Soil Whisperers

White Hall, Ill., farmer Maria Cox, left, and her crop advisor Kyle Lake were named 2018 4R Advocates by The Fertilizer Institute. Photo by Erin Williams, CHS.

Adapted from C magazine article by Peg Zenk

READ MORE: Find the entire C magazine article here.

Not all risk is bad. While farmers work hard to reduce financial risk, innovators take calculated risks when it comes to new when it comes to new agronomic approaches.

Illinois farmer Maria Cox is one of those innovators. She and her crop advisor, Kyle Lake, with CHS in Carrollton, Ill., were named 2018 4R Advocates by The Fertilizer Institute. Each year, the award recognizes five farmer-retail agronomist teams who are dedicated to implementing the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship: using the right nutrient source, at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place.

In conversations with Cox and others who have actively embraced the 4Rs, common management challenges and strategies emerge. Among all the technologies and tactics they’ve tried, these growers point to strategies that are producing the biggest benefits in terms of soil health and the bottom line.

Shift application timing

Returning to the family farm outside White Hall, Ill., after working in agribusiness for four years meant Cox brought a fresh perspective to the row crop side of the business. Her father, Ethan, gradually began turning over management of the 3,000-acre corn-soybean-corn- silage operation to Maria, the sixth generation to manage it. This allowed him to focus on their 100-head cow-calf herd and backgrounding enterprise.

“I looked at the things we had been doing well, including building grass waterways and buffer strips and using no-till systems on highly erodible fields,” she says. “But I also began looking for things we could be doing better. My education and work experiences taught me to question everything.”

She started by looking at when and how fertilizer was applied. Historically, most of the nutrients had been applied via commercial fertilizer and manure in the fall at a flat rate, based on crop removal levels. Working with Lake, Cox began implementing the 4R principles to improve nutrient efficiency and minimize waste. They shifted much of the farm’s commercial fertilizer application to the spring — a major decision, since many growers in Greene County on the state’s west side still apply most of their fertilizer in the fall, says Lake.

“The Cox farm now fall-applies nitrogen on only the first fields to be planted to corn in the spring, and they use split nitrogen applications, including a side-dress pass, on most corn fields,” he adds. Those changes have improved nitrogen use efficiency from 1.5 to 1.2 pounds per bushel on many fields and to 0.9 pound per bushel on the most productive fields.

Variable-rate Value

For Minnesota farmer Tony Rossman, grid soil-sampling and variable-rate fertilizer application have become his most important tools for maximizing efficiency and minimizing environmental nutrient loss in his corn-soybean rotation. Topography in his fields north of Rochester transitions from flat prairie to rolling hills, which requires a customized approach for each field and sometimes each acre.

“Spoon-feeding the crop when it needs nutrients is not always the most convenient management approach, since it often requires another pass across the field,” he says, “but that’s part of delivering nutrients at the right time for maximum plant uptake.”

Despite variability from one growing season to the next, Rossman has seen yields climb consistently over the last five years since he began working with agronomists at CHS in Rochester, Minn., to put his 1,600 acres into CHS YieldPoint® services.

Question every pass

Fall tillage is still fairly common in many parts of Illinois, but as she returned to the operation, Cox says she was quick to question whether deep tillage was necessary.

“My dad had been successfully no-tilling soybeans for years and it just seemed logical to build on that approach on our corn acres,” she says. “By eliminating tillage passes, we’re not only saving money but saving soil.”

Aiming for a mostly no-till system, Cox decided to try strip tillage with ammonia application on several fields last fall. “It should deliver the best of both worlds, disturbing only one-third of the soil surface while creating a nice bed for corn to be planted into in the spring,” she says.

“The fields had been planted to an oat cover crop and the row cleaners did an excellent job ahead of the anhydrous knives,” recalls Lake. “There hasn’t been much strip tillage done in our area, but it looks very promising.”

Evaluate cover crops

In just a few years of working with cover crops, Rossman says he’s seen benefits including improved water infiltration and less runoff, especially during heavy rainfalls; increased organic matter levels; and less weed pressure from waterhemp and other species.

“Over the past four years, we’ve been fairly aggressive about using cover crops, including cereal rye, brassicas and turnips,” he says. “We started by seeding after harvest on the 200 acres of sweet corn and peas we raise annually for a local canning plant, but have also begun flying cover crop seed onto corn stubble, hoping to get about 4 inches of growth in the fall. Ryegrass typically regrows 10 to 12 inches in the spring before we apply a burndown treatment.”

His cattle graze cover crops in late fall. “They eat the grass and spread manure naturally. It’s very sustainable and one more way our cattle enterprise brings value to the crop side,” says Rossman.

Water quality results

Monitoring water quality is another means of measuring nutrient management success. With a river running through part of his Oronoco, Minn., farm, and as a cattle-and-hog producer who regularly applies manure to fields, Rossman says he has always been responsible about fertilizer use.

