Janesville66.8°

Grain elevator in Zenda puts farmers closer to market

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Kayla Bunge
July 11, 2009
— Jake Polyock and his business partners at Mor-Agra Grain are hoping to cash in on the resurgence of rail as the most viable method of transporting grain to market.

The group is building a grain elevator on 16 acres along the railroad operated by the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad in Linn Township. The elevator would store 4.5 million bushels of grain and fill about 50 trains, or 1,250 rail cars, a year.


"We're converting truck traffic to rail traffic," said Polyock, who would manage the facility. "We're building this elevator on speed and efficiency. We're capable of handling large amounts of grain in a short amount of time."


For decades, trains were the primary carriers of grain. In the 1980s and 1990s, trucks replaced trains as the main way to move grain. But recently, trains have regained their place; rail is a more efficient method of transporting large quantities of grain.


Polyock and his partners believe there is need for a rail-based grain elevator in the area to give local farmers an economical outlet to get their corn, soybeans and wheat to market. Transporting grain by train is cheaper than transporting it by truck because a train can carry more volume at a time, Polyock said. One train carries the same amount of grain as 90 trucks carry, he said.


"Most grain in the Lake Geneva area gets to Chicago by truck or is routed to other markets by truck and then to Chicago by train," he said. "We want to establish a more local market for local farmers."


The new facility will join a network of Mor-Agra elevators in Poplar Grove, Ill., Caledonia, Ill., and Afton—none of which has rail access.


"This will give their elevators another outlet for shipping grain," Polyock said.


The group has applied for a state Freight Rail Infrastructure Improvement Program loan to finance the more than $2 million project. Construction on the first phase of the project—two working bins with a capacity of 240,000 bushels of grain and the ability to fill one train, or 25 rail cars, a day—began late last week, and the first rail cars could be loaded with grain by early November.


The new facility will work in conjunction with an existing facility on the property, but the rail-based elevator will be used to move the majority of the grain.


The existing elevator has a capacity of 260,000 bushels of grain and fills about 400 to 500 trucks a year, a number that slowly has declined in preparation for building the new elevator. The new elevator will have a capacity of 4.5 million bushels of grain and fill about 50 trains a year.


Polyock said the entire project wouldn't be built for several years, between 10 and 30, depending on its success.


"It depends on how well the farmers respond and how well we can get grain sold to market," he said.


Polyock said he was uneasy about pitching the project—which included a rezone and conditional-use permit—to the township because its residents are known for opposing development. The town and county approved the request in the spring.


"I was nervous," he said, "but the community reacted in such a positive way. I got a lot of support, I think, because we're taking a step to maintain our agricultural heritage."



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