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Prairie Premium Oil LLC plans to reopen and operate the defunct oilseed crushing plant at Northwood, N.D. Jonathan Knutson/Agweek

ND oilseed crushing plant to be back in operation

NORTHWOOD, N.D. - A group of North Dakota investors is reopening a defunct oilseed crushing plant at Northwood, N.D.

The plant will begin crushing canola this summer and could expand to other crops later, says Kent Weston, president of Prairie Premium Oil LLC.

Crushing will start before canola harvest begins in late summer, with the plant gearing up to full production by harvest, he says.

Fifteen to 17 people will work at the plant. Most of them have been hired, Weston says.

Currently, "We're commissioning the plant, going through it, getting everything ready," he says.

Offices at the plant are being renovated, and Prairie Premium Oil signs have been put up. When Agweek stopped at the plant to ask about the company's plans, employees referred questions to Weston, who owns and operates Weston Seed House in Sarles, N.D.

Weston says he's part of a group of investors from Sarles, Munich, Rolla, Rock Lake and Langdon, all in North Dakota, that once hoped to establish a new canola crushing plant in Munich.

When that didn't work out, they turned their attention to the defunct plant in Northwood. The farm town of 945 is about 35 miles southwest of Grand Forks, N.D.

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 in the state.

The plant, which cost $10.2 million to design and build, closed in 2009 after running into financial difficulties.

Bret Morrison, owner of Nebraska Bean Co., based in Clearwater, Neb., bought the plant for $1.1 million at a public auction in Northwood on Nov. 26, 2012. His bids were submitted online, and he wasn't identified at the time. The buyer's plans for the plant weren't disclosed, either.

But Morrison told Agweek in June 2013 that another party, which he declined to identify, would operate the plant, which he would continue to own.

Morrison didn't immediately return two phone calls seeking comment for this article.

Weston says Prairie Premium Oil will lease the site from Morrison.

Canola big in region

Weston says the plant is expected to crush canola produced in North Dakota, northwest Minnesota and possibly Canada.

Canada is the world's largest producer and exporter of the crop, which is grown in northwest Minnesota, too.

Kevin Waslaski, a Langdon, N.D., farmer and a past president of the U.S. Canola Association, says several ADM plants in North Dakota crush canola, as does the Nothern Agri Industries plant in Hallock, Minn.

Having another canola crusher in the area can only help his industry, he says.

"It's always welcome to have more crushers," he says.

Canola seeds -- similar in size to poppy seeds -- are crushed to produce oil, which has a reputation for being healthy, and meal, generally fed to cattle and pigs.

Growing U.S. demand for the crop already is so strong that the United States imports most of its canola from Canada, industry officials say.