Student Interns
Student interns (l to r) Nicole Jennett, Erica Lundy (holding feed pellets), and Casey Clemens. Photo courtesy of Ronda Driskill.

Student-Cooperative Team Explores New Feed Manufacturing Business

Darren Jarboe, Program Manager, Iowa Alliance for Cooperative Business Development

Higher prices for corn and soybean meal and conversion of pastureland to row crops have cattle feeders exploring new feed options.

A student internship program initiated by Iowa State University to evaluate business opportunities for farmer cooperatives is exploring the feasibility of a new feed business for Farmers Cooperative Company of Afton, Iowa.

“The idea of the business is to replace corn, hay, alfalfa, and soybean meal with cheaper, but nutritionally equivalent, alternative ingredients,” said Jim Schendt, General Manager, Farmers Cooperative – Afton. “The value proposition to cattle producers in southern Iowa and northern Missouri is to become more competitive and have a cost-effective source of feed that extends pastures by 30 to 50 percent.”

The project conducted a preliminary feasibility study for a business manufacturing new, high-value cattle feed from corn stover and agricultural processing byproducts that will permit the cooperative to expand member services, enable cattle feeders in the region to grow their operations, and provide a new market for corn stover produced in the market area.

“The project involved exploration of the technical and financial feasibility of the project, with these efforts being led by three Iowa State interns who worked alongside Farmers Cooperative employees last summer,” said Schendt.

The team made up of three undergraduates — agricultural business student Casey Clemens, animal science student Erika Lundy, and agricultural engineering graduate Nicole Jennett — evaluated the feasibility of a new feed manufacturing business under consideration by Farmers Cooperative – Afton and ADM Alliance Nutrition. Clemens developed the business financial plan, Lundy worked on marketing intelligence and plan development, and Jennett pulled together the work of three student technology design teams.

A senior technology capstone course during spring semester under the leadership of agricultural and biosystems engineering assistant professor Tae Hyun Kim and lecturer Lloyd Snell assigned student teams to project process segments. The three project segments were: 1) delivery and storage through the mixer, 2) pelletizing to final product packaging and storage, and 3) safety for the entire process. This gave students hands-on experience with a real world project.

“The team was successful because Farmers Cooperative employees were happy to take time out of their busy days to provide us with sufficient information to create the feasibility study,” said Clemens. “We also worked very well together and were open to each other’s suggestions.”

The internship was a valuable learning experience for Lundy. “I learned how to manage my time efficiently, work independently as well as a member of a team, and was exposed to how Farmers Cooperative Company operates,” she said.

“Leveraging our resources and those of Iowa State for the creation of a new business in the rural communities we serve has been an exciting development for myself and all those involved in the project,” said Schendt.

Representatives from Farmers Cooperative and ADM Alliance Nutrition are both supportive of developing the plan for this new feed business. Clemens and Lundy are expanding the study as Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative (AgEI) Semester, Inc. interns this fall. The student design teams will also continue their work on the project in their fall semester technology capstone course.

In all, about 20 students were exposed to Farmers Cooperative – Afton’s business, offering the cooperative access to human resources that it needs to remain competitive and educating students about the employment opportunities at cooperatives.

Groundwork has been initiated for a second student internship opportunity at a different Iowa cooperative in 2012.

The program is a joint effort of the Iowa Alliance for Cooperative Business Development and the AgEI at Iowa State.