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Lakeco Crop Services

First on the Farm Newsletter

Lakeco Crop Services

The year was 2019, and flooding was rampant across southeastern South Dakota.

It started in the spring with heavy snowfall that was abruptly followed by a quick snow melt.

And if that wasn’t enough to derail the state’s #1 industry, severe storms in the late summer caused record flooding in agricultural communities such as Dell Rapids.

For Dave Ellens and Rob Thuringer, co-owners of the local ag retailer Lakeco Crop Services, it was a worst-case scenario.

Rob Thuringer and Dave Ellens standing in their business's warehouse.

Rob Thuringer (left) and Dave Ellens (right), co-owners of Lakeco Crop Services.

“It was our second year in business,” Dave said. “We didn’t even know if we were going to sell a bag of seed. We didn’t know if we would be able to pay ourselves. It was a tough year for us.”

“We both had kids born that spring,” Rob said. “Nothing was going out the door. It was absolute misery. I remember sitting in the living room with my wife trying to decide, what do we sell first? And, where am I going to get a summer job?”

The business partners and former college roommates had just launched Lakeco Crop Services and built their warehouse — located off Highway 34 near Wentworth, SD — in 2017.

Lakeco Crop Services' location near Wentworth, South Dakota.

And suddenly, the business they’d been dreaming of starting since their days at South Dakota State University (SDSU) was in jeopardy.

“When you’re building a new business, there are a lot of costs involved,” Dave said. “We talked about how, for us to keep this going, we needed the first five years to be banger years.”

In the middle of May, with the situation looking dire and Rob pondering selling his camper, they called their banker: Josh Kayser at The First National Bank in Sioux Falls.

“I was like, ‘I’m going to tell you right now, we have no idea how we’re going to pay you,’” Rob recounted. “‘We don’t know if there’s going to be a penny. I’m looking for a job. We’re in trouble.’ And Josh just said, ‘We understand the situation. We’ll take care of you. Don’t worry about it.’”

Soon after, some dry windows opened up so the farmers that Lakeco services were able to plant crops.

“It was only about half of what we sold, but it was enough to pay the line back,” Dave said. “But I will say, First National Bank built a lot of loyalty with us during 2019.”

“I remember that year well,” said Ag Banking Manager Brian Gilbert. “I’m sure Rob and Dave had a lot of sleepless nights, but I know our team at First National didn’t because we believed in their plan for their business.”

Rob Thuringer, Brian Gilbert, and Dave Ellens standing in the Lakeco warehouse.

Rob (left) and Dave (right) with Brian Gilbert (center), Ag Banking Manager at The First National Bank in Sioux Falls.

“It started on a napkin”

Lakeco Crop Services first started in 2013, when Dave incorporated the farm dealership that had been in his family for decades.

“I grew up in Wentworth on a farm that my grandpa started right after World War II,” Dave said. “When he moved here in 1946, he started a Pioneer dealership. And then my dad took over in the 80s, and I took over in 2009 when I graduated from SDSU.”

He later added chemical and liquid fertilizer to the ag retailer’s offerings, but the business began growing too large for him to manage alone.

Knowing he was in need of a business partner, Dave reached out to his long-time friend and former college roommate.

“We dreamt up this idea in college. I mean, it started on a napkin.”

“I grew up in Madison,” Rob said. “My dad ran the elevator in Wentworth for nearly 20 years, so I spent a lot of time in the area.”

Rob’s career path took him from ag retail to ag lending to the wholesale side of the seed business, which he was doing when he got the call from Dave in 2017.

“We dreamt up this idea in college,” Rob said. “I mean, it started on a napkin. It took about eight years, but then Dave called and we got back to starting this up and moving forward with our vision.”

“We even came up with the name Lakeco in college,” Dave said. “Even when we were competitors with each other, we always talked about doing this at some point.”

The Lakeco Crop Services sign on the business's warehouse.

Dave’s vision for the business was to take it from a farm dealership to a retail presence, and he knew he needed a partner to make that happen — not just an employee, but someone with stake in the business who would be there long term.

“When I was trying to decide if I was going to do this or not, I talked to a good friend of mine,” Rob said. “I told him what was going on, and he just looked at me with a goofy look on his face and said, ‘Bet on yourself. Why would you bet on anybody else?’ After I walked out of his office, I called Dave and said, ‘We’re doing this.’”

Partners in success

“I got to know Brian through South Dakota Ag and Rural Leadership,” Rob said, “and then Josh because his wife, Kara, was in it too.”

“I kind of threw this idea at Josh,” Rob continued, “and he was like, ‘Yeah, we can sit down and have a more detailed conversation about that.’ So we met to talk about it and, kind of surprisingly, he said, ‘Let’s do this. What do you need?’”

The Bank was able to help Dave and Rob get their business off the ground, and we’ve been supporting their growth ever since.

In 2020, the Lakeco owners added a sister business: Legacy Ag Wholesale.

“We always wanted to put ourselves in a better position for buying chemical and fertilizer,” Dave said. “At the time, we had a relationship with Brian Leighton — who was in the wholesale business — and he was transitioning through jobs. We came to him and said, ‘Can we build our own wholesale company?’ And that’s how Legacy came about.”

A delivery truck with the Legacy Ag Wholesale logo on its trailer.

