Every morning, a special truck arrives before dawn at the Mueller Dairy Farm near Hooper, Neb., to load fresh milk from 200 Holsteins. By the time most people are at work, the truck unloads in the heart of Omaha about 45 miles away.
Within 48 hours of milking on the farm, Roberts Dairy has delivered the milk to grocery shelves. It is a business arrangement that has worked for more than 60 years.
The Mueller-to-Roberts connection is evidence of how the farm still looms large in a city that prides itself on museums, medical schools, sports complexes, performing arts centers and fine restaurants.
“You can't avoid it (the agriculture connection),” said Ernie Goss, a Creighton University economist.
The Mueller Dairy is a prime example.
“Roberts has been a good stable business for many years in the Omaha area,” said Lowell Mueller, a third-generation dairyman. “They have been a good business partner.”
Mueller likes shipping milk into Omaha.
“We want local businesses to sell our milk,” Mueller said. Without Roberts, the costs would be higher to ship farther away.
Roberts Dairy acquires 90 percent of its raw milk from the 230 dairy farms within 100 miles of the Omaha plant, according to general manager Ron Benefiel.
The company is proud to promote its milk as coming from local dairy farms and containing no antibiotics or artificial growth hormones, he said.
There are many other examples of Omaha businesses that thrive because of ties to agriculture.
On one side of town, CLAAS — the fourth-largest agricultural manufacturer in the world — assembles the biggest combines in the world.
“Omaha is an excellent base,” said Leif Magnusson, president of CLAAS of America. “The roots of this community are based in agriculture.”
On another side of town, a food-processing plant — Greater Omaha Packing Inc. — converts cattle into special cuts of beef for consumers around the world.
“Greater Omaha has been invested with the beef industry since 1920,” said Angelo Fili, executive vice president. “Nebraska's grain and livestock products are extremely well respected.”
Companies like Greater Omaha Packing take Nebraska farm products — cattle and the corn and soybeans used for feed — to the ends of the earth.
“We have helped to push Nebraska products,” Fili said. For example, a new beef product from Greater Omaha Packing was selected as “new product of the year” by Walmart in Chile.
Along the river on Omaha's eastern border, ConAgra Inc. — a Fortune 500 company — creates food products that end up in 97 percent of American homes, according to Food Processing magazine.
In perhaps the ultimate farm-to-business-to-consumer connection, ConAgra sells nearly 13 million packages of food products per day.
ConAgra's link to Nebraska's agriculture industry made headlines in 2012 when the company announced it would locate a food research facility at the University of Nebraska's Innovation Campus in Lincoln to learn more about popcorn and tomatoes.
In Omaha, one of the biggest names in cereal — Kellogg — continues to produce familiar products. Kellogg's relationship with Nebraska farmers is the closest it has ever been, said Diane Holdorf, chief sustainability officer.
“Over the past few years, we've sought to work more closely with the farmers who grow our grains, Holdorf said, “to build relationships ... and work together to drive future improvements.”
Kellogg began producing cereal in Omaha in 1943 at 26th and Center Streets but has been at 9601 F St. since 1965.
From that plant comes Special K, Corn Pops, Smart Start, Fruit Loops and Apple Jacks made from grain grown by Midlands farmers. It is “Dirt to Dinner,” as they say, right here in River City.
Or “farm to fuel,” in other instances.
North of Omaha, in Blair, is a 650-acre business campus that owes its existence to corn.
“This is a $1.4 billion investment and 1,000 people working at the site,” said Gavin Atkinson, facility manager at Cargill Inc.'s massive ethanol plant. “We bring in corn and we extract the various products.”
Those products include a sweet bran for cattle farmers, corn gluten used by the pet food industry, a crude corn oil, high-fructose corn syrup and a byproduct used to make a biodegradable plastic.
The Cargill plant takes in about 100 million bushels a year of corn from area farmers and produces about 195 million gallons of ethanol. “About half to two-thirds of our corn is going to ethanol,” Atkinson said. “The rest is going to other partners.”
Cargill's presence in Blair has attracted companies that are linked to agriculture through the milling plant. An example is Novozymes, a Dutch company that came to the Blair biorefinery campus to produce the enzymes that are needed to refine corn and other biomass products into ethanol.
Omaha is also home to corporate headquarters of the largest cooperative soybean processing company in the world. AGP (Ag Processing Inc.), with offices at 12700 West Dodge Road, is a farmer-owned cooperative made up of 175 local co-ops representing more than 250,000 farmers.
AGP operates a soybean-processing plant in Hastings, Neb., plus six in Iowa, one in Missouri and one in Minnesota. The company is a leading supplier of refined vegetable oil.
Among other things, AGP produces a patented product called AminoPlus, a soybean-based supplement for dairy cows that improves milk production. AGP is expanding its soybean plant in Minnesota to add AminoPlus production capacity that already exists at Hastings and two Iowa plants.
No matter how you cook it, Omaha's business is tied to agriculture in a way that is typically healthy for the economy.
“Omaha has benefited to a great degree because it has industries that have done well nationally and globally,” said Goss, “and that has to do with food and agriculture doing well and likely to continue to do well.”
It's a farm-to-business link that has a bright future.
“You can't help but use agriculture products,” Goss said.