Sukup dares to innovate for decades

As you drive along Iowa’s highways in farming communities, the corrugated-metal exteriors of grain bins gleam in the sun or stand as agricultural sentinels amid storms and the state’s weather fluctuations.

Many bear the name “Sukup,” a three-generation Iowa company that has grown into an international leader in grain bins, grain dryers and steel buildings. Its products are sold in the U.S. and in more than 80 other countries, according to the company website.

Innovation is at the heart of Sukup’s business.

In 1962, Eugene Sukup sought to find a way to improve the drying process after he purchased his first drying bin and found the process too lengthy. After some trial and error, he developed a fix. “He patented the idea and the Stirway stirring machine and Sukup Manufacturing Company were born,” according to the company’s history.

“Innovation is critical to its rapid growth today and into the future,” says company spokesperson Rachel Geilenfeld. Sukup has grown 800 percent in the last 15 years.

The success can be attributed to one several factors, says Geilenfeld. “The main one is the company’s willingness to expand into new products and new product lines.”

Examples include Sukup’s steel buildings. The company entered the bin market in 2001.

“If you would ask the typical Iowan, particularly someone in agriculture, what product would you associate with Sukup? The bins,” said Geilenfeld.

In addition to bins, Sukup was recently recognized for its QuadraTouch Pro technology that lets farmers remotely check on how their grain is drying.

“They can basically have an app on their phone and they can say ‘raise the temperature, shut the machine off,’” Geilenfeld said.

That shift in technology will affect agriculture in several ways, she explained. For instance, many farm operations will be led by the upcoming younger generation, which is much more comfortable with technology.

“They want to do everything on their phone,” she said.

The efficiency of apps such as QuadraTouch Pro requires fewer laborers as well, with workers in short supply these days.

In addition to innovating, the family business leaders have a focus on giving back. The family likes to say that “giving back is in-grain-ed” within the company.

The Sukup Safe T Homes are one example. In 2010, the poor island nation of Haiti was devastated by a hurricane. The news stirred an idea in the company’s safety director.

He sent a single email to CEO Steve Sukup on Jan. 14, 2010. It read: “How about Bin Houses in Haiti? Hurricane and Earthquake resistant. Perfect!”

The company developed a completely metal Safe T Home that resists termites and moisture. The Safe T Homes, each 18 feet in diameter and offering 250 square feet of living space, are also in Peru and in African nations.

The business began with Eugene Sukup’s innovation for drying grain faster but now includes in its product line the following: on-farm and commercial grain bins, portable and tower dryers, centrifugal and axial fans and heaters, stirring machines, bin unloading equipment, and more.

There are three generations, including 10 family members, in the business. Nearly 600 workers from north-central Iowa are employed there.