(Newell Grain Growers Association) Manager helps even out co-op's
ups and downs
revives grain co-op in area troubled by battle for irrigation
Krizo for the Capital Press
manager of Newell Grain Growers Association, inspects a
handful of white wheat from a 6,000-ton pile.
General manager of Newell Grain Growers Association near
Tulelake, Calif., in the Klamath Basin
Hometown: Tulelake, Calif.
Education: Bachelor's degree from Oregon State University
in agronomic crop science
Family: Wife, Jill; son Spencer, a high school senior; and
daughter Lexie, a high school sophomore
Tulelake, Calif. -
Ron Greenbank's dream was to return home and give to the farm
community that he loved.
Greenbank received his bachelor of science degree from Oregon
State University in agronomic crop science, where he studied plant
breeding, crop production and agribusiness.
"I felt, with my agricultural degree, I had something to offer the
area," he said. With his interest in different aspects of crop
production, he became general manager of Newell Grain Growers
Association in 1980 at the age of 25.
Greenbank's father was the Modoc County ag commissioner, and his
grandfather, Earl McFall, had received a homestead in 1938. His
other grandfather had helped build the Klamath Reclamation Project
on the former Tule Lake.
"I wanted to be part of this kind of community, but you about
needed a parent farming to actually farm," Greenbank said. "This
was my way to participate in agribusiness and their way of life."
Farmers formed Newell Grain Growers Association in 1954. The
grower-owned cooperative helped them become more competitive in
the market. The co-op also offered centrally located storage bins
and group insurance for members.
During his tenure, Greenbank and the co-op have weathered many
crises and changes.
In 2001, the Bureau of Reclamation shut off irrigation water to
1,100 Klamath Project farmers to save the water for endangered
fish. With water rights "appurtenant to the land" written into
their deeds, many farmers did not believe the shut-off could
happen and were not prepared. Without adequate water, most could
not grow crops that year, and many went bankrupt.
"When people don't have guaranteed water, the banks don't want to
loan," Greenbank said. "We had to find another bank."
Another challenge is fluctuating grain prices and yields.
He said the co-op's highest tonnage was 36,000 tons in 1983, and
the lowest was about 12,000 tons in 2001.
He said less grain was grown between 1996 and 2001 because low
potato prices forced many farmers to switch to hay, which stays in
the field seven years. That meant there was less ground for the
usual grain-potato rotation.
Even with the recent spike in wheat prices, generally low grain
prices have presented a challenge.
"We couldn't go back to prices of two or three years ago at $80
per ton grain," Greenbank said. "Our expenses are up $300-400 per
acre to produce grain. The prices must be $115-$120 per ton to
break even. The power rate is increasing 2,500 percent. Fuel has
nearly tripled from three years ago. Our fertilizer is produced by
fossil fuel; the cost is way up for spray rigs and gas. Cost of
renting land is up."
Bill Heiney, president of Newell Grain Growers board of directors,
said when the prices went downhill, some of their buyers went out
of business, breaking contracts.
"Ron stuck with us and the co-op paid off," he said. "Ron did a
good job marketing."
He said Greenbank had to find another way of doing business to
deal with the costs, expenses and membership. One was to increase
the volume of grain.
In 1954 there were 80 people bringing in grain. Now there are 150
members, but only 15 harvesting grain.
"We began accepting non-members, and this year we have more
non-member grain than ever before," Greenbank said. "Grain is the
cheapest crop to grow, and a good rotation crop. We try to get
non-member grain for volume; the more grain we run through, the
less cost per ton."
Heiney said Greenbank kept the co-op together with his education,
management skills and people skills.
"Ron has a great rapport with the buyers," he said. "The tanks are
always in good shape; everything's clean and well taken care of."
He said Greenbank sells throughout the year, getting the growers a
"He has developed a top-notch seed program, where the co-op sells
clean seed to their members at cost," Heiney said.
Greenbank's philosophy is: "Keep your eyes open to any
alternatives. Don't take huge risks.
"We try to get a high average price," he added. "We make sure
everyone is on the same page. I inform the board members and work
with them on when to sell."
Member John Prosser said Greenbank talks with the growers about
the grain varieties and helps them decide what to grow.
"The elevator is open seven days a week to serve the member to get
his crop in, as late as you want," Prosser said. "And they treat
every grower equally."
He said he likes the tradition of family farms, and he's glad he
lives out in the country, "But it's a lot more fun when the prices
Freelance writer Jacqui Krizo is based in Tulelake, Calif.