It takes a team to run McCullough Grain

The management team of McCullough Grain, John Burkett, Brandie McKnight and Dave McCullough, stand in front of the grain system at the Sharpsville location.

SHARPSVILLE/ TRANSFER, Pa. — When the local dairy changed from receiving milk in cans to requiring them to have bulk tanks, Irwin “Speed” McCullough and his wife, Charlene, made the decision to get out of the dairy business.

Their children were school-aged, so Charlene McCullough returned to teaching and Speed McCullough started on the adventure of being a grain farmer.

Noted throughout the area for his astute mind and a willingness to try new methods, he bought his first batch dryer in about 1968, according to his son Dave.

Dave McCullough and his dad grew the business into a grain elevator that services farmers from at least three counties.

Currently, the management team of Dave McCullough, John Burkett and Brandie McKnight continue carrying on Speed McCullough’s innovative and entrepreneurial spirit. They raise corn and soybeans on about 2,000 acres with 420 acres owned.

“The first dryer was up in the yard,” Dave McCullough recalled from his childhood.

“Dad knew that the first thing he was going to need was a scales. He bought one from a coal tipple that had gone out of business.”

He started with a mounted sheller. At the time, he continued to harvest ear corn as well.

The first bin was put up in 1971.

“It seemed like we put up a new bin every year,” Dave McCullough said. “That was always going to be the last one.”

Farming neighbors watched as Speed McCullough moved from ear corn to shelled corn, and they decided to make the change as well. They started bringing their corn to McCullough Grain to be dried and then saw the advantage of marketing their grain as well.

That was the beginning of the grain brokering side of the business.

Dave McCullough and his wife, DeAnn, own and operate Gold-N-Grain Archery that over the years has exposed their students to the farm. Several of these young men have become current farm employees.

John Burkett started working at the farm while in high school and college. He began full time in 2008.

About that time, the McCulloughs knew they needed to change their marketing strategy and found that Burkett truly grasped the concepts needed to earn high profits for themselves and their growing clientele.

The customer base includes landowners with 10 acres to some grain farmers who plant 1,000 acres.

“We do a little custom combining and tiling,” Dave McCullough said.

Burkett does the marketing and prepares presentation to help their customers understand how they can turn a profit even in these times of relatively low prices.

“The farmers all wanted $7 corn but they knew it wouldn’t last,” Burkett said. The company has a customer appreciation day late in February. Burkett uses this time to help educate their clients.

“We want them to understand what it takes to make a profit in the grain business on their farms,” he said.

Currently, the farming side of the operation is averaging 170 bushels of corn per acre and 50 bushels of soybeans per acre.

Dave McCullough recalls the first time his dad planted soybeans, on eight acres in a field across from their house. Now they rotate with soybeans, corn and some wheat.

Finally, it was apparent that they needed to move away from the original site. It was hoped that their new site would improve the service they provided to their customers in the busy fall season.

“But we never could get adequate electric service there,” Burkett said. They then bought property that many years prior had housed an Agway mill.

This new location in Transfer, “Up North” to the McCullough crew, gave them the opportunity to start from scratch with a steady, reliable source of electric and gas. This facility was brought on line in the fall of 2015.

Jered Chupak was one of the archers who came around looking for a job. Burkett put him to shoveling corn into a high-lift bucket. Today, Chupak operates the facility at the Transfer location.

McCullough Grain accepts grain at both locations. This has nearly eliminated lines and it provides service to customers of all sizes. Chad Welch and Randy Brown finish out the crew. Welch can usually be found in the shop making sure that equipment is ready to go.

“There is always something to do,” Dave McCullough said. “Randy is always telling us that we ‘need to red up.’”

Brandie McKnight has been at McCullough Grain for nearly five years. She does all the paperwork and manages the scales at the home location. She and Chupak have a friendly competition during harvest to see who has the most grain for the day.

“Though everyone pitches in to do what needs done, you don’t find any of us behind the computer. That is Brandie’s domain,” Dave McCullough said.

As they look to the future, they are pleased with where they are now. They all wish that Speed McCullough had been able to see the facility “Up North” built and put on line.

“The day before he died, I stopped by. He was sleeping. When he woke up, he opened his eyes and motioned for me to go over to him. In his gravelly voice, he asked if at the new place the pit would be above or below ground. When I told him it would be above ground, I got a thumbs up,” Dave McCullough said. “That was the last time I talked to him.”

Speed McCullough died on March 9, 2015 but Dave McCullough and the others who work at McCullough Grain continue to move forward with his spirit in everything that they do.

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