Grain commodity manager for Glacial Lakes Energy challenged every day

Australian native learned grain trade in Midwest

Connie Sieh Groop
Special to the Farm Forum

As the Grain Commodities Manager for Glacial Lakes Energy, Belinda Crompton tracks world markets and works closely with local ag producers to deliver corn to the company’s processing plant at Mina. Glacial Lakes Energy comprises four ethanol plants: Watertown, Mina, Aberdeen and Huron. Combined, Glacial Lakes Energy purchases 123+ million bushels of corn per year, produces 351+ million gallons of renewable ethanol per year, produces 918,000 tons of feed products/distillers grain per year and produces 51,000 tons of corn oil.

When you hear Belinda speak, you can tell she’s a long way from her home. When she was 22, Belinda flew to Los Angeles from Australia. It was time, in 1997, for her to get out into the world and travel a bit. She hated the big city and decided to check out the Midwest. She landed in Omaha where she fell in love with the people, the wide-open country and agribusiness.

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Belinda learned the business from the ground up. When in Omaha she got married and applied for a trading assistant position. She said, “Luckily, I just happened to get paired up with the most aggressive trader at ConAgra, who took me under his wing. At the time I didn’t know what a barge was or a soybean. The only thing I knew about ag was you bought horse feed at a feed store. I learned from the best.”

Belinda moved to Aberdeen to work for Glacial Lakes Energy in December 2018 right before the Boxing Day storm and then experienced her first-ever blizzard in February 2019 and again in March. “It’s probably the hardest job I’ve ever done and the most rewarding. I love it! Every day I learn something new. I know we are making a difference. We buy corn to make ethanol and feed.”

Best of all, “I love having direct contact with producers. When they have a problem, they figure out how to fix it. I feel the same way. I love the challenge. Every day when I come to work, it’s like we are pulling out a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. During the day, we work hard to fit everything in place and not lose any pieces.”

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Challenges? There have been a few. “In the history of farming, there have been great years, there have been bad years, and there have been horrible years,” Belinda said. “And then there is 2020. If there is anything we can learn from the pandemic, it is that we can’t predict what we are dealing with now. We have to look at the opportunities that are out there. I tell producers, ‘when you make a decision on marketing your crop, it’s wrong. It’s always wrong. As a producer, you sold to much, too little or too low. As a corn buyer, I’m on the other side of the coin, but the fundamentals are the same.’ We look at each situation and try to maximize the opportunity for both our producers and Glacial Lakes Energy.”

Through it all, “We fight, scratch and claw to get a quarter of a penny more. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is not. We have to make snap decisions about financials in the blink of an eye. It’s the right decision at that time.”

Ethanol use directly impacts the farmer’s bottom line and the best way to raise prices for corn is to use the fuel. Glacial Lakes Energy spearheaded the E-30 Challenge in Watertown and Aberdeen. (See http://www.glaciallakesenergy.com/events/201602_E30_Challenge_Newsletter.pdf.) All company vehicles run on E-30. None are flex-fuel, none have any issues related to using E-30. “We hope that as people are out of quarantine, they jump in their pickups to drive to see grandma. That is what will increase the use of ethanol and demand for our product.”

In the last two months, with the coronavirus, “We’ve had to work with producers and shareholders to figure out the best way forward. Thank goodness Glacial Lakes Energy has the best and the brightest to navigate us through the tough times. And all employees have been cautions and conscientious about sanitizing work areas and outside interactions so as to not introduce the virus to the plant.”

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She shared, “I don’t know how to plow a field, rewire a combine or fix fence. I sit behind my computer and make decisions that impact farmers. I need to have farmers farming tomorrow. I’m selfish, I want farmers to be successful in their operations and success for GLE and its shareholders. We strive to achieve that win/win relationship for both parties.”

Price for corn is driven by demand. “I would much rather buy corn at $4.50 than at $2.70 or $2.80 as farmers are in much better moods. But it depends on the market. Last year, there was a lot of corn that went in late and didn’t dry down. The producers are facing constant pressure throughout the year. These farmers work incredibly hard for long hours. I have a lot of respect for them.”

“At the end of the day, it was a smart move for me to move to South Dakota,” she said. “Apart from the brutal winters, Aberdeen is a great town and the plant is full of people like me who want to help the producers do the best job they can do.”

Belinda said, “A lot of our producers have forward contracts that look really good their books today, but there is a lot of corn sitting on farms that is unsold.” She believes, with the latest USDA report showing a carry out of 3.3 billion bushels, that this market may take a long time to recover back to pre-virus levels. “As an end user, my bias is generally bearish; the producers are the eternal optimists that we go higher.

“The market is never stagnant. Things can shift in the blink of an eye as the impacts of world events don’t stop changing. That’s why I love my job; it’s never boring.”

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