Along with using a nitrogen stabilizer and knifing in manure to avoid odor issues and volatilization, he helped organize a small group of local producers who share information about sustainable best practices, including tillage strategies and cover crop use. The group’s research led Rossman to enroll in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, a voluntary program of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. He is working toward certification through the program, which requires taking regular water samples to monitor contaminant levels.

LEARN MORE: Find more information at

Watch a video of about fertilizer best management practices.

Start the New Season with a New Grease

cenex grease

Using the right grease is one of the most important decisions you can make as you prepare equipment for the high-pressure planting season. But recent updates in grease formulations might make you do a double take as you get ready for spring.

“When you put the grease into your grease gun and on bearings, you’re going to notice it looks different,” says Andrew Hamilton, director of technical services and quality for Cenex® lubricants and refined fuels. “That is on purpose. You’re getting a better grease.” (more…)

Anatomy of a grain trade

The global grain trading business is risky. Avalanches and mudslides can stop trains in their tracks. Striking union workers can halt grain loading at port. Freezing sea spray and high swells can delay ocean vessels for days. Commodity prices and costs shift constantly.

While those situations may be beyond a grain company’s control, there are countless other factors that a team of CHS experts successfully manages 365 days a year – always focused on efficiency, safety and profitability.

“Grain traders are problem-solvers,” says Justin Friesz, CHS global grain coordinator. “We anticipate issues and deliver solutions. We deploy critical thinking skills to manage risks. We create sufficient volume to generate efficiencies. And we collaborate as a team to focus on customer service and deliver grain when and where it’s needed. It’s a balancing act. We need a home for all that grain.”

That vigilance never stops, he adds. “Some risks recur at various points of the journey, with the most common being demurrage (penalties for delays at terminals), force majeure (unforeseeable circumstances), price, shrinkage, credit and quality risk.”

Ready and waiting

CHS has built an extensive grain origination network that links American farmers’ commodities to world markets with the highest level of quality control. For milling wheat headed to China, this includes strategic joint ventures at Pacific Northwest export facilities and a facility at the Port of Nantong that allows CHS to wield more control over grain handling speed and uniformity.

Beyond physical assets, CHS has invested in people who can help ensure purchased grain gets to the right destination on time and per specifications.

“It takes an army to execute a trade,” says Friesz. “Grain must be ready at the elevator to load the ship, the right ship must be in position, and the right documentation must be in place. Timing is everything. Once delays start, the penalties keep growing.”

“As we work through every step, we encounter risks and mitigate them,” says Brock Lautenschlager, director of rail services for CHS. “The one constant is that plans will change and, in the logistics business, they will change multiple times a day.”

Read the rest of the feature story in C magazine, online here.

CHS reports a net income of $346.7 million for the first half of fiscal 2018

CHS income fiscal 2018

CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, today reported net income of $346.7 million for the first half of its 2018 fiscal year (six-month period ended Feb. 28, 2018), compared to net income of $223.7 million for the same time period a year ago.

Consolidated revenues for the first half of fiscal 2018 were $14.9 billion, down from $15.4 billion for the first half of fiscal 2017. Pretax income was $185.0 million and $249.1 million for the first half of fiscal 2018 and 2017, respectively.

“CHS made meaningful progress in the first half of fiscal year 2018 as we continue to position CHS for higher performance,” said CHS President and CEO Jay Debertin. “The global environment for our businesses serving agriculture remains challenged and we continue to drive towards our priorities of better efficiency, strengthening relationships, and a more focused business portfolio.  We have more work to do and we are seeing improvement that will make us a stronger company.”

For the second quarter of fiscal 2018 (Dec. 1, 2017 through Feb. 28, 2018), CHS reported net income of $166.7 million compared with earnings of $14.6 million for the same period in fiscal 2017. Revenues for the second quarter of fiscal 2018 were $6.9 billion, down from $7.3 billion for the second quarter of fiscal 2017.

Results for the quarter were attributed to:

  • Increased margins at the Company’s refineries.
  • Decreased volumes and margins within the Ag segment.
  • A significant tax benefit recorded during the quarter related to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

For the first half of fiscal 2018, reporting segment results include:


  • Energy generated pretax income of $122.1 million during the first half compared to $86.6 million during the same period last year.
  • The $35.5 million increase reflects improved market conditions in the company’s refined fuels business, primarily driven by wider manufacturing margins in our refining operation.


  • The Ag segment, which includes domestic and global grain marketing and crop nutrients businesses, renewable fuels, local retail operations and processing and food ingredients, generated pretax income of $43.6 million for the six months ending Feb. 28, 2018. That compares to $99.9 million for the same period the previous fiscal year.
  • The $56.3 million decrease was primarily the result of a decline in grain and oilseed volumes in the grain marketing and country operations businesses, and lower prices across the majority of the Ag sub-segments.

