A Publication of WTVP

Planting Roots

by Steve Stein |
Precision Planting

Precision Planting’s new Morton operations center is a symbol of its exponential growth

Precision Planting was founded in 1993 by Greg and Cindy Sauder with a single product.

It was a meter tester for corn and soybean planters that verified that only one kernel or seed at a time went from the hopper into the ground.

Thirty years later, the Tremont-based company has become a major manufacturer of high-tech agricultural products that farmers around the world install on their equipment. It has been owned since 2017 by Georgia-based agricultural equipment giant AGCO.

As a visible symbol of its growth, Precision Planting is building a mammoth operations center in Morton — 500,000 square feet in total size, 47 feet tall — that catches the attention of motorists on two of the area’s busiest interstates. The facility should be fully up and running by late fall.

Morton officials are thrilled about the project.

“I can’t wrap my head around the size of this building,” said Morton Public Works Director Craig Loudermilk. “It’s five times the size of the new Amazon facility in North Pekin. It’s the size of nine football fields under one roof.”

“When this building is done, Morton will become the agricultural hub of the Midwest,” said Mayor Jeff Kaufman. “And the property taxes and jobs the building will create will maintain and improve the quality of life in our community.”

Growing pains

Precision Planting is making the investment because it quite simply needs the space.

“As our business continued to add products and increase our global footprint, a new place to assemble, house and ship our products became imperative,” said Keith Crow, the company’s director of finance.

The Precision Planting operations now done in seven buildings — three in Morton, two in Peoria Heights, one in Pekin and one in Edelstein — will be consolidated in the new building, which will more than double the company’s current footprint.

Meanwhile, there are 85 acres of additional room on the site that can accommodate another 430,000 square feet of expansion.

Precision Planting has about 750 employees, including 650 in central Illinois. The rest are based across the globe. Of the area employees, about 90% work out of the Tremont and Morton locations.

In addition to the company’s headquarters in Tremont, there’s a software development facility in Bloomington, and the Precision Technology Institute, a 400-acre agronomic research site in Pontiac.

Putting the technology  into practice

Besides the research done at PTI, farmers can try out Precision Planting products in a real-farm environment.

Precision Planting develops smart products that improve planting, liquid application and harvest operations on farms. The products are available at more than 400 dealerships in the continental U.S. The company also works with agricultural equipment manufacturers around the globe.

Chuck Boyer, senior operations manager at Precision Planting
Chuck Boyer, senior operations manager at Precision Planting

Farmers can use Precision Planting technologies to collect data on each field pass from planting to harvest, and then use that information to increase yield and profit potential.

Mark Schleder of Green Valley counts 46 years working the fields, and he’s used Precision Planting products since the company was founded three decades ago.

“When you’re in the cab, Precision Planting’s technology gives you confidence that your machinery is responsive and planting where it needs to be planting,” he said. “That’s important because you only have a five- or six-day window to get your seeds in the ground.

The new Precision Planting building under construction in Morton
The new Precision Planting building under construction in Morton

“The value Precision Planting provides for our farms is exceptional. And they stand behind their products and service them well,” added Schleder. “I’m so happy we’ve been close enough to watch the company grow.”

Meanwhile, new products are continuously coming to market.

At the company’s winter conference this year, the Panorama app was introduced. It is being tested this spring with plans to release it later this year. The app makes it easier for farmers to access data collected from Precision Planting’s 20/20 monitor, which observes, controls and diagnoses field conditions and equipment performance in real time.

Why Morton?

Precision Planting’s new Morton operations center is on 61.31 acres at the north end of Erie Avenue, south of the exit ramp from Interstate 74 east to Interstate 155 south.

It’s up the road from Precision Planting’s 100,000-square-foot main operations building at the intersection of Erie and Birchwood streets.

“Ironically, that building has always flown under the radar. We’ve been there for 10 years in November,” said Bryce Baker, Precision Planting marketing manager.

That building already has been purchased, and a new, as-yet-unnamed tenant will move in after Precision Planting leaves.

The new operations building will be used as a warehouse for inventory, assembly of products, kitting and packaging, and distribution of products worldwide. Kitting is a process where complementary items are packaged and shipped together.

About 400 employees will work at the new facility, including about 25 new full-time hires. There’s room in the building for 600 employees. The building will be humming initially with three shifts, five days a week.

Chuck Boyer, Precision Planting operations and building project manager, said the new building’s site was chosen because of its proximity to I-74 and I-155, both for product transportation purposes and employee convenience.

“While doing our due diligence in selecting a site, we learned we could lose two-thirds of our local employees had we located the building in the Bloomington-Normal area,” he said.

Precision Planting and the Village of Morton are improving the infrastructure in and around the construction site to pave the way for further development.

Among the company’s projects are the construction of 1,300 feet of Agricultural Drive, a new east/west road that will connect Erie to an extension of Flint Avenue.

Among the village’s initiatives are an extension of a water main under I-155 from Detroit Avenue to Erie and an improvement of the Birchwood and Erie intersection.

“The infrastructure work and the size and quality of the Precision Planting building will put that area on the map. It will be magnet for other businesses,” Loudermilk said.

“There will be more than a mile of new public roadway there when the new road and road extensions are completed. This is the first time since I was hired by the village in 2011 that we’re building public roads.”

Eight taxing bodies approved five years of property tax abatements for the Precision Planting project, beginning with a 90% abatement the first year the operations center is fully accessed.

Meanwhile, Precision Planting must meet hiring requirements to keep the abatement in place. After the abatement ends, It’s estimated that the Morton School District will receive about $500,000 annually in property taxes from the operations center.

Steve Stein

Steve Stein

is a longtime Peoria area print journalist