Sukup loses its founder, but not its strength

Grain storage firm navigates increasing costs: ‘Business has been staying strong’

-Submitted photo
Funeral services for Eugene Sukup, founder of Sukup Manufacturing Co. in Sheffield, will be held today at 10:30 a.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hampton. Sukup, 89, died Thursday.

SHEFFIELD — Tariffs have become front-page news, and no one knows this better than the team at Sukup Manufacturing Co. in Sheffield.

While the ag manufacturing company’s steel costs have soared 30 percent since November 2017, the company continues to grow.

“We try to absorb these costs as much as we can,” said Steve Sukup, chief financial officer. “Business has been staying strong.”

In fact, the company’s sales have grown eight times larger in the last 18 years, Sukup added. Sukup Manufacturing has become the world’s largest family-owned and operated grain storage, drying and handling equipment manufacturer. From its headquarters in Sheffield, the business includes 1 million square feet of office, manufacturing and warehouse space.

The company employs more than 600 people, making it one of the largest employers in north-central Iowa. Three generations of the family are now active in the business, which has become a leader in advanced manufacturing in Iowa.

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The Safe T Home measures 18 feet in diameter and is made entirely of metal. Safe T Homes are resistant to termites and moisture. They are also virtually earthquake-proof. Each home can sleep 10 or more people.

“We embrace the use of technology in agriculture,” said Sukup, who credits much of the company’s growth since 2000 to expansion from one product line into four product lines, including:

1. Portable and tower grain dryers. As farms have grown larger and clients’ grain volumes have grown, Sukup began looking into the portable dryer market in the late 1990s. Sukup Manufacturing’s dryers range from portable dryers that can handle 500 to 3,000 bushels per hour, to tower dryers that can handle up to 10,000 bushels per hour. “Our patented technology sets us apart from the competition,” said Sukup, who noted that his family’s company holds more than 80 patents.

2. Grain bins. Sukup Manufacturing produced its first grain bin in 2001, and manufactured its first commercial grain bin by 2003. The company recently worked with the Elite Octane ethanol plant in Atlantic to build two mega bins measuring 156 feet in diameter and roughly 16 stories high. The world’s largest free-standing grain bins have a capacity of 2 million bushels each. “A 757 jet could fit inside one of these bins,” Sukup said.

3. Conveyors and bucket elevators. Sukup Manufacturing also produces a line of material-handling equipment, including bucket elevators, drag conveyors and chain loop conveyors. “We made our first conveyors in 2005, and this line of the business continues to grow,” Sukup said.

4. Steel buildings. Around 2009, Sukup Manufacturing began exploring options to leverage its welding and metal expertise. This led to the creation of the company’s steel building product line. Since its inception in 2011, this product line has sold hundreds of buildings in 30 different states. In 2017, Sukup Manufacturing acquired the assets of SBC Building Systems in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. SBC’s facility has the capacity to fabricate and ship up to 600 tons per week of complete building systems. “We were very impressed with SBC’s operations and manufacturing capabilities,” Sukup said. “Their philosophy of using great people and the most advanced manufacturing equipment to produce the highest quality product aligns perfectly with ours.”

Today, Sukup Manufacturing’s wide variety of products are distributed throughout the U.S. and Canada.

“We’ve also sold our products in more than 80 foreign countries,” said Sukup, who noted the company has multiple distribution centers in America and one in Denmark.

Applying innovation with Safe T Homes

One of Sukup Manufacturing’s most unique products that has gained worldwide acclaim took root after a January 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti.

“Our safety director, Brett Nelson, wondered if we could try adapting our grain bins into durable homes,” Sukup said. “We said, ‘Yes, let’s see what’s possible.'”

This led to the creation of the Safe T Home. Measuring 18 feet in diameter and made entirely of metal, Safe T Homes are resistant to termites and moisture. They are also virtually earthquake-proof. Each home can sleep 10 or more people and features a double-roofed system that displaces heat. Each home also includes a full-size, lockable steel door, two windows that can be locked from within and a water collection system.

“We now have about 250 Safe T Homes in various countries, including Haiti, Uganda, Kenya and Peru,” said Sukup, who noted that his family’s company typically keeps 20 Safe T Homes in stock.

Safe T Homes have proven they can weather the storm. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti with winds in excess of 145 miles per hour. All 200 of the Safe T Homes prevailed with just minor damage. In contrast, the storm destroyed the vast majority of traditional homes in the area.

“Everyone in a Safe T Home came out safe,” said Sukup, who noted that each Safe T Home costs approximately $7,000, has a life expectancy of 75 years and can be assembled on-site with simple hand tools that are included with the Safe T Home.

Protecting the heath of rural Iowa

Sukup Manufacturing is also contributing to the quality of life closer to home.

In April 2018, the company opened an on-site, 4,000-square-foot health clinic for all employees at its Sheffield headquarters. The public can also use Sukup Health Solutions, which includes four exam rooms, two offices and one lab. A registered nurse and nurse practitioner from Mercy Medical Center — North Iowa staff the clinic.

Taking good care of its employees and customers drives Sukup Manufacturing.

“We’re excited about the future of agriculture and its role in feeding a hungry world,” Sukup said. “As we grow and serve more customers around the globe, our goal is to help them become more efficient and profitable.”

Sukup Manufacturing began in a welding shop in Sheffield

Eugene and Mary Sukup, founded Sukup Manufacturing Co. in 1963 in a welding shop in Sheffield, according to his online obituary.

“Eugene observed that pockets of grain in the bin overheated and spoiled, and he knew he could create a solution to this problem. After his initial attempt with a manual stirring auger failed, he came up with the idea of adding a horizontal auger through the handle of the drill to automate the process. He patented the idea, and the Stirway stirring machine and Sukup Manufacturing Co. were born.”

Sukup Manufacturing Co. now holds more than 80 patents and sells its products in more than 85 countries, according to Sukup’s obituary. The company has more than 700 employees and more than 1,000,000 square feet under roof worldwide.

“Sukup Manufacturing Co. remains the largest family-owned, full-line grain system manufacturer. Eugene served as president of the company for 32 years. His son, Charles, became president in 1995 and his son, Steve, became CFO. Eugene remained chairman of the Board of Directors until his death.”

In 2006, Eugene Sukup was inducted into the Iowa Inventors Hall of Fame.

Iowa State University conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Science degree to Eugene in the fall of 2015.