

• A water-tight seal featuring interlaced laminated sheets meaning any water that gets between the sheets flows out the end of the sheets, reducing the chance of water getting in.

The facility also added an 8,500 bph GSI Zimmerman grain dryer that runs on a mixed fuel of natural gas and LP.

As trucks enter the site, they are directed to a new 36-foot x 42-foot office where they are probed and weighed. The office is beautiful inside for a great working area. As you leave this area, drivers proceed to a new 57-foot x 40-foot truck receiving building that has two 12-foot x 27-foot mechanical receiving pits, each able to hold 1,100 bushels.

Two 25,000-bph GSI drag conveyors move grain from the pits to three 25,000-bph GSI bucket elevators.

Each pit has a Donaldson Torit PowerCore CPV dust collection unit to collect dust.

All three legs can deliver grain to either of two 50,000-bph AGI Hi-Roller Hi-Life enclosed belt conveyors. One of the Hi-Life conveyors routes to existing wet and dry storage tanks. The other one delivers grain to a 25,000-bph GSI drag conveyor that runs out to two of the new tanks.

The loadout leg feeds grain through a 60,000-bph AGI Hi-Roller Hi-Life enclosed belt conveyor that, in turn, feeds a 12-foot x 12 foot 60,000 bph Compu Weigh bulkweigher with a Gamet bulk sampler controlled by a Compu Weigh CD-4000-GMS 4000 automation system.

The bulk weigh system also includes Compu Weigh SmartLoad and Super SmartLoad system to cut loading time and a SmartRead V rail tag reader. The operator can route grain through an IAP 50,000 bpu gravity cleaner above the scale.

Bruhn states, “The system is set up to load 90-110 car unit trains in 8 ½ to 10 hours. We can load a car in 4 ½ minutes.”

The facility ships its soybeans to Decatur, IL and the CN rail to the Gulf of Mexico. It ships corn on the CSX to the southeast, CN to the Gulf of Mexico, and to Texas and Arkansas feed mills on the UP.

You might be surprised to know that Top Flight has been one of the most aggressive country elevator companies when it comes to solar power. To the west of the tall bins are 864 functional panels to supplement power. Each panel supplies 535 watts.

Stephanie Wierman and myself, along with many other customers, toured part of this facility in June of this year during Customer Appreciation Open House. It was very impressive and our tour guide, Warren Odekirk, Senior Project Manager, Facility Planning Division of Growmark did a great job.

The home office is located in Monticello, but the Pierson facility is so impressive. A few of the facts of Topflight Grain you might want to know include:

• Founded in 1998

• Storage capacity: 48 million bushels at 15 locations

• Annual volume: 46 million bushels

• Number of members: 2,700

• Number of employees: 72 full-time

• Crops handled: Corn, soybeans and soft wheat

• Services: Grain handling and merchandising

Key Personnel:

• Derrick Bruhn, CEO/General Manager

• Jeremy Welch, Chief Financial Officer

• Jeremy Glauner, Merchandiser

• Eric Clements, Operations Manager

• Andy Parsons, Regional Superintendent

• Jake Sawlaw, Superintendent

• Gloria Litwiller, Pierson Station Manager

Harvest seems to be in full swing now and farmers are starting to the field early to get their crops in. With the new Pierson facility expansion, there will be no problem getting the trucks in and out and heading back to the field.

The Mission of the TopFlight Grain Cooperative team is committed to the future of agriculture by improving the prosperity of our customers and employees through outstanding service, education, innovation, technology, and dedication.

They stick by their Vision to become Illinois’ best cooperative measured in customer satisfaction, volume, storage, revenue and pride. What more could you want in your cooperative?

Remember, as you drive by Pierson Station and see these impressive structures, know they are one of the most significant businesses in our county.

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