Training at TopFlight

Mid-sized coop develops its own material and lectures

Reprinted from Grain Journal November/December 2018 Issue

For years, the largest grain handling companies, blessed with plenty of resources and personnel, have developed their own internal training programs for new and existing employees. These programs cover such essential areas as safety in the workplace, maintaining stored grain quality, and routine maintenance and repair jobs for grain handling equipment and machinery.

For smaller companies and cooperatives, there have been training programs and materials developed by trade associations or outside consultants specializing in safety or bulk material handling.

But now, some of these mid-sized or smaller businesses in the grain industry are finding some advantages to having their own internal training programs unique to themselves.

“I’ve been to a lot of educational meetings offered by groups like GEAPS (Grain Elevator and Processing Society), NGFA (National Grain and Feed Association), and GFAI (Grain and Feed Association of Illinois),” says Eric Clements, operations manager for TopFlight Grain Co., a mid-sized grain cooperative based in Monticello, IL (217-678-2261).

“There’s nothing wrong with those programs,” he continues, “but often, I’d come away with a lot of information but never found the time to convey that information to our employees. And we can’t send everyone to GEAPS, and I can’t always find time even to go myself.”

TopFlight Grain is one of those mid-sized farmer-owned cooperatives. Founded through a merger in 1998, TopFlight operates 15 year-round and two seasonal grain elevator facilities around central Illinois. The coop’s 63 employees handle, store, and merchandise nearly 50 million bushels of grain annually, primarily corn and soybeans. Much of that grain is shipped by truck or rail to major grain processors in the area.

The TopFlight Curriculum

To keep those 63 employees up to speed on operational issues, Clements has worked closely with the coop’s safety manager, Andrew Hanes, to develop a curriculum of lectures and related handout materials.

“We have monthly safety meetings,” Clements explains. “These usually start at 2 p.m. and last about an hour. Because we’re so spread out, typically we’ll have them in two locations, Monticello and Maroa (IL). We’ve brought in outside speakers on some topics for us, like bearings, electric motors, and electrical safety. But we have a list of topics we need to cover once a year, and most of this is material and handouts we’ve developed ourselves.”

Clements comments that he gets a lot of material for safety meetings from college-level grain handling textbooks. Two of his favorites are:

• Managing Stored Grain to Preserve Quality and Value by Carl Reed, a former professor in the Department of Grain Science and Industry at Kansas State University.

• Storage of Cereal Grains and Their Products, a compilation of articles edited by D.B. Sauer, 1990 edition.

“I also have a ton of articles from Grain Journal,” he adds.

“We’ve been at this for several years now,” Clements notes. “Some of our material comes from our own experiences.

“It’s always good to question what we know. There are always new ideas out there and new ways of doing things, especially with some of the more complicated areas such as aeration.”

In addition to the monthly safety meetings, many of the same materials TopFlight has developed have become part of the half-day safety orientation program presented by Hanes to all new hires.

Topics to Cover

Among the topics Clements and Hanes have developed to present year after year include:

• Proper operation of steel tanks. This includes proper loading from the top and unloading through sidedraw spouts and in-floor sumps to protect the sidewalls from damage.

• Aeration. This includes using fans to step down or step up the temperature of stored grain to keep it within 10 to 15 degrees of ambient.

• Proper grain drying. At TopFlight, dryers are used to bring grain moisture down to 15.5% for storage, and using tank aeration fans to remove up to 5% moisture as needed.

• Monitoring stored grain. This includes keeping the surface of the grain level inside the tank, as well as pulling samples from inside the tank. “We look for anything out of the ordinary,” says Clements.

• Coring grain tanks and why this is done. Clements notes that fines tend to clump around the center of the grain mass, and these can clump and plug in-floor sumps, creating a potential safety hazard. This unit includes a checklist of how to core the tank and a timetable for how often to do it. Clements says that it’s important to include merchandisers in this meeting topic, because they need to understand the safety implications as well as grain quality issues.

• Preventive maintenance and the reasons for it, including compliance with OSHA requirements, maintaining equipment reliability, and preventing unnecessary breakdowns, especially during harvest. Unscheduled downtime and unplanned repairs can become a safety issue for employees, especially at times when storage tanks are filling or are full.

• Grain grading procedures and making sure they are uniform throughout the company. Clements says some years TopFlight will bring in the entire staff for this training, and during other years, it will be just for new hires.

“We work hard to improve these presentations every year and to present the most up-to-date information,” he concludes.