Sukup: Innovation at the heart of Iowa agriculture’s heritage, future

Innovation | 03/13/2019

By Charles Sukup

Charles Sukup
Charles Sukup, President of Sukup Manufacturing Co.

This week, farmers and agricultural professionals are celebrating National Agriculture Day to recognize the vital role that agriculture plays in our society. Here in Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds has proclaimed the week of March 10 through 16 as “Agriculture Innovation Week” in Iowa.

It is the perfect time to celebrate the innovative thinkers, leaders and doers in our state. As America’s Cultivation Corridor, Iowa has built a global leadership position in agricultural production, manufacturing, research, education and entrepreneurship…and the best is yet to come.

My father, Eugene Sukup, was an innovator long before the term was fashionable. He simply saw a problem with how corn was drying in his grain bin and found a creative way to solve it. When his first manual “stirring auger” for grain storage bins didn’t sell, he listened to dealer and customer feedback, and went back to the drawing board to design an automatic version. It was more complicated and more expensive, but it solved a problem on his farm and many others across the state. It also taught him a valuable lesson that he passed on to his family and company: failure is not a dead end, it is an opportunity to learn and move ahead.

Solving that problem led to patents, identifying and designing solutions to more challenges for storing and drying grain. Over the decades, Sukup Manufacturing Co. grew to be the largest manufacturer of accessories for grain bins. We had to be the best at making fans, dryers and grain handling equipment in order to earn the business of bin manufacturers and dealers. In 2000, we took on the next challenge of manufacturing grain bins and have secured a place in the top three companies in our industry.

We are family-owned and operated, which allows our 700 employees at locations in Iowa and Pennsylvania to be nimble, flexible and respond quickly to customer needs. Our innovation has continued with 70 percent of sales now from products introduced in the past 20 years. Farmers in more than 80 countries use our products to store their crops, giving them more opportunities to market their grain.

The same focus, determination and work ethic that drove my father also pushed Iowa icons like George Washington Carver, Norman Borlaug and Henry Wallace to find new ways to increase agricultural productivity. It drives today’s farmers and livestock producers to find new ways to raise more food with fewer inputs while protecting our soils and water resources, and it is fueling the next generation of scientists, engineers, programmers and leaders.

There has never been a more exciting time to be involved in agriculture in Iowa, with jobs and opportunities in a wide range of industries in every corner of the state. Low commodity prices continue to challenge producers and have a ripple effect through communities, but I believe innovation and new technologies are allowing them to weather the current storm and be better prepared for future challenges.

Today’s age of information and the internet is a great equalizer. With new technologies and ability to connect, people can share information and knowledge more quickly than ever before, putting Iowa’s farmers and rural communities on an equal playing field with companies and cities around the world. They can optimize and create possibilities in ways that my father never even dreamed of.

This week, please join me in celebrating the innovations of people like my father that have led to Iowa’s ability to sustainably feed and fuel the world. And even more importantly, join me in supporting and cheering on the current and future generations of innovators currently at work in America’s Cultivation Corridor — where science feeds the world!