Nitrogen Production

  • This segment is comprised of the Company’s investment in CF Industries Nitrogen, LLC (CF Nitrogen) and generated pretax income of $10.2 million during the first half of fiscal 2018 compared to $32.4 million during the same time in fiscal 2017.
  • The $22.3 million decrease in earnings was primarily due to a gain in fiscal 2017 of $29.1 million associated with an embedded derivative asset that did not reoccur in fiscal 2018. This was partially offset by improved prices on urea, produced by CF Nitrogen.

Corporate and Other

  • This category is primarily comprised of the company’s wheat milling joint venture (Ardent Mills), its investment in Ventura Foods, LLC (Ventura Foods) and its financing, hedging and insurance operations. Corporate and Other generated pretax income of $9.1 million in the first half of 2018 compared to $30.2 million for the same period of fiscal 2017.
  • The $21.1 million decrease was due to reduced interest revenue from the company’s financing business resulting from the sale of loans receivable and lower earnings from our investment in Ventura Foods.

CHS Elburn Harvest for Hunger raises over 700 pounds of food for local food banks

Students from Millbrook Junior High School’s 5th grade class enjoy their victory pizza party.

CHS Elburn partnered with Millbrook Junior High School to help fill local shelves. Millbrook Junior High School students raised over 400 pounds of food, approximately 445 items, for CHS Harvest for Hunger annual food, funds and grain drive organized by the Country Operations division of CHS, the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative.

Since the launch of CHS Harvest for Hunger drive in 2011, more than $4.7 million and 3.4 million pounds of food have been raised.

The food drive was a competition among grade levels with the school’s anti-bully group running the competition. Daily totals announced over the PA system encouraged the students to continue to bring in donations to help their class. The 5th grade class collected the most items and received a pizza party provided by CHS Elburn.

CHS Elburn locations also collected non-perishable donations at its facilities. This year the cooperative, combined with the donations from Millbrook Junior High, raised just over 700 pounds of food.  The food was distributed to pantries in the communities we do business in.

“Giving back to the communities in which we live and work is a core value for us.  Hunger is a reality for many in our communities and we may not even know it,” says Phil Farrell, CHS Elburn general manager.  “Through CHS Harvest for Hunger, we can make a difference.”


Demonstrating safety in the communities where we work


CHS now has more than 100 ResponsibleAg certified facilities from its CHS Country Operations and CHS Agronomy divisions. Out of all U.S. fertilizer facilities receiving this certification, CHS represents 12 percent of the total.

ResponsibleAg was started in 2014 to assist agribusinesses as they sought to comply with federal environmental, health, safety and security rules regarding the safe handling and storage of fertilizer products. The rigorous application process includes a checklist of more than 320 questions about federal regulatory requirements. To be certified as a ResponsibleAg facility, locations must be 100 percent compliant with the entire checklist.

“We strongly believe in defending the value of our owners’ assets,” said Pete Mutschler, director, Environment, Health and Safety, CHS Country Operations, and secretary of the ResponsibleAg Board of Directors. “We feel we are doing a very good job of managing fertilizer in a responsible way and felt strongly about joining an organization that will verify that we are doing things in the right way. ResponsibleAg gave us the actions we needed to back up our words. It also demonstrates to the communities in which we operate that we value their relationships as neighbors.”

CHS Ag Services based out of Warren, Minn., has 18 of 19 agronomy facilities certified through ResponsibleAg.

“It gives us another chance to look through our facilities from a different perspective,” said Bernie Perrault, safety coordinator, CHS Ag Services. “Talking with all of the location managers, they have actually picked up a few items that we probably never would have looked at before. It’s been a good learning experience.”

CHS sought out certification as a way to show its owners how serious the co-op is about safety and protecting the value of owners’ assets.

Students storm the Hill with fresh perspectives and CHS support

When people ask CHS Government Affairs staff what it’s like to work as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., they’re always curious about how the political landscape has changed in recent years. Sarah Gallo, director, CHS Government Affairs, is happy to share anecdotes, but she’d rather discuss how the conversation about agriculture has evolved. Students, farmers and the ag industry will carry that message to Capitol Hill on National Ag Day, to be celebrated March 20 in Washington, D.C., and across the country.

“In meetings with policy makers, the viewpoints of producers are considered alongside those of both traditional and non-traditional allies and opponents,” Gallo said. “And while the diversity of voices should be applauded, it also serves as a reminder that being present in policy and regulatory conversations is critical.”

Gallo said the 100 FFA and AFA (Agriculture Future of America) students visiting legislators on National Ag Day sends a powerful message. She will meet with the students to share tips on how to succinctly deliver talking points to time-starved members of the Senate, the House of Representatives, their staff and aides.

