A billion dollar business hides in plain sight, in villages like Ragan and Saronville. They're towns that might not have a school or a post office, but have a farm co-op that provides much more than fuel and fertilizer.
"We are extremely blessed in everything we do," Bob Fifield said.
The head of CPI gives thanks for the harvest, and what a year it's been. The farm co–op based in Hastings celebrates a billion dollars in sales. 70 percent of that comes directly from grain sales.
Fifield said, "We're the largest grain company in the state of Nebraska. In fact, we're the largest single storage facility in the state of Nebraska. A full service coop."
Continued demand for corn keeps prices high and CPI wants to help farmers grow more. They see a day where 300 bushels an acre is the norm.
"We want to get their highest yield, we want facilities that can handle when they do raise yields so we can get the crop off," Fifield said.
They've been adding speed and space, investing in communities like Hayland, Saronville, and Ruskin.
Dallas Tonsager, the USDA's head of rural development says that's one of the reasons co–ops shine, because of their service to the smallest of communities.
Tonsager said, "They go into areas to a largest extent that might not be served by private business."
Fifield agreed with that assessment. He said, "Sometimes we aren't as profitable in that community but we're providing a value to that community. Where else would you get a gallon of milk on a Sunday afternoon?"
In most of those communities, CPI is the largest employer, maybe the only one.
Yet Fifield at the board of directors tries to be nimble to take advantage of new opportunities.
He said, "I kind of joke with them we have to have seat belts on board chairs because we're going for a ride because there's a lot of opportunity to come down the road."
CPI was formed five years ago, but its history dates back more than a century.
They've diversified with tire and service shops, plus gas and groceries, even Godfather's Pizza and Mountain Mud coffee franchises.
And all of that is owned collectively by farmers.
Fifield said, "We're still based on coop principles this company was founded on. We believe strongly in that. We are a co–op, we are an extension of their farming operation so what they founded in 1906 is exactly what we're doing today."
CPI ranks as the 46th biggest co–op in the country. And they rely on co–ops like CHS, Growmark, United Suppliers, and Land O'Lakes for their fuel, agronomy, and feed.
"So we not only take our coop principles that farmers believe in, we believe in it with suppliers we choose to provide our products," Fifield said.
Contrary to what some mistakenly believe, co-ops do pay taxes. CPI has more than 600 employees and around 40 locations. Those taxes support schools and local services.
And when CPI makes money, it's reinvested locally.
"They don't go to some corporate office somewhere else, they stay right here and then we pay back patronage every year, we pay back estates, we pay off retirements. Truly what a cooperative is," Fifield said.
Senators Ben Nelson and Mike Johanns both signed on to a resolution, declaring this the year of the co–op, because of the billions and billions of dollars farm co-ops contribute to the economy.