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Published February 22, 2008, 12:00 AM

Feed mill coming to Cando

The hog industry in the Cando, N.D., area soon will be pigging out on its own feed products.

By: By Kevin Bonham, Herald Staff Writer

The hog industry in the Cando, N.D., area soon will be pigging out on its own feed products.

Sky Can Ltd., a Manitoba pork producer, is building a $4 million feed mill three miles east of the community of 1,300.

Scheduled to be running by May, the mill will feed the region's growing pig population - the 6,000 sows at Hexagon Farms; 20,000 hogs and 12,000 nursery piglets at Dakota Country Swine near Cando. The businesses produce about 150,000 hogs annually.

The mill also will supply the planned Hexagon 2, a 7,500-hog business that will be built this year about 15 miles west of Cando, near Wolford, N.D., in Rolette County.

Currently, the Cando-area hog operations purchase feed from Harvey, N.D., and Kilarney, Man.

Jim and Linda Gibbens own Hexagon Farms, while Bruce and Judy Gibbens own Dakota Country Swine.

Sky Can Ltd., a subsidiary of Hytek Ltd., La Broquerie, Man., is located near Steinbach, Man. Jim and Bruce Gibbens, who are cousins, are stockholders in Hytek.

The mill will have a capacity of producing about 30,000 tons of feed annually, employing about 12 people. It will operate five days a week, with one eight-hour shift daily, according to Jim Gibbens.

The $4 million mill project is being partially funded through a $250,000 PACE interest buydown program from the Bank of North Dakota. Earlier this month, the Towner County Economic Development Corp. approved an interest-buydown loan for as much as $60,000.

“The local funding isn't a grant. It's just a loan,” said JoAnn Rodenbiker, director of Towner County Economic Development Corp.

The primary lender is Land O' Lakes Co-op Financing.

The PACE program loan is the first public financing for the estimated $25 million to $30 million Dakota Country Swine/Hexagon Farms complex, according to Jim Gibbens, who also is mayor of Cando.

“All capital so far has been funded internally, by Bruce and I and our Hytek partners,” he said.

The Gibbens family has invested about $12 million in private capital into the business.

Dakota Country started four years ago. The Hexagon Farms operation is not quite 2 years old, while the nursery is just being completed and populated this winter, according to Gibbens

Hexagon Farms has 22 employees, Dakota Country Swine has nine and the nursery has three. The numbers do not include management principals.

When the feed mill and Hexagon 2 open, the total complex will employ about 65 people, according to Gibbens.

Rodenbiker said the feed mill will have the capacity to expand into a retail feed pellet business.

Gibbens said one of the company's challenges is finding qualified people to fill jobs. The average age of hog industry employees in Manitoba is 28. In Cando, it's 47.

“I spend a lot of my time recruiting and training people,” he said. “There's just not a lot of young people to pick from.”

Wages range from $8 an hour for entry-level staff to about $12 an hour, plus full medical insurance for employees, paid vacation and disability benefits.

“We've been facing an aging population and declining enrollment in rural North Dakota,” Gibbens said. “We think we're kind of bucking that trend. We think that we're holding our own and creating some small growth.”

Bonham is a North Dakota regional reporter for the Herald. He can be reached at kbonham@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1269.

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