Four decades moving grain

AgriNews photo/Jeannine Otto Managing the four semis and drivers that haul grain for Sublette Farmers Elevator is just one task that Steve Klein (right) does daily as the manager of the elevator in Sublette, Ill. Drivers, including James Bonnell (center), haul grain from farms and the elevator to river and rail terminals as well as container facilities and ethanol plants. Assistant manager Jason Streit (left) take care of operations for the two grain elevator facilities, one in Sublette and one north of Sublette.

SUBLETTE, Ill. — Steve Klein, manager of the Sublette Farmers Elevator, has trucks. More trucks than he expected to have this warm October morning.

“One farm was too wet. One guy broke down. One guy who was using two combines and four trucks yesterday decided to use one combine and two trucks,” Klein said.

All of that means he’s got extra trucks and drivers.

“I’ve got trucks coming out of my ears this morning,” he said.

Managing the logistics of the co-op’s four trucks and drivers is just one task for Klein, who has managed the elevator for 41 years, starting as a truck driver himself.

What Klein did when he started in 1984 as the elevator manager hasn’t changed much.

“The jobs are pretty much the same now as they were then — I merchandised the grain, buy the lumber and fertilizer,” Klein said.

How he does a lot of that has seen dramatic changes over those four decades. Computers have made some jobs easier.

“Most of it is computerized. When I started, it was all manual, manual scales, manual entry. Now the weights off the scale go right into the computer,” Klein said.

The details of the job that deals in massive amounts — the elevator’s two locations have a 3.7 million-bushel storage capacity, from the concrete silos in town to the massive new bins just north of Sublette — are what Klein enjoys.

“As far as my job, you’ve got to look into the details of things. You need to put a pencil to things and see what’s going to work,” he said.

Selling Grain

Then and now, a big part of the job, for Klein, for the co-op and for customers, is grain merchandising, finding the best markets and prices for corn and soybeans.

“I really enjoy merchandising the grain. It’s a challenge to me,” Klein said.

But even that favorite task requires attention to detail.

“You need to keep your flexibility. You have to be aware of what your credit line is, how much you’re using, if the market rallies a dollar, how much more that’s going to require,” Klein said.

He recalls years like 2008, when he was merchandising high-dollar grain into a wildly volatile market.

“In 2008, it was a very stressful thing because of margin calls — some of the margin calls were close to a million dollars a day,” he said.

Another big change that Klein has seen is the buyers.

“When I started it was pretty much only a river market, but nowadays we have rail facilities, container loaders and ethanol plants, so the variety of markets is probably the biggest change,” he said.

Klein is a farm kid himself and attended Sauk Valley Community College for a degree in agriculture management.

He said a farm background is helpful, but not necessarily required for doing a job like his.

“It sure gives you come background if you have that, but it’s just like anything, you can learn to do it,” he said.

Jeannine Otto can be reached at 815-223-2558, ext. 211, or jotto@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Otto.

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