Minnesota businessman wants more wheat straw versatility
Companies weren't hiring when Brian Dohrn was finishing college in 2009. So he started a company of his own. Today, the Rochester, Minn., businessman is involved in both trucking and agricultural services. And he hopes to find North Dakota and Mi...
Companies weren't hiring when Brian Dohrn was finishing college in 2009. So he started a company of his own.
Today, the Rochester, Minn., businessman is involved in both trucking and agricultural services. And he hopes to find North Dakota and Minnesota farmers who will contract with him to bale and buy their wheat straw.
"We're looking for farmers in the Red River Valley," primarily in the Fargo area, but farther north and west in North Dakota, as well as east into western Minnesota, he says.
Dohrn's first company hauled a lot of freight to North Dakota, but the trucks sometimes ran empty back to Minnesota. To increase the amount of freight hauled back, he began buying straw in North Dakota and selling to big dairies and other customers in eastern Minnesota and Montana.
But Dohrn ran into quality and supply issues, so last year he decided to begin baling his own straw. In 2014, his company baled 13,000 acres of wheat straw, most near Devils Lake, N.D., where his company's salesperson has hunting ties, and the rest near Perley, Minn.
Dohrn's goal this year is to bale 40,000 acres split between the Red River Valley and current farmers in Devils Lake. The Fargo area is closer to Rochester, which will reduce the cost and effort of taking straw back east.
The company, Dohrn Ag Services, is interested only in wheat straw, not the straw of such crops as barley.
Dohrn will pay farmers $20 a ton or $11 per bale for their straw, which last year generally worked out to $30 to $40 per acre, he says.
Wheat prices have plunged in the past two years, increasing interest in supplementing income from grain with sales of wheat straw. But it's uncertain how strong that interest will be.
Some farmers in eastern North Dakota might consider selling wheat straw, but wheat farmers elsewhere in the state are less likely to do so, says Mark Formo, president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association.
Farmers outside the eastern part of the state generally prefer to work straw back into the soil to maintain its nutrient levels, he says.
Dwight Aakre, North Dakota State University Extension Service farm management specialist, says farmers need to consider short-term financial gains of selling wheat straw against the long-term benefit of retaining the organic matter in their soil.
"We've definitely run into that issue," Dohrn says of nutrient levels in the soil. "But a lot of the guys we've baled for weren't that concerned."
One plus is that farmers who sold their straw didn't need to operate choppers on their combines, cutting fuel use, Dohrn says.
"The farmers who sold the straw to us were able to combine faster, saved fuel cost, and made more money per acre," he says.
Dohrn's company sells straw in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. Wisconsin, which bills itself as America's Dairyland, accounts for most of the sales.
Customers include Central Sands Dairy in Nekoosa, Wis.
The dairy has used Dohrn-supplied straw for two years as both a feed ration and bedding, manager Adam Onan says.
Dohrn says he's confident customer demand warrants increasing the amount of straw his company bales and sells.
For more information, visit www.dorhnag.com .