Innovation Profile: Emily Schmitt
Next Generation Continues to Focus on Innovation at Sukup Manufacturing Co
For nearly 60 years, innovation has driven Sukup Manufacturing Co. From its start on an Iowa farm to its current status as the world’s largest family-owned and operated manufacturer of grain storage, grain drying and handling equipment and steel buildings, the company has stayed focused on understanding the needs and challenges of farmer customers and developing solutions to meet those needs.
“The first iteration of the Sukup product line was actually a failure. It was grandpa’s redesign of the product that was an innovation in the industry, and set the course for our company,” said Emily Schmitt, chief administrative officer at Sukup. “Everyone who knows a farmer knows they are the first to try and solve any issue that arises, so Sukup has always been aligned with the innovative environment of agriculture.”
Sukup Manufacturing Co. is based in Sheffield, Iowa, the same community in rural north central Iowa where Eugene and Mary Sukup founded the company in 1963, and now employs more than 600 people. Sukup Europe/DanCorn in Denmark was acquired in 2015 (operating previously for 60 years prior), and Sukup added a steel receiving facility in Manly, Iowa, in 2015, and an additional manufacturing facility in Hampton, Iowa, in 2021.
Sukup has tripled its engineering staff over the past decade and brought in experienced business executives to expand knowledge base to keep up with the speed of advancements, technology and demand, said Schmitt.
The design of grain storage, handling and drying equipment systems – whether on farm, or at an elevator, processing or ethanol facility – are influenced by a number of factors, starting with customers’ desire to constantly improve productivity, efficiency, quality and safety. In addition, physical conditions such as the soil, seismic location rating, snow loads and type of grain contribute to the system design, as well as logistics of how often bins will be loaded and unloaded, and how they need to be connected to other facilities.
“We are also seeing a labor constraint on farm staffing, which also changes expectations and needs for our products,” she said. “Staying in tune with those constraints is important to engineering the solutions that allow farmers to be efficient and profitable.”
The company’s rural Iowa location is beneficial not only to stay connected to customer base, but lends itself to a dedicated and loyal employee base. Nearly 30% of fulltime employees have been with the company 10 years or more.
“As a company, Sukup prioritizes taking care of its employees, and providing meaningful employment that positively affects their families is a goal for me personally,” said Schmitt. “Every person walking through these doors is more than a number and we want to get to know each employee and their family.”
Schmitt is a member of the third generation of the Sukup family to work at the company. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University and a law degree from University of Iowa before joining the company fulltime in 2011.
“I grew up running in the halls here in Sheffield, which provided a unique experience watching the company grow over the years and hearing the perspective of my father and grandparents along the way,” she said. “Each generation at Sukup has brought their own perspective and experiences to the company, and the same goes for our third generation. We see technological advancements increasingly utilized on the farm, so staying at the forefront of ag technology is certainly one of our priorities.”
Innovation goes beyond product lines for farmers to the creation of Safe T Home®, a structure that can be used as home, medical clinic, school classroom or a variety of other needs in developing countries. The idea came from the company’s Safety Director following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The same technology and structural design that allow bins to protect grain quality while withstanding temperature and weather extremes provide an economical and safe option for housing.
The 18-foot diameter structure features a double roof to allow the interior to be about 10 degrees cooler than ambient temperature, constructs in six hours and features a lockable steel door, two windows that can be locked from within and a water collection system. For only $7,500, an entire home can be shipped to Haiti. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti with winds in excess of 145 mph, but all of the 200 Safe T Home structures prevailed with only minor damage. To date, about 400 homes have been built in Haiti, Africa and Peru.
“I was fortunate enough to go to Haiti two weeks after my grandfather’s passing to help build a Safe T Home and see the life-changing effect these homes have on their owners,” said Schmitt. “In a family-owned company, being nimble is an advantage, and in this instance, it has saved a countless number of lives.”
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