WCCO Belting’s employees’ connection to farming runs deep; Read how their ag industry experience is used to support customers and farmers every day, Blog Post

WCCO Belting’s employees’ connection to farming runs deep; Read how their ag industry experience is used to support customers and farmers every day, Blog Post

Providing quality products and responsive service to our customers in the agricultural community hits close to home for our workforce. Our small town in rural North Dakota is surrounded by farms and fields as far as the eye can see. For many of our employees, the connection to farming is even more personal. Growing up, living, and working on farms has given them firsthand experience of how important quality and service are to farmers’ livelihoods, their ability to feed their family, their communities, and the world.

WCCO Belting has been manufacturing conveyor belting for agricultural equipment for more than six decades. Since then, our Raptor® Belting has become the global gold standard for draper headers (platforms), swathers, windrowers, and mergers. We also manufacture pickup belts, tube conveyor belts, baler belts, and cotton picker belts, among other patented technology and products for applications in construction, recycling, material handling, forestry, and other industries.   

In honor of National Ag Day, we’re sharing with you how the deep connection to agriculture has impacted several of our employees both personally and professionally in their roles at WCCO Belting, and how their experience benefits our customers in the ag industry and their customers as well – farmers.

The three most common themes we heard were:

  • Working on a farm instills a strong work ethic, whether it’s from firsthand experience or observations from parents’ and family members’ hard work and dedication to making a living in agriculture.
  • You learn about machinery, its functionality, and the benefits of reaping what you sow. And on the other side, seeing what happens when machinery goes down, feeling the pressure to get moving, and understanding the value of product quality and its relation to uptime.
  • You have a solid understanding and appreciation of how farming and ranching, and the agriculture industry, connect to the wellbeing of people all over the world.

Vice President of Operations, Customer Service Representative, Maintenance Manager, Lead Process Engineer, 1st Shift Supervisor… Our team members’ personal experiences in agriculture are webbed through our organizational structure. For WCCO Belting’s customers in this industry, this means we never lose sight of the “why” driving our product design, quality, and service – helping to feed the world safely, efficiently, and productively.

Kevin Nelson │ Facilities, Equipment, & Maintenance Supervisor

Kevin grew up in North Dakota on a livestock farm and ranch. After working on the farm through his school years, he attended North Dakota State College of Science and earned an Associate of Science Degree in Agriculture Business. Kevin commented that growing up on a farm taught him all about hard work and the importance of getting the job done. He shared how experiencing the highs and lows of different seasons prepared him to expect the same philosophy in business. Some years are going to be better than others, but you can’t be disappointed. “Growing up on a farm prepared me to deal with constant change. We have to continue to improve and progress regardless,” he shared. As the person responsible for building and maintaining WCCO Belting’s manufacturing equipment, this can-do attitude pushes the company forward.

Another character trait of Kevin’s that is a result of growing up on a farm is his ability to work with people. In his role as Facilities, Equipment, and Maintenance Supervisor, Kevin manages a team of 14 employees. “Farmers are notorious for communicating with each other and lending a hand when someone needs it. I do that at WCCO Belting, too. I’ll be there when people might least expect it.”

Colleen West │ Customer Service Representative

My grandfather farmed (2nd gen), and my father (3rd gen), brother (4th gen), and nephew (5th gen) are farming that land today,” shared Colleen West, Customer Service Representative, who grew up on the same farm in Lakota, ND. Her experience on the farm has helped her. “It grounds you. It gives you an appreciation for the work the farmers do and how connected the world is through food and farming.”

As a member of the WCCO Customer Service team, Colleen talks to farmers, parts distributors, and ag equipment manufacturers daily. She said her experience on a farm helps her understand their urgency, especially when a product is needed to get the operator back into the field. That’s why Colleen’s adaptability, a trait she believes is a direct result of growing up on a farm, is beneficial to the customers she helps every day. “A customer may need something specific right away, and if we don’t have that exact item, but I do my best to offer other solutions and suggestions based on prior knowledge.”

Travis Mackey │ Senior Engineer

Travis grew up on a small grains farm north of Devils Lake, ND. His family harvested wheat, soybeans, and barley. “One of the first things I learned was how to help out on the farm,” shared Travis, and it generated his interest in designing and inventing which would eventually lead to a career in engineering. Travis attended the University of North Dakota and earned a mechanical engineering degree.

