Fabin Bros. Farms Finds Niche in Western Pa.
INDIANA, Pa. — Being a crop farmer, a beef producer or both isn’t uncommon. But what is uncommon is to find a dairy farmer turn beef producer plus crops plus soybean processing.
Fabin Bros. Farms is just such a producer.
Further back than co-owner Rick Fabin can remember, the farm was originally a dairy, where he and his family grew up. But in 1985, he and his brother, Stan, entered into a partnership and began expanding into the cash crop business.
In the late 1980s, they exited the dairy business.
“We either had to modernize or move on,” Rick Fabin said. “The number of cows (in Indiana County) didn’t necessarily leave, but the dairies did.”
The Fabin brothers didn’t stop their farm transformations there.
Today, the farm includes a beef cow-calf operation with 125 to 135 cows, soybean processing, cash crops, commodity buying, bulk commodity trucking (FBF Transport), grain drying and storage, and grain processing.
One thing they don’t do is custom harvesting.
“We’re always growing,” Fabin said. “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving back. We want to stay ahead of the curve, grow and diversify. You’ve got to grow substantially to support the next generation. You have to envision growth.”
To help manage all of those enterprises, Rick and Stan Fabin have welcomed multiple family members, including some of their children, into the business, plus dozens of other employees.
Fabin Bros. Farms harvests more than 3,500 acres a year — corn, soybeans, wheat, oats and hay — all with the use of no-till.
“We’ve been using no-till for 15, 20 years,” Rick Fabin’s son, Andy, said. “We utilize the latest technologies and cover crops. It’s erosion control, lower imputs. We’re not burning through fuel. We don’t worry about how much of the field is eroded away with the rain. We plant (winter) rye and harvest just enough to grow the seed for next year.”
Most of their crops are marketed all over Pennsylvania, including some of the corn going to the Clearfield, Pa., ethanol plant.
While working in the cash crop business, the Fabins discovered a need in Western Pennsylvania for value-added products, specifically soybeans. Thus, they decided to build a soybean processing plant in 2009.
According to their website, www.FabinBros.com, “Each year we process more than 20,000 bushels of soybeans per week, which produces approximately 12,000 tons of Express meal and more then 350,000 gallons of oil.”
“You can blame that (soybean processing) idea on me. We wanted to develop a local market,” Rick Fabin said. “But I’m absolutely happy with the idea.”
Andy Fabin added that the farm is a victim of the markets and economy just like other producers.
“We’ve lost some dairy producers (customers), but the poultry business has been pretty consistent,” he said. “We’ve seen steady growth since it (soybean processing) started. There are issues. Every day’s a new challenge. There’s a large learning curve, but it’s going pretty good.
“We can’t complain,” he said, noting that he and three other family members operated the plant themselves — by hand, without the assistance of automated controls — for the first few months to learn how everything worked.
By learning the process from the ground up, multiple Fabins are now able to operate and fix the mechanics as needed.
The soybean processing procedure takes a bean from one end of the plant to the other in about five minutes.
Once raw soybeans are delivered, by FBF Transport or another carrier, they are cleaned and either moved into storage or to the plant.
According to Andy Fabin, the raw beans are tested for oil content, protein and moisture.
“We quality check everything that comes in,” he said.
All of the soybeans Fabin Bros. Farms grows get processed in their plant.
Once destined for processing, the beans are sent through a dryer and heated to approximately 80 degrees F. During summer months, this step may be omitted if the beans are warm enough.
Beans are then de-hulled, moving through three chambers at five seconds per chamber. The beans are hammered through each chamber and are heated to 300 F, Andy Fabin said.
At the end of the de-hulling process, the beans are a liquid product that has no cell walls.
An auger then carries the soybean liquid into a press, or extrusion, that separates the oil from the cake. The cake is cooled and turned into Express meal. The oil is sent through a centrifuge, with any separated solids being sent back to the press, and the oil flowing into a storage bin.
“The oil produced is raw crude oil. Like it to raw cow’s milk,” Rick Fabin said. “It can be used or further processed into cooking oil. At this time, we haven’t sold directly to food processors. Generic extracted oils are different than our oil. It’s a totally mechanical process, and we can use any type of soybean. Our oil goes almost exclusively to livestock feed.”
Fabin’s Express meal contains, on average, 48 to 50 percent protein and 6 to 8 percent oil, compared with conventional soybean meal that has 43 to 44 percent protein and 1 to 2 percent oil.
“We test samples every three hours with an NIR machine (near infrared),” Andy Fabin said, noting that his cousin and Stan’s son, Chris Fabin, does a lot of the plant operations, management and product testing.
The reports help to maintain a consistent product, both oil and meal.
“We’re processing approximately 3.5 tons per hour. We hope by the first of the year (2013) to be at 5 tons an hour,” Andy Fabin said.
During the peak fall harvest, the plant was operating 24 hours a day. Optimally, the Fabins would like to run it five and a half days a week but are capable of going 24/7.
“It takes several hours to get the temperature back up (after shutting down). It’s more efficient to keep it running,” Andy Fabin said.
But the plant can’t run without beans, and getting the soybeans to the plant is no small feat.
“We get them here any way we can,” he said, adding that they haven’t used railroads yet because of the prices.
According to the farm website, “Fabin Bros. Farms works closely with FBF Transport to provide agricultural transportation services for our customers. Their trucking and bulk hauling services include the transportation of agricultural commodities such as grains, soybeans, fertilizers, soy oil and corn.”
Andy Fabin helps to manage this enterprise.
While many of today’s agricultural producers are trying to diversify their operations to stay alive, Fabin Bros. Farms stayed ahead of the curve, diversified years ago and is successfully operating multiple agriculture enterprises — and plans to be doing so far into the future.