PORTERSVILLE, Pa. — Who knew storing and hauling grain for neighboring farms would bring success to Cooper Farms? That’s the question Gene Cooper often ponders to himself.
Cooper was raised on his family’s farm in Portersville just shy of Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. The farm started out as a dairy farm, operated by his father and grandfather.
Then one day, it all changed.
Gene said he was around 15 years old that summer day when he, his three brothers and his father left the farm to cut wheat.
Then, all of a sudden, the family saw the smoke, looked into the sky and immediately knew — it was the dairy barn.
They took off running toward the barn, but it was too late. The barn was destroyed. They were able to move a tractor and a wagon away from the blaze, however, loads of hay that hadn’t been unloaded were destroyed and the corn crib went up in flames. Fortunately, the cattle had been out on pasture.
Soon after the fire, the family decided a change was needed. Gene was the only one with an interest in agriculture and it was decided the dairy would not be rebuilt. So as soon as an auction could be set up, the dairy cattle went for sale.
Cooper’s dad kept the farm but developed an excavating business and continued grain farming, including doing custom work for neighbors.
After high school, Cooper bought a neighboring farm and, after marrying his wife, he started working at Builder’s Supply, driving cement mixer and block truck.
Where the dairy barn once sat, Cooper built a couple of bins and a Shivvers drying system for grain.
“I used it for years, it was a great fit for us,” Cooper said.
Then he bought a third bin. And then the neighbor started bringing his grain over to be dried and hauled.
Cooper said he started out with capacity for 25,000 bushels. Today, he has more than 300,000 bushel total capacity.
After trying to work off the farm and keep his grain business growing, he realized he couldn’t do both, and now devotes himself to his grain operation, realizing its full potential.
Besides the grain business, Cooper owns 275 acres and rents 180 acres, with the biggest field being a total of 8 acres in size. Because of the hilly terrain and soil types, and individual conservation plans where Cooper needs to farm strips, he has over 70 individual fields.
“It’s what I’ve always done. I like what I’m doing,” Cooper said.
Then, he added a semi-truck. “Once we started, more and more grain was brought in and that’s when I knew I was where I should be,” Cooper said.
Today, he dries, stores and hauls oats, soybeans, corn and wheat.
As his business continued to grow, another decision was made for additional bin construction, the introduction of a grain leg to the facility and a dump pit.
“It was everything I thought I would need… at the time,” Cooper said.
Then last summer, Cooper went back to the drawing board. He installed more bins, changed over to a tower dryer system and constructed a new truck scale system.
The truck scales are now located off of the newly constructed 144 feet long and 48 feet wide machine shed.
Last fall, he had the entire grain facility full. That meant he filled each of the 13 bins to capacity. His business now includes more than 200 customers who haul grain into the facility.
“I don’t know what we would have done without the new bins,” Cooper said.
Cooper and his wife, Debbie have raised three daughters, Jenny, Jill and Jaime, and his family is the majority of his help on the farm.
Jenny’s husband, Chris, helps out working on machinery and running equipment as needed.
Part of Cooper’s success is tied to having his own semi-truck. He works with Ram Trucking as an owner-operator so that when he hauls grain to a mill, sometimes there is a return load that he can haul back. The loads back range from lime for steel mills or for agriculture use. Other loads back include landscaping rocks.
“It makes the trucking pay when you have a load to haul back with you,” Cooper said.
Cooper said most of the corn he hauls to goes to the ethanol plant in Clearfield, Pa. The wheat, especially the red wheat, is hauled to Lancaster County where a group of mills are located. He sells the grain through a broker, who tells him where the grain should be delivered.
“It takes me all year to haul it out, but it keeps us going all year long,” Cooper said. “It never gets over. It’s just a constant task.”
He added everything has to be out of the bins in time for the new harvest.
“It’s gotten to be big business. It’s really expanded in the past couple of years,” Cooper said.