Travis’s firsthand knowledge operating agricultural equipment benefits WCCO Belting in different ways. He’s experienced downtime and witnessed the pain it can cause operators’ mentally and financially which drives his added attention to the supervision of WCCO Belting’s process engineering department. When collaborating with the business development team on new designs, “My experience farming helps bridge the gaps between the design phase and the belts interaction with the equipment’s system.” On top of a strong work ethic, Travis shared through his work on the farm he’s benefitted by learning time management and problem-solving skills.

Chad Storbakken │ Master Scheduler

Chad shared that he lived on a farm (pigs) from the age of 6 through high school. During the day, his father worked as a mechanic, and after hours, he operated the farm. When Chad saw his dad working these two different roles both day and night, he realized the importance of hard work and the benefits of not giving up. This instilled in him a strong work ethic and a commitment to getting the job done – no matter what the job was.

Originally, Chad attended North Dakota State College of Science because, like his dad, he enjoyed the mechanics of vehicles and equipment. “When you live on a farm, you get your hands in everything,” he said.  “You take the time to understand how things work.” Being hands-on takes a different form for Chad in his role as Master Scheduler at WCCO Belting today. “I like to think things through in my mind and make them work. I like puzzles! Once I start something, I can’t quit until I figure it out.” Chad’s unique and proficient way of processing information helps us get WCCO’s products to our customers when they need them.

Rod Koch │ Vice President of Operations

Rod was born and raised on a farm and ranch in south-central ND, near a small town called Shields, to be precise. On the farm, they harvested small grains like corn and flax and raised cattle. Rod grew up with a strong work ethic and wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. “Working on the farm honed my mechanical aptitude,” he shared. “It also helped me with my engineering degree.” Today, his engineering experience helps him oversee the operations, facilities, and maintenance workforce of WCCO Belting.

Growing up on a farm gave Rod a worldly understanding of how nature works, where food comes from, and the labor behind its existence. “It’s so rewarding and satisfying to till the soil, plant seeds, and reap the harvest,” he said, “It’s the food that you feed to your children. It's amazing!” Growing up on a farm also resulted in humility. Rod said, “You can have the best crop in the world, and it can hail at night and your whole crop is destroyed, but you have to pull yourself up, brush yourself off, and do it again.” Rod shared that having a farming background and running his dad’s ag equipment gives him perspective to the needs of farmers who rely on WCCO’s belts. “I was once in their shoes. My father and I ran the equipment. We know what is expected and we work every day to exceed those expectations.”

DuWayne Cookman │ Automation Engineer

DuWayne’s father had a hobby farm early on in his life where he raised sheep, and his uncle operated a dairy farm. In his early teenage years, he fondly recalled summers spent working at the dairy farm tilling, driving tractors, putting up hay, and more. In his role at WCCO Belting today, designing and engineering unique automation tools and processes for the production floor, he channels the amazing things he’s seen farmers do to stay operational. “With a limited number of tools, they had to get creative to solve problems and figure out how to improve,” DuWayne said.

With a budding interest in a technical or engineering career, Duwayne said a benefit of working on the farm was learning about the machinery, including how to maintain it. “I was always curious about the working of machines,” he shared. “I was intrigued by balers, for example, and how the equipment was built rugged enough to last.” DuWayne joked that when he was a young age working on the farm riding a vintage tractor, “I’d spend as much time looking backwards as I did forwards to make sure nothing fell off.” He connects with farmers’ constant fear of downtime and their attempts to avoid it. He said, “WCCO Belting, in my opinion, is the ‘Cadillac’ of belting. What does that mean? You buy the belt and don’t need to look back. You can look forward.”

Tammy Ciesynski │ Production Supervisor

Tammy, a production supervisor on WCCO’s 1st shift, lived on a farm until she graduated high school. She had chores caring for the animals, and when she was little, she loved to ride in the combine with her father. When asked what life on the farm taught her, Tammy was quick to answer, “It gave me a strong work ethic and taught me the value of the dollar, that’s for sure.” At a young age, she made a direct correlation between her father’s hard work and their livelihood.

As part of the manufacturing process today that made the rubber products her father’s equipment required to operate, Tammy finds it both fascinating and rewarding. “I am now helping to make what helped us thrive when we were growing up. Farming was how my family made their living,” she said. “Working at WCCO was a huge eye opener for me, the focus and labor that goes into each WCCO belt is extraordinary,” Tammy said.   

Vicki Bellin │ Fabrication Manager

Vicki grew up five miles west of Wahpeton, ND, on a farm with hogs, cows and chickens. “You learn a lot growing up on a farm,” she said. “You are constantly on the go because there’s work to be done which helps build a strong work ethic. Even when we were young, if we didn’t work, we got in trouble.” And when that work came to a halt because equipment was down, she felt the frustration.

