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  • Last modified 11 days ago (Dec. 6, 2017)

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Retiring co-op manager concerned for young farmers

Staff writer

Mike Thomas will retire at the end of this year after 25 years as an employee of Cooperative Grain and Supply in Marion. He was manager for 15 years.

Thomas said he has enjoyed dealing with producers and trying to help them with their concerns.

“What bothers me is that almost all the producers I started with are gone,” he said. “A lot of farmers are in their 70s, so there’s a real turnover coming.”

He said the ag economy is in a slump, making it tough on young producers. The older farmers have been through tough times and can survive, he said, but it’s a lot harder for the young producers, considering what it takes to farm.

When Thomas took the job in 1992, he already was somewhat familiar with the ropes.

Back in high school in 1971 and 1972, he worked summers loading railroad cars with wheat.

“That was back when they could hire high school kids,” Thomas said.

It also was a time when a train ran through Marion.

The Marion native studied auto mechanics at Butler County Community College after high school, then worked on ranches and for commercial feedlots before coming to the co-op.

He and his wife, Gayle, own a farm east of Marion, and he is looking forward to spending more time on his cow-calf operation. He will turn 65 in June.

“We started having kids, and I decided I needed to have some insurance and other benefits,” he said.

Thomas’s first job was in the elevator, working with Val Stika. He sometimes worked weekends in the office during busy harvest times and became manager in 2002.

Thomas said his biggest challenge always has been getting the harvest in.

When he started, producers used small farm trucks and pickups to haul grain. Not many trucks had hoists. The elevator was equipped with a lift to raise the front end for dumping.

“That’s when the lines were all the way back to the Marion County Record office,” he said. “Semi-trailers had to haul grain out during harvest, making things even busier.”

Now that many farmers have their own semi-trailers and grain trucks with hoists, the elevator lift has been removed.

Two new bins were erected, one in 2007 and the other in 2012, providing for more than one million bushels of storage.

“It’s all about speed and space,” Thomas said. “Our storage has more than doubled during my time.”

He said the co-op’s marketing arm, TMA, does a good job of emptying out bins before harvest starts, so the co-op can wait until after harvest to haul grain out.

The office has seen many changes, as well. An outside probe delivers grain samples into the office. All records are computerized. Test weight and moisture are punched in, and the computer automatically figures splits and dockage.

“It’s sped things up so much,” Thomas said.

Mike and Gayle have been married for 38 years. Their son, Adam, and his wife live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and have a 14-month-old son. Son Ryan is married and lives in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

The Thomases are looking forward to more lengthy visits with their family. His job has limited them to visiting only a few days during the winter months.

Thomas hopes to provide seasonal help as a truck driver for area co-ops and farmers.

“I’ve hardly been in the field or ridden a combine because I’ve always been busy at work,” he said. “I am looking forward to enjoying harvests.”

Last modified Dec. 6, 2017

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