Global center unites grain experts

by Susan Reidy
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With an aging workforce and the increasing complexity of grain handling and processing, industry leaders say there is a need to pull together the expertise of grain organizations and universities.

The answer they believe can be found with the creation of the International Center for Grain Operations and Processing (ICGOP). The center will build on some of the partnerships already under way with Kansas State University’s (KSU) and the Grain Elevator and Processing Society’s (GEAPS) Distance Education program.

“We want this to be an internationally recognized and leading center for the grain and feed industry,” said Dirk Maier, ICGOP interim director and head of KSU’s Department of Grain Science and Industry. “It’s really a small number of individuals that have the expertise that we all have. We wanted to see how we could coordinate ourselves better to address the education needs, the training needs and the applied research needs for the industry. We have to look at how to prepare the industry as we lose people to retirement, and how we capture this knowledge for the next generation.”

The goal of the organization is to be a credible and trusted source for professional development, continuing education, credentialing and applied research. It won’t have a physical location but will rather be a virtual center operated by university and organization partners, Maier said.

It will cover all aspects of the grain handling and commodity utilization industries, focusing on three areas: grain handling and distribution; grain processing and product utilization; and environmental stewardship and safety interactions across the supply chain.

“We would expect steady expansion of the distance education program into processing areas, food safety and a variety of areas not covered right now,” said Dr. Charles Hurburgh, president of the ICGOP founding board and professor, agricultural and biosystems engineering, Iowa State University (ISU). “We would expand forward and backward up the chain into a lot of new areas beyond the nuts and bolts of grain moving equipment and aeration.”


Creation of the ICGOP grew out of conversations nearly three years ago about how to coordinate resources among different industry organizations and universities involved in grain and feed education, training and research, Maier said. After numerous discussions and meetings, many led by GEAPS, it was decided a center might be one way to bring the expertise together.

With an aging workforce, new people entering the workforce with little agriculture background, and the rising challenges of technology and climate problems, there is a growing need for the ICGOP, Hurburgh said.

“It’s obvious the industry needs to support its own training and research and development center. We can’t look to the government to provide the levels of public money that it has in the past,” he said. “All of those things together led to the idea that we could expand what is already there in the GEAPS distance education program.”

Along with KSU, ISU and GEAPS, the other groups working to establish the center include the Kansas Grain and Feed Association and the Agribusiness Association of Iowa. The founding members have created a board and are in the process of incorporating the ICGOP in Kansas.

“Once it’s incorporated, the next step will be to reactivate discussions with other entities and see to what extent they want to join,” Maier said. “We’ll create a more permanent board and grow membership.”

Board members will include representatives from stakeholder groups, KSU’s grain science department head, and the center’s director. The board’s duties will include directing and overseeing fundraising and endowment fund management; reviewing and approving budgets; reviewing and evaluating center objectives, activities and operation; and developing an annual report that includes a program plan and budget, results and expenditures.

While the ICGOP is envisioned as a virtual center, it’s expected KSU will be the lead institution and will be the physical location for the director’s office. Any ICGOP administrative support can be integrated with the existing grain science department.

KSU is an ideal location, according to the ICGOP website, because it is in the middle of the U.S., has a wide variety of on-campus and distance education courses that will likely be incorporated into the center, and has hands-on learning opportunities.

“We expect to have an operating contract with KSU for three to five years,” Maier said. “That would always be under review by the board of directors of the center. I like the idea that it holds us accountable.”

The founding organizations have made some initial fund commitments and in kind contributions, Maier said. Additional funding is expected to come from a dedicated endowment, KSU appropriated funds from existing programs, private and public grants, contract funding, program revenue and service income. It’s expected operating costs will be $1 million per year.

“Once we have the concept of the center more defined, we will have a fundraising campaign,” Maier said.

The first phase of the campaign will include organizing and conducting pre-fundraising marketing efforts to introduce the center to potential major donors. In the second phase, the focus will be on raising $5 million in one year, and $20 million within five years.


Organizers said the ICGOP will offer a wide range of programs including distance education course for handling, processing and related industry employee training; intensive hands-on training at multiple locations; credentialing to mark successful completion and encourage ongoing education; augmentation for on-campus programs; and applied research/problem solving for grain supply chain issues.

Eventually, it will encompass many of the programs already being offered by GEAPS and KSU, such as the distance education program. The ICGOP could also serve as the accredited body for reviewing the purposed grain credentialing program, Maier said, which also builds on the distance education program.

The credentialing program would take a tiered approach, where participants earn credentials based on courses they complete. Once a participant has completed the grain-operations management credential, they will have the opportunity to earn additional credentials in specialty areas. Eventually, a master’s level credential will be available.

“Somebody is going to have to review the credentialing to make sure the programs are being adhered to,” he said.

In the research area, Hurburgh said they would like the center to act as a thought leader. ISU will be a second operating point for the ICGOP, focusing on the applied research effort.

“Since the membership will be representative of the industry, we would like to identify some common themes or challenges that need to be addressed in an industry-wide fashion,” Maier said.

Some topics that could be addressed include management of large volume grain storage; monitoring and IT technologies; response to food safety concerns; standard operating practices; trace compounds; product evaluations; climate change/quality in processing; climate change, production shifts; regulatory policy impacts; whole supply chain challenges; environmental impact, carbon tracking; and science-based input to policy making.

“All of these things affect the grain supply chain front to back,” Hurburgh said.

“These are large forces that have an immediate impact on this industry. That’s what this center is all about; responding to those forces in a large format, scientific way.”