Her knowledge of equipment and farm operations helped her succeed at WCCO where she’s been an employee for more than 40 years! Vicki warmly recalled her time spent at Wahpeton Canvas Company working under WCCO’s founder, Ed Shorma. At that time, she was making swather canvas by hand with fabric and wood slats. She mentioned wishing everyone could see how far WCCO’s technology has come, how much it’s changed, even from working from swather canvas to rubber belting. “It’s amazing! The technology has improved so much,” Vicki said.

Michelle Devereaux │ Inventory Control Manager

Michelle and her family lived on a hobby farm when she was younger, and at 14-years-old they moved to a working 120-acre farm in Buffalo, MN, with hogs, cattle, chickens and a few sheep. She shared that growing up on a farm instilled a strong work ethic in her. It also taught her time management - how to get a lot done in a short time - teamwork, and perseverance. “I woke up at 4 a.m. to do chores before getting ready for school. I went to school, and then I had to go to my job after school. Sometimes, I’d have to go to the barn after work. You’re tired and you still have to keep going, but that’s ok; I like to work hard.”

When asked what she felt customers would want to know about her and WCCO Belting, Michelle shared, “We are making the best product we know how to make. We want it to look good and function as expected because there is nothing worse than being in the field and having something break.” She proudly said, “At WCCO Belting, people put their heart and soul into what they do. They do the right thing, work hard, and are committed to getting farmers what they need.”

Carter Pedersen │ Marketing Information & Government Relations Specialist

Carter grew up on a Hereford cattle ranch. His father is a third-generation rancher, and the family also produces a few other crops like corn. He shared that his experience growing up on the ranch, combined with his diploma from North Dakota State University – a celebrated agriculture-focused institution, has solidified how much agriculture is a part of who he is today. “My dad’s a rancher, and my mom is an executive at a seed company. It makes sense that I work for an agriculture-centered company because of my upbringing. I’m comfortable in this industry, and it’s such a big industry although so few really know what it entails.” Carter also shared that his work ethic came from farming. “You don't have time to sit around. The harder you work the more money you make.”

Carter’s familiarity with the agriculture industry is critical to his role in the Business Development department at WCCO Belting. “I understand how farmers use our products and what their operating requirements are because my family used the same machinery. I’m better at collecting market research the company needs for new product designs.” While growing up, he also learned how to deal with uncertainty. “You can’t control the weather or if cattle get sick. It’s the same in business. I enjoy the responsibility of watching the markets and following industry news to provide insight to WCCO’s leadership and customers.”

Sam Carruth │ Lead Process Engineer

Sam grew up on a dairy farm in Danvers, MN until he was 16 years old when his parents moved to a grain farm. He shared how growing up on a farm instilled in him accountability and a strong work ethic. “I have three older brothers so every time I messed up, I heard about it, but it drove me to work harder.” Ultimately, he said he didn’t want to let his family down.

Growing up, Sam’s family didn't use a draper platform until his senior year in high school. He remembers talking to his grandfather about how drapers used to be made using fabric and wood slats. As the Lead Process Engineer for WCCO Belting today, he’s intrigued by how much goes into the design of each belt, the processing of it, and the quality control. “It’s much different than what my grandpa grew up with,” he shared. “There’s a lot of technology that goes into the manufacturing of WCCO’s products.”

Sam also talked about the increase in automation in manufacturing. He shared how WCCO Belting’s automation strategy is to continue to make our processes safer and more productive; automation is not being used to replace people. “The goal is to help the people who are manufacturing the belts to operate the most efficiently. To maintain the product quality our customers expect and the tight specifications modern agricultural equipment requires to operate effectively, some of our processes require human instinct. A machine couldn’t do the job.”

In summary, when we reported that providing quality products and responsive service to our customers in the agricultural community hits close to home for our workforce – we meant it. These are but a few stories from our talented workforce. Our company believes every employee has a unique perspective and is encouraged to use their experiences to help us thrive together. In celebration of National Ag Day, thank a farmer, thank their families who carry the values learned on the farm into their experiences, careers, and beyond, and thank everyone for doing their part in any way to carry the agricultural industry forward.

Photo courtesy of WCCO's VP of Operations, Rod Koch: Dayo Koch, grandfather of Rod Koch, riding a 1954 WD Allis Chalmers

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