December 1, 2015

Scott Spohn Helps Put the Corn in Corn Flakes

Scott Spohn sees breakfast cereal a little differently than most of us. While most of his fellow corn farmers in Nebraska are growing corn to feed ethanol plants and livestock, Spohn's top customer is the country's most famous name in breakfast cereal--Kellogg's. "Our corn is ending up in everything from Kellogg's Corn Flakes to Corn Pops to Frosted Flakes," Scott said. "It's a point of pride that what we grow is giving people a good start to their day--and it also carries a lot of responsibility." The fact is that most of the corn grown in Nebraska does not end up in human food products. The vast majority of Nebraska's corn crop is fed to livestock in Nebraska and outside the state--or transformed into ethanol. Distillers grains, a co-product of the ethanol process, is also a high-value livestock feed.

However, some Nebraska corn farmers grow "specialty" corn hybrids developed for a specific use. White corn is used in tortillas and corn chips. (Nebraska is also the nation's leading producer of popcorn.) Some corn hybrids have a higher starch content which makes them well suited for ethanol production. A fifth-generation farmer, Spohn has found a good market for his food grade yellow corn by becoming a preferred supplier to Kellogg's. Each year, Spohn meets with buyers from Kellogg's headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan, when they visit his farm near Friend, Nebraska, to discuss which hybrids he will grow and to outline the management practices required to ensure integrity and quality--practices that are commonly used by corn farmers across the state. "Kellogg's wants corn hybrids with excellent milling characteristics so they can maintain consistency and quality in their food processing facilities," Scott said. "When corn is fed to livestock or used for ethanol production, it doesn't matter if it flakes or breaks. To a food processor such as Kellogg's, flaking and breaking are bad things."

Grain storage and handling is a critical step in the process since the food grade corn that Spohn grows cannot be mingled with other types of corn. He works directly with the Bunge grain facility in Crete, which keeps Spohn's corn segregated and handles shipments to Kellogg's plants across the U.S. Kellogg's needs corn all year long, not just when it's harvested in the fall. So Spohn has invested in on-farm storage to keep the Kellogg's corn distinct and separate from other corn he grows--and he delivers corn as needed to Bunge throughout the year. "Growing a specific type of corn with exacting standards and unique storage and shipping conditions adds to the workload and expense for us," Scott said. "At the same time, we are able to capture a premium price for that corn that adds value and revenue to our operation." Irrigation is a key factor in Spohn's ability to deliver on his promise to Kellogg's year after year. "Having water available for the crop regardless of weather conditions is huge," he said. "It also helps us manage that corn in ways that result in consistently high quality and reliable yields.

Scott Spohn is proud to be the fifth generation of his family to provide high quality corn for the marketplace. He's implementing practices on his family farm to sustain its value for future generations. "I want to see a sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth generation farmer in our family. This is something I want my kids and grandkids and great grandkids to do just like my grandpa and great grandpa did for me," he said. So the next time you pour yourself a bowl of your favorite corn-based Kellogg's cereal, it might be Scott Spohn's corn that makes your breakfast taste "GRRREAT!"

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