“Agriculture is an exciting and innovative sector in our country. Students participating in Congressional meetings during National Ag Day activities can provide important perspectives as lawmakers craft legislation and regulations that will shape the farming industry for decades to come,” Gallo said. CHS has sponsored National Ag Day events for the past 25 years.

Gallo joined CHS in 2013, and said the fast pace and work is invigorating. “There is a certain thrill about walking the halls of Congress and participating in the democratic process. I am proud to work for CHS and have opportunities to interact with producers, particularly when the conversations are centered on navigating the complex, and often confusing, intersection of policy and politics. I strongly believe that this close connection to the people for whom I advocate has made me a more effective lobbyist.”

Gallo shares her commitment to agriculture in a blog, saying National Ag Day is a great way for all Americans to recognize and celebrate the value of American farmers and the agricultural industry. But, she said, it doesn’t have to end there. “Being an advocate for agriculture at home, in your neighborhood and in your community is what shifts the minds of lawmakers and transforms the landscape so that future generations can thrive in rural America.”

CHS also sponsors the National Ag Day essay contest, awarding $1,000 scholarships to two students submitting the winning written or video essays.

Hunger happens everywhere. Farmers, CHS team up to fight hunger in rural America


CHS Harvest for Hunger fights hunger in rural America


CHS is teaming up with local farmers to fight hunger in rural America. The CHS Harvest for Hunger food, grain and fund drive begins March 1 and continues through March 20 at your nearest CHS location.

“CHS does much of its business in rural America, and even though these rural communities are growing the crops that feed a hungry world, that doesn’t mean there isn’t hunger right here — the family next door, the neighbor down the street,” says Rick Dusek, executive vice president, CHS Country Operations. “We may not know who in our communities are going hungry, but through our CHS Harvest for Hunger campaign, we are helping local and regional food shelves feed those people in need.”

CHS Harvest for Hunger logo

Food insecurity exists in every country in America, according to Feeding America, but food insecurity is generally higher in rural households than urban. And one in six children in the U.S. face hunger.

Since 2011, CHS has raised more than $4.7 million and 3.4 million pounds of food through its Country Operations business units. Again this year, CHS locations across the United States are planning fun and interactive ways to rally the communities where they live and work to raise food and funds to fight hunger.

Financial donations are encouraged as they give food banks additional buying power to provide nutritious food at deeply discounted rates; $1 equals 6 pounds of food for area food banks. But food and grain donations are also accepted. Every donation counts.

“The food and funds raised by CHS Harvest for Hunger go directly back to local and regional food banks to help fill their shelves,” Dusek. “We are proud to partner with them to make every dollar stretch further.”

CHS Elburn will accept non-perishable goods from March 1 through March 20 at the following locations: Sycamore Agronomy, Sycamore Main Office, Elburn Office, Meredith Road, Newark Agronomy and Newark Grain. The food will be delivered to local food pantries.. When rural communities work together, they make a huge impact in the lives of those in need.

Help CHS Elburn Fight Hunger through CHS Harvest for Hunger 2018

CHS Elburn is gathering donations of food to help fight hunger. As part of CHS Harvest for Hunger food and fund drive, CHS Elburn will accept non-perishable goods from March 1 through March 20 at the following locations: Sycamore Agronomy, Sycamore Main Office, Elburn Office, Meredith Road, Newark Agronomy and Newark Grain. The food will be delivered to local food pantries.

Hunger is a reality for more than 40 million people in America, including 13.1 million children. Every pound raise through CHS Harvest for Hunger will go to local shelves to help friends and neighbors right here in our community. Help us fill the shelves by dropping off a donation at a location near you!

CHS Elburn Announces Board Election Results

Kent Kleckner Roger Nelson

CHS Elburn is pleased to announce the election of two new members to our Board of Directors: Roger Nelson and Kent Kleckner. Nelson and Kleckner were elected to a three-year term on the 7-member board at the CHS Elburn Annual Meeting on Feb. 12.

Kent Kleckner began farming in 1994 with his father in Maple Park, Illinois. In 2011 his father retired, and Kent is now farming 1,400 acres of corn and soybeans. He graduated from Joliet Junior College with a degree in Agricultural Business.

Roger Nelson began farming in 1975 with his brother as Nelson Partnership in Malta, IL. He farms 1,200 acres of corn and soybeans. Roger and his brother were farrow to finish hogs until 1997 and joined a sow center and presently are wean to finish marketing 3000 plus per year. Roger received his Bachelor’s degree in Agronomy and Ag Economics from University of Illinois Champaign Urbana

Other directors selected as offices for 2018 were:

  • Chris Gould, Board Chair
  • Richard Biddle, Vice Chair


CHS Elburn would also like to thank outgoing board members, Ed Gorenz and Mark Schramer, for their time spent on the CHS Elburn board.

© 2019 CHS Inc.