The company sells to other independent retailers just like, and including, Lakeco Crop Services — putting Dave and Rob in a better position to buy products so they can pass those savings on to their Lakeco customers.

“Adding Legacy was a big milestone for us,” Rob said. “We had a five-year plan, which was to build the Lakeco shed and then put bulk bean bins on it five years later.”

“Well,” he continued, “we built the Lakeco shed in 2017 and got going. Three years later, we added Legacy and built the shed where that business is operating out of. And then, three years after that, we put our bulk bean bins up. So, our five-year plan turned into two- or three-year wild ideas.”

Four bulk Pioneer seed bins on the side of Lakeco Crop Services' warehouse.

“First National understands what we’re doing here,” Dave said. “They’ve understood the growth and weren’t scared to let the lines of credit get bigger. When we were growing, I never felt like we were handcuffed.”

“When we were growing, I never felt like we were handcuffed.”

Their next five-year plan is to build a second location for Lakeco on Highway 19 south of Madison. Additionally, they hope to expand the Legacy building to add a bulk chemical facility.

“Being involved with his own business, Josh understands what it takes to grow,” Dave said. “If we came to him and said we want to put bulk chemical in, he’s going to know exactly what that is and why we need it.”

“Talk about someone who has vision,” Rob added. “Josh is focused on growth and not scared to do something. I like banking with a guy who has that mindset — where we have to keep up with him.”

Headshot of Josh Kayser, Ag Banking Team Lead at The First National Bank in Sioux Falls.

Josh Kayser, Ag Banking Team Lead at The First National Bank in Sioux Falls.

Helping growers achieve better yields

Just as we have been a partner in Lakeco’s success, Dave and Rob are committed to being partners in the success of local growers.

They pride themselves on being a locally owned business with superior service, due to the fact that Dave and Rob grew up in the area and have been building relationships with growers for decades.

Dave Ellens and Rob Thuringer discussing crop products with a customer in their warehouse.

“We have the best service and some of the smartest agricultural expertise in the area,” Dave said. “Will Allgaier, who is our agronomist here, does a lot of crop consulting. I think he’s seen more acres than anyone in Lake County.”

“When you look at why you buy from anyone, it’s product, price, and service,” Rob added. “We have an excellent lineup of products, whether it’s Pioneer or our crop protection portfolio. If we don’t have what you need on hand, we will go get it.”

Lakeco also boasts unbeatable service and competitive pricing to help growers improve their bottom lines.

“We’re going to do everything we can to take care of our customers,” Rob said. “The more money they have in their pockets, the easier our job is.”

Rob Thuringer discussing crop products with a customer.

They’re even happy to answer calls about products purchased from competitors, according to Dave.

“We love when growers call us with questions about stuff they bought somewhere else,” he said. “Because we know that we’re their number one call, not the other guys.”

Dave Ellens discussing crop products with a customer.

That’s what’s most important to both Dave and Rob: that Lakeco Crop Services can be a partner for farmers and growers in their success.

“Nobody needs a salesman,” Rob said. “I hate being called a salesman. I want to be a partner. I want to be a trusted advisor. I want customers to call asking questions that have nothing to do with seed or chemical, but because they value my opinion.”

Rob Thuringer and Dave Ellens standing in front of a Pioneer-logoed green wall.

“And find a partner in your bank, not just a banker,” he continued. “I think that’s been huge for us, is First National has been a great partner. And we definitely want to keep that growing and growing.”

If you’re a farmer looking for partners in your success, reach out to the First National Ag Team for your banking needs or to Lakeco Crop Services for your product and service needs.

Dave Ellens

Dave grew up in Wentworth and currently lives near Madison with his wife, Karli, and their four daughters.

In addition to his work at Lakeco Crop Services, Dave helps run his family’s farm, is president of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, and serves on the board of directors for the American Coalition for Ethanol.

“You can make up a million excuses of why you shouldn’t go start your own business. There is never a perfect time; you just have to do it.”

What do you love most about what you do?

“Hitting those goals that we’ve set for ourselves and the business. I think it’s just the pride of watching what we’ve built come to fruition that’s my favorite part.”

Rob Thuringer

Rob lives in his hometown of Madison with his wife, Kirsten, and their two sons.

He earned his degree in ag business, ag economics, and ag marketing from SDSU, and he worked in ag retail, ag lending, and seed wholesale prior to joining Lakeco Crop Services.

“I remember talking to my wife about going into business with Lakeco, and she just looked at me and said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t take us backwards.’ That’s all I’ve tried to do since day one.”

What do you love most about what you do?

“I don’t know why, but I have to be involved in agriculture. It’s something about the people and the lifestyle and everything that encompasses agriculture. That’s where I need to be.”

Have questions? We're here to help.

Brian Gilbert

Ag Banking Manager

Josh Kayser

Ag Banking Team Lead

Grant Olson

Ag Banking Team Lead

Phil DeGroot

Ag Banking Team Lead
Insuring Your Success: Risk management considerations for summer 2024

This article was written on June 15. For up-to-date information regarding recent flooding, please contact your banker.

Owners of ag retailer Lakeco Crop Services recount 2019 flooding, banking partnership

The year was 2019, and flooding was rampant across southeastern South Dakota.

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