All Systems Go

Grain storage business has served growers for generations

By CJ Woodring

Equipment is a major component of a successful farm operation. For most growers, that includes storage, handling and
drying systems.

With locations in central and northwest Indiana, Indiana Farm Systems has been the go-to company for many farmers for decades. And a 2015 ownership transfer ensures the family-owned and operated business will continue for decades more.

Established in Russiaville years earlier as Hendrickson Distributing Co., Indiana Farm Systems (infarmsys.com) provides full-service farm and commercial grain storage, grain handling and grain drying systems, from conception and design through installation and after.

As a dealer for Brock, Westfield and DMC products, IFS employs a combined staff of 18 in Russiaville and Hebron.

President Dan Trost built grain bins when he was a college student in his home state of Illinois before working as a sales rep for 10 years. His next move was to Indianapolis-based Farm Fans, where he served as district sales manager before undertaking the role of product manager for GSI Group (gsiag.com) in Assumption, Illinois. Finally, he returned to Farm Fans as district manager until 1992.

Trost and a partner established Indiana Farm Systems in 1993.

“It’s the same thing I’d been doing for 15 years at the time, and I felt I was pretty good at it,” he says. “An Ohio dealer and I were partners for about five years, then I bought him out.”

In addition to sales, Trost worked on Farm Fans dryers for 35 years, often involved in design work, and adding to his expertise in construction, service and manufacturing of grain storage.

IFS isn’t unique in Indiana — Trost says about 20 such companies are located throughout the state — but few others, perhaps, carry the name recognition and cachet. Or provide service for systems they didn’t install.

“Farm Fans sold out to GSI about 2000,” Trost says. “They’ve been merging both lines of dryers into one. So all the old Farm Fans service is being lost because it’s not being supported at a manufacturer’s level.

“I’ve sort of become the ‘old guy’ and help other dealers troubleshoot problems, so I work by phone with individuals from the East Coast and Florida to everywhere in between,” he explains. “Somehow, my name just comes up on their list as someone to contact.”

As for installations, Trost hopes that the company’s decades of hands-on experience paired with 21st century technology and customer service make IFS an industry leader.

“Our thing with service is that we try to get to somebody on the same day if they call in by 2 p.m.,” he says. “It helps to bolster our relationship, and they remember us the next time they want a grain dryer or anything else.”

Although a typical customer doesn’t exist, Trost says, most owners of a large farm, ranging between 3,000 and 15,000 acres, are adding to current systems rather than replacing them. And about 60 to 75 percent of those installations are to repeat customers.

IFS limits its work range to a 50-mile radius, Trost’s reasoning being that, “if you do a good job, you don’t have to go any farther than that.”

Customers typically know in which direction they want to go, he says. And when it comes to the size and type of equipment and conveyors, systems are uniquely individualized, he says.

“Some people have a certain bushel need because of a contract. Others want to put in as large a container as they can within a specific space. We fine-tune what they want, tell them the options and what it might cost.”

Although Trost says he’s not quite old enough to retire, his succession plan ensures the company’s survival for at least the next 30 years: In January 2015, he transferred ownership to his son, Adam, and Adam’s wife, Claire.

Adam Trost was 6 years old when his father purchased IFS. Adam spent summers working there, beginning as a high school freshman. After earning a degree in construction management from Purdue University, he joined the company in 2010.

The 29-year-old is involved in sales and company operations, scheduling projects, dispatching crews, coordinating material delivery and pickups.

“Dad runs day-to-day stuff, and when construction season comes, I’m out on the job coordinating crews,” he says. “In the future, I see myself heavily involved in the operation side of it and having somebody else running sales.”

Sales and service

Bob Resler is a native Hoosier who grew up in Oaktown in Knox County. Now beginning his 40th year in the industry, he’s been a manufacturer’s rep involved with wholesale and retail sales. He has been with IFS for 24 years, specializing in design and construction management of farm-based and commercial projects.

“I go out and listen to what their (farmers) ideas are,” he says. “If they have an existing facility, I take measurements and draw out what they have now, and then incorporate what they want to do.”

Echoing Dan Trost, Resler considers himself an old-timer, still executing drawings by hand rather than by computer. Once customers approve those drawings, he says, he specs out materials and makes routine on-site visits throughout construction to ensure installation is going as intended.

It’s all about follow-up service and loyalty.

“I have some customers I’ve worked with every few years for 25 years, so I try to build up a relationship with a customer that extends a lifetime,” he says.

Among those customers are Don and Bruce Brown, who farm about 7,000 acres at Tip Top Farms near Battle Ground.

Back in 1990, the Browns made their first major expansion. Resler, affiliated with another company at the time, sold them a farm dryer, which they added on to in stages. When the dryer caught fire in 2008, they looked to a different style: a bigger, commercial tower. They also looked again to Resler, who by then was employed by IFS.

“Bob sold us our first project and directed design and construction of it,” says Bruce Brown. “That project, and the subsequent one he also designed and supervised, was done professionally and with good results.

“Just about every year we’ve made some improvement or expansion, and Bob and IFS have been involved with all of them. We’ve been very happy with their work.”

The brothers built their grain-handling system over a 25-year period, adding commercial-grade Brock bins and a Brock tower dryer running on natural gas, which normally allow on-farm drying and storage of the corn and soybeans they harvest.

Their system recently was expanded by IFS to include a second contiguous receiving pit and leg that allow for unloading a standard hopper bottom grain trailer with one stop.

The original dump pit, still in operation and also designed by Resler, utilizes a 450-bushel pit and a 9,000 bu./hr. receiving leg; the new adjacent pit holds 225 bushels with a 14,750 bu./hr. receiving capacity.

Those two legs feed two wet holding bins, with a combined capacity of about 115,000 bushels. The dryer has a rated capacity of 4,700 bu./hr.

Dried corn is screened before being transferred via drag conveyors to storage bins ranging in size from 48,000 bushels to 205,000 bushels each. Total storage capacity is about 1.1 million bushels.

“Most of the bins are built with fully aerated floors and a drag conveyor in a tunnel underneath, so bins are elevated and conveyors are at ground level,” Brown says. “These conveyors add reliability and move the grain more gently when compared with augers, thus minimizing broken grain.”

Brown cites location and service as primary reasons they continue to work with IFS. “They’re conveniently located, which is certainly a benefit if we’ve got something going on and need some help. And they have good follow-up service.

“And, obviously,” he adds, “we really think a lot of Bob Resler, because there are competitors who do that sort of thing that we could be using.”

As for what the future holds, “our bread and butter typically has always been the farm side of things, and we see a lot of farmers demanding turnkey projects, where they only want to deal with a single contractor and not coordinate with a lot of them,” Adam Trost says.

Today’s technology will continue to play an increasingly important role, he says. “A lot of farmers are wanting to operate from tablets and smartphones. For example, they want instant information on the temperature of their bins. So we’re looking at demands for faster equipment and larger storage, especially as the younger generation comes in.”