Schwertner serving on Texas Grain & Feed board and in his community
If you ask anyone in Runnels County about Donnie Schwertner, owner of Top Tier Grain & Feed in Miles, they'll probably start off telling you what a keen businessman he is. They might also comment about how active he is in the Miles community, as well as the county, supporting the Junior Livestock Show, West Texas Rehab, as well as helping various organizations. His Miles Bulldog pride is evident around the small town every fall, "My guys go out and hang flags at the football stadium and around town on Fridays," Schwertner pointed out. In addition to owning Top Tier, Schwertner and his wife, Danelle, own The Depot at Top Tier. The store sells hardware, fishing gear, plants, planters, smokers, feed, potting soil, picnic tables, and more.
Top Tier Grain & Feed started out as Kasberg Grain and Feed in 1984. Schwertner started purchasing the business about 9 years ago, "I bought half of the business in 2012 and the other half in 2015." Schwertner worked with the railroad who put in a spur for Top Tier, "That spur will hold 110 rail cars," Schwertner said. That railroad spur is highly important when you consider how much food and grain he moves every month, "We'll move about 2,000 tons of feed per month, and anywhere from 500,000 - 3.9 million bushels of grain per month."
What many people may not know is that Schwertner serves on the Texas Grain & Feed Association's board of directors. He's been on the board for 3 years and currently serves as the 2nd Vice Chairman on the 9-member board. The association helps protect farmers, as well as feed and grain elevator operators. Currently, there are around 400 members from around the state, "We're the voice of Feed & Grain elevators," Schwertner says.
When the Texas legislature is in session, board members will travel to Austin to lobby representatives if there is a cause that might affect the feed and grain industry. The association hosts an annual trade show and business meeting that, like most events, was called off the last 2 years because of COVID-19. Schwertner says that those trade shows can boost the economy of the town where they're having the show, "We have many of our 400 members, plus we have out-of-state members like BNSF (railway). We also have companies that support infrastructure such as mechanical companies, software companies, salt companies, equipment companies, and others. The convention is pretty big."
Schwertner said that the biggest changes over the last decade have been with grain buyers, "There are new requirements for warehouse licensing. The state has created more rules and higher fees."
Top Tier Feed & Grain is a USDA facility, rather than a TDA (Texas Department of Agriculture) facility, where the rules are not as complicated, "The state tells you what they want and you have to try and create it. TDA does not have a form, such as the USDA has. The USDA is easier. It's all written right there and you can just follow the steps and you're done. TDA is more complicated. Also, with the USDA, I can transport feed and grain out of the country. There is more consistency with the USDA, where TDA lacks consistency."
Both the TDA and the USDA require an annual review, which can get into the tens of thousands of dollars quickly, "This year I paid $12,000 for the audit. You gotta have that to be in this business. I know some elevators whose cost were twice that. I've heard some elevators paying anywhere from $26,000 upwards to $50,000, or more."
Top Tier's pricing can be felt throughout the local market, "We help influence grain prices in our area. The farmers get a better price here due to the infrastructure that we have and the potential destinations of where the feed and grain are going."
Weathering Winter Storm Uri
When winter storm Uri struck the state in February, Top Tier recovered quickly, "When power was restored after 2 days, we milled for 72 hours straight. Our mills helped mills that couldn't provide to their customers. One feed mill had their gas shut off for 10 days. We (TGFA) are trying to make sure that doesn't happen again. Having your gas and electricity cut off effects your animals, it endangers them. The TGFA wants to make it so that companies can't do that again." To help ensure that his own facility is ready for future storms, Schwertner has bought and 800 kVA generator.
Schwetner and Danelle opened up The Depot to help people out during the storm. They did it without any power, "The power was off, but Danelle got her notebook and we went in there and handled everything for our customers. Prior to the storm, I had ordered a lot of items, especially fittings, because I knew that people were going to need them. We had people coming in from as far away as Sonora. We sold a lot of gas fittings and CO2 detectors."
The town of Miles also came together during the storm, with local restaurants offering free or reduce priced meals, "Everyone was trying to help out."
This is now Schwertner's fourth year on the TGFA board. He stays busy trying to help the feed and grain elevators around the state, as well as operating his own businesses, and helping out the community with benefits and in times of need.