With in-house meteorologists and state-of-the-art equipment, the company uses forecasts to enhance efficiency and reduce risk.
For nearly a century, Cargill has been using its resources and expertise to predict how weather might affect its business. Back in 1926, the company gathered information from contacts near and far to publish weather conditions in the Cargill Crop Bulletin for the agricultural community. By 1960, the importance of weather to Cargill had moved beyond agriculture, affecting market trends and transport logistics for an array of operations, from meat processing facilities to salt mines.
Cargill’s forecasting expertise was a competitive edge, and in 1975 became formalized under the leadership of Erwin Kelm. Cargill’s businesses had always used government weather service data prepared for the general public, but the introduction of its own in-house forecasting allowed the company to respond to the specific needs of its operations. Handpicked data was synthesized into tailored reports, then quickly relayed to businesses to help leaders make critical, weather-dependent decisions.
At the time, the concept of a commercial business (even a large one like Cargill) having meteorologists on staff was unusual. But Mike McEndree and John Cawhorn, Cargill’s first meteorologists, who started in 1975 and 1976 respectively, attested to their critical role within the company.
“Our objective is to provide weather information that managers cannot obtain locally,” explained McEndree. “For the merchants, that may mean weather information for another state or country. Or it could mean tailored weather reports such as exact rain amounts and area coverage forecasts for key growing areas. For divisions such as Cargo Carriers (CCI), it could mean ice or flood warnings.”
For McEndree and Cawhorn, monitoring patterns on both a domestic and global basis proved to be a complex job.
“Forecasting the weather is both a science and an art.”— Mike McEndree, Chief Meteorologist, Cargill
The Weather Department received hourly observations for 10,000 cities worldwide, as well as telex reports and satellite maps from national weather services. Weather technicians sorted through volumes of data, relaying relevant observations to various business divisions worldwide.
Over time, operations learned to creatively apply weather information to their particular lines of business. Cargill’s salt business, for example, tracked where the next major snowstorms would hit, enabling them to supply sufficient amounts of road salt to those locations, while Sunny Fresh Eggs, now Cargill Kitchen Solutions, used daily temperature readings to adjust the feed mixture for its layer hens.
With new technology and easier, faster access to information online, the role of Cargill’s Weather Department today has changed. Longtime employee Eve Iverson (previously Bowman) now serves as the company’s weather information specialist, collaborating with a meteorologist and an analyst in the Netherlands to track patterns that affect Cargill’s operations. Every morning, she provides an overview to traders and crop analysts at Cargill’s world trading facility in Geneva, Switzerland, as well as its grain and oilseeds headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. These summaries detail weather forecasts and long-term pattern changes that could affect crop supply, trades and transportation.
While the way the weather is monitored has certainly evolved, one thing remains the same: watching the weather helps Cargill stay competitive and better manage risk for its many customers.