Eldon C. Stutsman, Inc.’s New Dry Fertilizer Storage Shed in Hills, Iowa
A Case Study with Mark Stutsman
Eldon C. Stutsman, Inc. and Marcus Construction were a great fit to partner on Stutsman's new dry fertilizer storage shed. As Eastern Iowa's largest supplier of agricultural products, retail, and wholesale, Stutsman had a need for improving their storage solution at their Hills, IA location. During their research, they found Marcus Construction, and a strong connection was developed as each business saw in the other aligned values as a family-owned, multi-generational businesses with a commitment to quality and top-notch execution for their customers.
Eldon C. Stutsman started his business in 1934, and today Mark and Scott Stutsman are third-generation leaders in the family business who headed this new dry fertilizer project and worked closely with the Marcus Construction team. After the completion of construction for Stutsman's new dry fertilizer building, we reflected with Mark Stutsman on their project.
What were some of the key factors in your decision to build a new dry fertilizer building?
We made the decision during the fall of 2021 that we needed to update our Hills, IA dry fertilizer facility. While it was not an easy decision to tear down the existing facility that served us so well for the last 50 years, we knew that changes had to be made to allow us to provide world-class customer service in the future.
Several events have happened in the past couple of years that led to this decision:
- Relying on just-in-time inventory in a seasonal business is dangerous. COVID taught us many lessons; number one is that we can no longer count on having ample products to purchase or the ability to find trucks to carry them. We needed the ability to store a higher percentage of a fall or spring season usage to mitigate some of the supply-side risk.
- Fertilizer products are not always where you want or need them to be. A case in point is the high Mississippi River levels in the Spring of 2019 that prevented us from bringing any barges into Muscatine for offloading. Our next best option was to bring those barges up the Illinois River to be offloaded in Peru, IL and then trucked into Hills. That was a logistical nightmare that none of us care to experience again! Again, we needed to have the ability to fill our facility in the off seasons.
- The rise in popularity of variable rate application of crop nutrients has been the catalyst for the movement of some liquid products over to dry product alternatives. This shift in demand has really put additional pressure on our existing facilities.
- Some of our existing dry fertilizer storage facilities reached the end of their useful lives and needed to be closed due to general condition, storage capacity, and lack of mixing and handling capabilities.
- Blending speed had not increased in our facility since 1972. We needed to get trucks loaded and out the gate much faster to minimize the unacceptable wait times. Due to wait times to get trucks loaded, there simply was no way for us to provide great customer service, let alone grow our business into the future.
What are some of the major benefits of your new dry fertilizer facility?
Our new facility really helps us serve our customers for success by eliminating major bottlenecks. It occupies roughly the same overall footprint in space but holds 25 railcars more product than its predecessor. Our fertilizer-receiving equipment has been upgraded to 250 tons per hour doubling how fast we can get product into the building. The new blender is rated at 16 tons per batch replacing the old 10-ton blender. Now all straight-truck loads can be mixed in one batch.
But the biggest change is that instead of a single weigh hopper feeding the blender, the new system has seven weigh hoppers that are fully automated feeding the new blender.
We have long enjoyed computer automation in our liquid plants, and we are loving the additional speed (9 tons per minute) as well as the accuracy that computer automation ensures in our dry blends now as well.
Our new dry fertilizer shed gives us more storage, faster unloads and the accuracy of computer automation to help us better serve our customers. We are all extremely proud of this dry fertilizer facility addition and the capabilities it provides.
Why did you decide to go with Marcus Construction as your building partner?
We chose to partner with Marcus for a couple of reasons, the first being the personal relationships we gained during the interview process. Our company’s morals aligned very well along with both being family businesses – we made a great connection.
We also knew we had an extremely tight timeline that would involve tearing down our existing dry fertilizer building at the end of the spring season and needing our new dry fertilizer storage functional for fall. We felt Marcus was the most capable of meeting that timeline.
What were some of the unique design features for your site and building?
The two key operational enhancements that we were adding with this new storage building were an overhead tube conveyor and a Doyle AUTOBATCH blending system. The overhead tube conveyor allows product transfer from rail to truck for wholesale along with the ability to stage product in two overhead tanks. While the AUTOBATCH system greatly increases our blending capabilities and speeds.
Both blending systems had design requirements for us to consider that would allow the systems to operate successfully. To maintain the proper angle for both conveying items it required the loadout portion of the new facility to be at a lower elevation than our existing product storage area.
This connection area and elevation difference provided some unique variables to design and construct around with our existing facility and site paving. We wanted to have minimal disruption to our existing site paving while maintaining the proper grading. The site paving, facility layout, determining the lower elevation and the water flow around this elevation was critical to keeping water out of the new loadout.
Another unique design and construction feature was tying the new dry fertilizer storage into the existing dry shed. This seems simple when you only think about connecting concrete floors, wood framing, and asphalt shingles. Pictures can say 1,000 words. The connection point of these two facilities is a busy area; this is where the existing electrical panel was, the bucket elevator for the receiving system sits, and the stairway system to access the overhead catwalks for both facilities. Because of several unknowns, this connection could not be fully designed until the existing facility was demolished. Designing the connection of these facilities during construction is a great example of the willingness of the team at Marcus to critically think and communicate well between their field and office team.
Did the schedule of the project meet your business needs?
Marcus did what they said they would do. They demolished our existing storage facility right after our spring season and had us back up and running for our fall season. The new dry fertilizer buildings capabilities have exceeded our expectations and the loading speeds, decreased wait times to be loaded, and the accuracy have all been appreciated by our customers.
What was your experience like working with the Marcus Construction team? (sales, design, project management, onsite superintendent)
We felt it was an exceptional experience working with all areas of the Marcus team. We appreciated their attention to safety as it was in the middle of a busy operation. Communication during the build process was outstanding and they were very accommodating on change items. One example that stands out to me was there was some sub-standard plywood that got installed that Marcus recognized and took upon themselves to change out before I even noticed, that says a lot to me about the type of group they are.
How do you think Marcus Construction’s commitment to safety protocols were handled on your project?
Along with having an Onsite Superintendent, Marcus’ ability to monitor daily activities remotely was very impressive. Like I said, we had a very busy site, and we appreciated the daily morning safety briefings that contributed to a successful project being completed safely.
We are so appreciative to Eldon C. Stutsman, Inc. for their trust in our Marcus team to successfully build their new dry fertilizer storage addition and to Mark Stutsman for taking the time to reflect on their agronomy building experience. Visit www.stutsmans.com to learn more about their history and world-class products and services.
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