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Published February 13, 2013, 03:49 PM

New plant owner weighs options

Buyer of Northwood, N.D., plant seeks farmers’ input.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

The new owner of a defunct oilseed crushing plant in Northwood, N.D., hasn’t completed his plans for the facility — and he’s seeking suggestions on what he should do.

“I’d like to hear what farmers in the area have to say,” says Brett Morrison, owner of Nebraska Bean Inc., which is based in Clearwater, Neb.

Morrison bought the plant for $1.1 million at a public auction in Northwood on Nov. 26. His bids were submitted online, and he wasn’t identified at the time. The buyer’s plans for the plant, which closed in 2009, weren’t disclosed, either.

Now, Morrison tells Agweek that he will use the plant as a dry bean receiving station, and possibly as an oilseed crushing plant, too.

His family company, with its main operations located rurally between the Nebraska cities of Neligh, Clearwater, and Royal, processes, packages and markets 15 kinds of dry edible beans to foreign and domestic customers.

When he bought the Northwood plant last year, Morrison says, his intent was to operate it only as a dry bean receiving station. North Dakota is the nation’s leading producer of edible beans. Minnesota ranks fourth.

Nebraska Bean still intends to use the plant to receive dry beans, ideally as soon as this fall, Morrison says.

But after buying the plant, Morrison says, he realized that area farmers and commodity groups have considerable interest in reestablishing its crushing capacity.

The question is, “Do we want to keep the crushing plant in existence and operating?” in addition to receiving dry beans? he says.

Taking time to collect information and answer that question is something “we feel we owe to the community,” he says. “It’s not going to be a long period of time.”

The plant, which opened in 2007, initially crushed soybeans, but later expanded into canola, sunflowers, corn germ and flax, with a daily output of 200 to 300 tons. North Dakota is the nation’s leading producer of canola, sunflower and flax, and soybeans and corn are increasingly popular with farmers in the state.

The plant closed in 2009 after running into financial difficulties.

Farmers across the area want more locations to which they can bring and sell their crops, says Ryan Pederson, a Rolette, N.D., farmer, and president of the Northern Canola Growers Association.

Farmers will transport their crops long distances if the price they receive justifies doing so, he says.

Northwood, a farm town of 945, is about 35 miles southwest of Grand Forks, N.D.

Though canola is grown in the Northwood area, the crop is most popular in northern North Dakota.

Volume, jobs

Operating both a dry bean receiving station and crushing facility would increase the volume of agricultural commodities handled at the plant, Morrison says.

He declines to comment on how many people might be employed at a dry bean receiving station and whether the number might be greater at a combined receiving station/crushing plant.

Jeremiah Black, Northwood city administrator, says his city would like to see as many jobs as possible at the plant. He says it’s premature to speculate on whether the city might be interested in providing financial aid to reestablish the crushing operation.

The plant had 24 employees when it opened.

The $1.1 million that Morrison paid for the plant was just 10.8 percent of the $10.2 million spent designing and building the plant.

“We were very lucky to be able to buy for such a significant difference,” Morrison says. “I’m surprised it didn’t go for quite a bit more.”

He says anyone with ideas or proposals for the Northwood plant can contact him at brett@nebraskabean.com or (402) 887-5335.

“We’re happy to be there. And we look forward to being part of North Dakota,” he says.

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