How automation and technology is changing the feed business
BRANDON – There's a big hole in the ground in the middle of the Fond du Lac County village of Brandon, which will soon tweak the feed and grain business across the region.
By January, grain and feed supplier Insight FS hopes to complete a $4 million feed mill in the middle of Brandon. Aiming to stay ahead of industry trends and new regulations, the company is automating the new mill and adding advanced technology.
Instead of lugging sacks of goods, workers here will log in to software that controls the mill, said Steve Hellenbrand, feed marketing manager for the company.
"When you put together a mill like this, and it's automated, the jobs are different than what you would think of in a traditional mill," Hellenbrand said. "The mill operator, instead of dumping bags of feed, sits behind a computer screen."
Though the new mill will create 12 jobs in Brandon, they'll require a different set of skills, like experience in logistics, or running a computer system. Like other pockets of agriculture, automation and technology is changing the nature of this business.
Insight FS expects the new feed mill to produce some 37,000 tons of goods each year. On a recent afternoon, leaders from the company and local government gathered to christen the project.
"Today's a great day for Insight FS, the village of Brandon and I think also for the Wisconsin farming community," said State Sen. Keith Ripp, R-Lodi. "The new business opportunity will open up numerous opportunities in terms of jobs and again, strengthen Wisconsin's agricultural cooperatives throughout the state."
But Insight FS is also trying to stay ahead of new rules governing food production with the new mill.
Insight FS planned its new facility to comply with the federal Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law in 2011. The vast rule change requires higher sanitation standards, and aims to force food producers to preempt outbreaks of contamination, rather than reacting to them.
For Insight FS and other companies, the new rules are causing consolidation.
New technology and greater production at the new Brandon mill also means Insight FS will phase out two others in Southern Wisconsin. The company has moved workers from a mill in Argyle to another location, and has decommissioned another mill in Ixonia.
Among other things, the new rules require Insight FS to install an advanced dust collection system. The intended result is a work space with little or no dust hanging in the air, Hellanbrand said. Dust can be dangerous — particles hanging in the air can ignite and cause explosions.
But while the new rules may cause consternation among some in this industry, Hellenbrand said, Insight FS is trying to use the new rules as an opportunity to invest in what's next.
"Agriculture, if you go to the trade shows, you'll see lots of technology, lots of computers," Hellenbrand said. "So agriculture, very quickly, is becoming very modern, very computerized. It's different than what it was 20 years ago."