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Published July 20, 2012, 12:00 AM

Hallock canola plant up, running

Local processing center makes crop more appealing for Minn., ND growers
Hallock, Minn. - Ahead of schedule after faster-than-expected construction, Minnesota’s only canola seed crushing and refining plant is now operating at full capacity, processing up to 1,000 tons of seed each day to produce food-grade canola oil and canola meal.

By: Ryan Johnson, INFORUM

Hallock, Minn. - Ahead of schedule after faster-than-expected construction, Minnesota’s only canola seed crushing and refining plant is now operating at full capacity, processing up to 1,000 tons of seed each day to produce food-grade canola oil and canola meal.

President Neil Juhnke said the $168 million Northstar Agri Industries facility is perfectly located in Kittson County just south of Hallock. Besides having access to a main BNSF Railway line that goes north to Winnipeg, it is surrounded by the United States’ largest concentration of canola fields.

Juhnke said as much as two-thirds of the 450,000 to 500,000 acres of canola required for the plant is expected to come from Cavalier County and surrounding areas in northeastern North Dakota. The state set a canola record this year, with farmers planting 1.3 million acres, and Juhnke said about 60,000 acres have been planted in northwestern Minnesota that will help meet demand.

The remaining canola will come from Canadian growers.

Juhnke said Minnesota had more than 200,000 acres of canola in the early 2000s. After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, it became more difficult for farmers to transport the crop to Canada for processing, making the crop less appealing to local growers.

But he said the new facility could help boost canola’s agricultural importance in the state once again, especially as canola oil continues to gain a bigger market share among cooking oils.

“By placing the plant in Minnesota, we take the big part of the freight out of the equation for the grower and improve his economics by reducing his freight costs to market,” he said. “There’s also the convenience factor of having a crush plant right there.”

Politicians and local officials gathered outside Hallock in January 2011 for the groundbreaking, celebrating the community’s major new employer, which is expected to have 47 full-time workers with an annual payroll of $3.5 million once the few remaining open positions are filled.

Just a year after the groundbreaking, Northstar was receiving canola seed from last year’s crop to prepare to begin operations on May 18.

Juhnke said the plant ramped up to full capacity within 22 days of opening and will crush and refine canola seed 345 days each year, closing for three weeks each year for maintenance.

He said Northstar will soon close for a couple of weeks for final calibrations before workers begin processing this year’s crop in mid-August.

“To start up a new plant and hit the rated capacity in 22 days is a really good achievement, and to have excellent quality products right from the start,” he said. “We’re very happy with the plant’s performance.”

The plant contracted Land O’Lakes Purina Feed to market its canola oil and canola meal, a high-protein ingredient for dairy cows and livestock.

A group of 105 regional investors has 12 percent ownership of Northstar, while majority owner PICO Holdings holds the remaining 88 percent.

Juhnke said the facility’s operation has been “excellent” so far. But company officials already have filed for necessary environmental permits in case they decide to ramp up the plant’s operations even more in the future.

“I think it’s possible that we will expand the capacity,” he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587

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