Squeezing value from every part of the kernel

Hopkinsville Elevator is laser focused on delivering value to its member-owners, growing consistently through both organic expansion and innovative, business savvy ventures since it was founded more than 50 years ago. 

Started by just 20 farmers, today the cooperative has 3,500 farmer members raising corn, wheat and soybeans across western Kentucky. Expanding its grain storage over the decades from 700,000 to its current 20 million bushel capacity, Hopkinsville processes 10 million bushels of wheat, 15 million bushels of soybeans and 75 million bushels of corn each year. Much of this growth was financed with long-time lender CoBank, also a cooperative. 

“All of our customer owners are looking to advance their businesses, meaning producing more and more grain, and we have to keep up with them as they grow,” says Eston Glover III, Hopkinsville’s general manager. “CoBank understands our business and the market volatility we often face, including years like this one, and they’ve always been there for us.”

Part of Hopkinsville’s success is due to its location: the co-op has both a river terminal facility, currently being doubled in size, and facilities on main rail lines. This enables it to sell its grain to the most lucrative buyer, confident it will be able to deliver via the most efficient and cost-effective route for every sale. 

The cooperative has also been successful because of its forward-thinking board of directors. One truly successful undertaking was the founding in 2004 of Commonwealth Agri-Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary and also a CoBank customer. Commonwealth buys more than one-third of Hopkinsville’s corn to convert into ethanol. In 2022, that amounts to 50 million gallons of ethanol made by fermenting the sugars in 16.5 million bushels of corn and used primarily to supplement local gas supplies. Commonwealth’s profits feed into Hopkinsville’s balance sheet, some finding their way to the cooperative’s members via patronage dividends – more than $40 million for 2022.

CoBank understands our business and the market volatility we often face, including years like this one, and they’ve always been there for us.

Increasing member value even further, Commonwealth ethanol plant produces other products from the corn it processes. Distillers Dried Grains with Solubles, DDGS, is a livestock feed which includes the fat, fiber and protein, mostly for nearby poultry. Corn distillers oil is extracted and sold separately as a livestock feed fat or for renewable biodiesel fuel feedstock. The fermentation process also releases a high amount of CO2, which is captured and piped next door to another company that makes dry ice. During the worst of the pandemic, Commonwealth began distilling food-grade alcohol to supply local distillers experiencing supply chain issues, and making hand sanitizer to supply the local market. 

“We strive to squeeze value from every part of the corn kernel and every step in the process,” says Mick Henderson, Commonwealth’s general manager. “It works so well because we have a reliable, local source for the corn and local markets for all of our products.”