SHEFFIELD, IOWA, US — Steve Sukup has officially stepped into his new leadership role as president and chief executive officer of Sukup Manufacturing Co. and is focused on the company’s development and growth.
He replaces Charles Sukup, former president, who announced in November 2019 his plan to transition to chair of the board of directors. Both Steve and Charles have served in their previous roles since 1995.
In his prior role as vice president and chief financial officer, Steve Sukup has been integral to the company’s innovation and growth. His contributions include the advent of the grain bin product line, expanding manufacturing capacity, and growing Sukup’s footprint in commercial sales.
World Grain recently spoke with Steve Sukup about becoming Sukup’s new leader, future goals and the company’s dedication to its customers and community.
WG: As you move from vice president and chief financial officer to chief executive officer, what accomplishments are you most proud of?
Sukup: Growth and innovation have been key to our accomplishments over the years. One that stands out is our decision in 2001 to begin manufacturing grain bins. At the time, our dealers and farmers were asking for a “one-stop-shop” to meet their grain storage and handling needs. Other companies were getting out of bin manufacturing, but we listened to our customers and decided to move forward with the bin product line.
WG: What have you learned from your father Eugene and brother Charles about leading the company?
Sukup: Dad was an innovator by nature. The company’s first product and dad’s first patent was for a stirring machine. That came out of him saying, “There has to be a better way!” to break up clumps of grain that formed in the bin. As we move forward, that spirit of innovation will continue to drive us to make the products that will help our customers store and manage grain in a way that is efficient, profitable and safe.
WG: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities that Sukup faces in the next five years?
Sukup: In the short term, Sukup is doing our best to handle the COVID-19 situation in a way that is responsible when it comes to our employees’ and dealers’ health and safety. At this time of year, we are busy producing equipment to fill orders, so the challenge is producing products at high capacity while being flexible and safe to protect employees and dealers from COVID-19.
Other areas where we’ve seen some challenges are volatility in world commodities and currencies. We have seen highs and lows in commodity markets for steel, grain and energy, and these are all key markets for our business. Sukup currently has products in 85 countries and has a presence in Europe and Asia, so import and export issues have an impact on us.
WG: Transitioning into your new role, what innovations or growth are you looking forward to spearheading?
Sukup: I have put a focus on developing Sukup’s commercial product line. Ethanol production is an important market for our farmers, and we are committed to creating the highest quality and greatest capacity commercial equipment. Sukup currently has designed and manufactured the largest free-span grain bin in the world, which holds just under 2 million bushels.
Another growth area is one of Sukup’s most recent product lines — pre-engineered steel buildings. Steel buildings and building components transcend the agriculture industry, and we have already seen Sukup steel buildings used for a wide variety of purposes, including airplane hangars, a horse barn, furniture store, wedding chapel, a giraffe shelter at a zoo, and many farm, commercial and industrial buildings.
WG: Sukup describes itself as the world’s largest family-owned and operated manufacturer of grain storage, drying and handling equipment, and steel buildings. How does the company plan to maintain and enhance this reputation?
Sukup: In addition to a spirit of innovation, being family-owned and operated shapes our company culture. Three generations of the Sukup family, including my mom, Mary, are active in the business. My daughter Emily Schmitt, who is general counsel, is one of five third-generation family members involved daily in our operations. Son-in-law Andy Schmitt leads global supply chain efforts and son-in-law Matt Koch designs our industry leading QuadraTouch Pro dryer control system. Being family-owned allows us to stay close to our customers and motivates us to provide industry-leading customer service.
We also like to say that giving back is inGRAINed at Sukup. We are very active in our local community of Sheffield, Iowa, and on a state level. On an international level, we designed the Sukup Safe T Home®, which is a hurricane-proof shelter used around the world. You can find more than 300 of them in Haiti, where they have survived up to a Category 4 hurricane.
WG: With lot of the 2019 grain still in storage, plus the upcoming 2020 harvest not too far off, is there a strong demand for grain storage? If so, what is Sukup’s strategy to meet the demand? What grain handling and storage products do you offer to help overcome a wet harvest?
