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Published January 31, 2012, 02:16 PM

Minnesota canola plant to open earlier than expected

HALLOCK, Minn. — As is the case with most building projects in the region, the warm and dry weather has hastened the construction of the Northstar Agri-Industries canola plant just south of here.

By: Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald

HALLOCK, Minn. — As is the case with most building projects in the region, the warm and dry weather has hastened the construction of the Northstar Agri-Industries canola plant just south of here.

That’s good news for the northwestern corner of Minnesota.

The plant is scheduled to begin operating in May, two months earlier than anticipated when construction began 12 months ago. That means saving two months of construction costs while adding two months of revenues for a plant with an original construction cost of $168 million.

Accelerated construction is not the only benefit of the weather, Northstar President Neil Juhnke says. Another plus is likely favorable planting conditions for canola this spring.

“It’s been real wet around here in recent years, with a lot of preventive planning,” Juhnke says. “Flooding should be at a minimum, so the potential is there for a nice early planting of canola.”

Juhnke anticipates canola to be planted on 50,000 to 75,000 acres in Kittson, Roseau and Marshall counties, compared with 27,000 acres last year. He says company hopes are to reach 200,000 acres within five years.

Before the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the three-county area was growing more than 200,000 acres annually. Production diminished after the 9/11 attacks, he says, because crossing the border to transport the crop to a plant in Manitoba became difficult.

Northstar, located a few miles south of Hallock, has approximately 1 million acres of canola planted within a 100-mile radius in the United States and Canada.

The plant is able to process 2 million pounds per day.

Adding jobs, payroll

In addition to providing another crop option for area growers, the Northstar plant will add 47 jobs and a $3.5 million annual payroll. About one-third of the jobs have been filled.

“Most of the management staff and supervisors will be people with oilseed processing experience,” Juhnke says. “For the operations and maintenance positions, we’re looking for experience in similar manufacturing industries.

“Of our eight management staff, several are coming home, so to speak. They’re from the region, educated at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and now returning to their home area.”

The added jobs will provide a needed economic boost to the region, Hallock City Clerk Hank Noel says.

“It will add students to our school and have a big impact on housing,” Noel says. “We’ve already seen people investing in some side businesses, like building a bigger truck maintenance facility.

“It seems to be positively impacting everything.”

Noel says Northstar will be an electric customer for PKM Electric Cooperative that is the equivalent of a town of 3,000 people.

“We’ve watched rural population dwindle each decade,” he says. “This is a chance to reverse what’s happened in the last 30 years. Having more consumers helps the profit line for businesses big and small.”

This article is from the (Grand Forks Herald). The (Grand Forks Herald) and Agweek are both owned by Forum Communications.

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