Shawn Surber: Going Whole Hog

Farmers feed the world, and Shawn Surber moves the feed.

As logistics manager for Premier Feeds in Wilmington, Ohio, Surber coordinates ingredient flow into three feed plants and product delivery to distributors and farmers in his region.

He manages a 26-truck fleet, occasionally hopping into the driver’s seat himself. When needed, he also lends a hand to Premier’s sister companies: grain wholesaler Sabina Farmers Exchange and Premier Crop Services, which sells and applies fertilizers.

Surber’s parents have owned the three companies since 1999. He joined the family business when he decided he could make a greater contribution there than by studying agricultural management or global positioning system (GPS) technology in college.

He filled several roles at Premier Feeds before taking charge of logistics in 2006.

“I worked on the feed plant’s dock, and I mixed feed for a while,” he says. “I also drove a truck for a few years, so I understand what our drivers go through.”

Premier Feeds’ drivers deliver loose and bagged products for a variety of animals, from cattle, hogs, and horses to chinchillas and alpaca.

Some customers take just a few deliveries a week, but others place a greater demand on the distribution system. For instance, one 400,000-chicken farm in Wheelersburg, Ohio, receives two semi-loads of feed every day.

The biggest logistics challenge, however, is delivering feed to 19 hog facilities spread across seven counties.

Some of the barns are bio-secure, which means the animals inside have never been exposed to any viruses or bacteria. Drivers delivering feed to these barns must take precautions – including cleaning and disinfecting their trucks before heading out – to ensure they stay secure.

Because not all hog barns demand the same level of bio-security, freshly cleaned trucks go to the barns that require the most care, then move down the bio-security list to the barns that can stand more exposure. If a less-demanding barn puts in an order first, scheduling can get tricky.

“I have to coordinate where we’re going first by determining which truck is clean and can go to which farm,” Surber says. “We don’t want to wash again; re-washing trucks takes time, and the disinfectant costs add up.”

To determine the best delivery routes, Surber uses a bio-security information chart featuring all the hog barns and DeLorme’s Street Atlas USA Plus software. He hopes to find a tool specially tailored for commercial vehicles.

“I’ve run into a few instances where the driver couldn’t get a truck down a road or over a bridge,” he says.

Surber’s work day starts by 6:30 a.m., and he’s often on the phone helping second-shift drivers late into the evening. There’s very little letup in the fast-paced work.

“We face ongoing challenges every day,” he says.

The Big Questions

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I spend time with my wife and go to my six-year-old daughter’s softball games. I also like hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities.

Ideal dinner companion?

My extended family. I greatly enjoy it when we all go out to dinner together.

Business motto?

Treat others the way they want to be treated

First Web site you look at in the morning?

I read my e-mail, then I check the weather. The weather is especially important for our fertilizer business.

If you didn’t work in supply chain management, what would be your dream job?

Owning a hunting preserve.

What’s your idea of a successful day on the job?

To haul more feed than we’ve ever hauled before, with no mistakes.

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