Sukup: We certainly see grain storage as a big part of many customers’ profitability strategy. In particular, we’ve received very positive feedback on our million-bushel bins and the value they can provide on the commercial side.
We at Sukup try to be as helpful as we can to farmers who harvest wetter-than-usual grain. We offer the industry’s most complete line of dryers. They can dry anywhere from 500 to 10,000 bushels per hour, meeting the needs of almost any farmer or commercial grain terminal operator.
WG: What are some of the grain handling issues or trends you are tracking to help you understand the challenges that your customers and Sukup face?
Sukup: One thing we are seeing that impacts our grain handling products is a demand for higher quality grain by end-users. To meet that demand, Sukup offers a number of products that move grain more gently and result in higher quality grain. For example, our paddle sweeps, bucket elevators and conveyors work individually and together to move grain with less damage than traditional augers.
WG: How have trade issues between the US and China and the recent outbreaks of Asian Swine Flu and Coronavirus impacted the global grain handling and storage industries and Sukup?
Sukup: Trade issues and the global pandemic have injected a level of uncertainty into the manufacturing and agriculture sectors. China could be a significant market for ethanol production and is certainly a major buyer of agricultural commodities. We are keeping a close eye on both issues, but also focused on our manufacturing operations here in the U.S. We’re working hard to get product orders filled for farmers and commercial customers, and hopeful for timely resolution to the trade and pandemic issues.
WG: Sukup’s dedication to innovation was recently highlighted by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) recognizing five of the company’s products as among the top ag innovations of 2019. What is up next for Sukup in finding ways to make grain handling and storage more safe, profitable and efficient for farmers and the agriculture industry?
Sukup: One product we’ve seen a tremendously positive response to is our mixed-flow dryer. It includes several patented features. It dries and moves grain more evenly and at a faster pace. This results in better quality, higher test-weight grain coming out of the dryer. As we move forward, we will continue to keep efficiency, safety and profitability of farmers top of mind. We also consider environmental impacts, such as minimizing grain dust and particles from our equipment.
Another wave of the future will be the automated control systems and connectivity. The upcoming generation of farmers will demand products that allow for remote operation, and “smart systems” in which products are interconnected and talk to each other. Our cloud-based MySukup.com grain handling and storage equipment control system was one of the recent ASABE award recipients.
WG: In 2018, Sukup designed and built grain bins for a grain entrapment film, “Silo.” What drove Sukup to help create the set?
Sukup: When the producer first approached us about this project, we initially had some reservations about the idea of one of our bins appearing in a film about a grain entrapment. However, after learning more, it became clear that the focus of the story was on a grain entrapment RESCUE and the larger issue of farm safety. Since the film has come out, the response has been much greater than we could have imagined. We hear story after story of people seeing the film and sharing personal experiences, they’ve had with grain entrapment, and why awareness is absolutely critical. If this film allows one farmer or rescuer to learn about grain entrapment and helps him or her save a life, our contributions to the film will be more than worth it!
WG: Sukup has been in business for 57 years. What has been key to the company’s success? What has allowed the company to grow and stay in business for so many years?
Sukup: Over the years, Sukup has developed a reputation for manufacturing the highest quality products, for unmatched customer service, for giving back to the community, and for innovating to meet the needs of farmers. I farm, as do many of our employees, so the needs of the agriculture industry are always at the forefront as we design and manufacture our products. Our willingness to stay close to our dealers and customers, relative to our big corporate competitors, has allowed us to best understand those needs and in turn make the best products to meet them.
WG: As a family-owned and operated company that values personal customer relationships, how does Sukup separate itself from its competitors?
Sukup: We pride ourselves on providing the best service possible for our dealers and customers. When you call Sukup, you will not get an automated menu – you will get a real person who is there to answer your questions or direct you to someone who can. We feel that this closeness to dealers and other customers allows us to better understand the needs of the agriculture community, and in turn create the most effective solutions for their needs.