Mike Stamp welcomes employees from all walks of life. He says it enriches his farming operation by building a diversity of talent that currently includes mechanics, electricians and others, which helps improve his self-sufficiency.
Editor's Note: As of Nov. 19, Stamp Farms and Northstar Grain face uncertainty moving forward, with new concerns that the approach to full-circle farming might not be working. Read more.
Top priority is "filling in the gaps"
You might say Mike Stamp has a DIY attitude. "I’ve always wanted to be self-sufficient," says the Decatur, Mich., corn and soybean farmer. "If we need to build something, we can make whatever we need to make. We can do whatever we need to do."
This motivation has driven innovation and growth for Stamp, which is an important part of why he was chosen as a 2012 Top Producer of the Year finalist.
His accomplishments have literally altered the Decatur skyline, with a set of bins that can collectively hold 4.2 million bushels of grain. He ships the vast majority of that grain via rail, and has laid nearly 10,000 feet of track to connect his farm to the main line. With more than 43,000 acres, he employs 78 people during peak season.
Not bad for someone who’s only been farming for 16 years.
Stamp started with just $1,000 left in the bank after he purchased 240 acres and began custom farming on several hundred more acres. Growth happened sporadically but steadily from there. This year, more than $70 million worth of grain is expected to move through his operation.
Hidden Profits. The purchase of Northstar Grain LLC in 2007 really put things in motion. Upon buying the company, Stamp set about boosting bin capacity from 150,000 bu. to 400,000 bu. For Stamp, it was merely a strategic move to allow him to store more of his grain. But a hidden asset soon revealed itself. The remnants of an old railroad spur, nearly forgotten and half-covered in weeds, lay directly behind the mill.
"None of it was functional," Stamp says. "It was there, but we would have to rebuild all of it."
A rebuild would be costly—more than $4 million, in fact—but Stamp saw an opportunity others might have written off.
"I’m always looking at the bigger picture," he says. "What are the hidden costs and profits? The rail gives us a 20¢ to 40¢ margin advantage, and that pays back the initial cost pretty quickly."
"If we grow, great. If we
don’t, great. We don’t need
to grow, but we will if we
The move was just one of many that has kept Stamp on good terms with his bankers. His bankers balked initially at the expense of Northstar and the rail spur expansion, so Stamp, true to his DIY nature, began the project using his own capital. "We had to just build part of it with our own money to show the banks the returns—it was a little risky, but it paid off," he says.
- November 2012