Originally published December 20, 2019 on OrganicBiz
By Robert Arnason
The largest oilseed crushing plant in Montana is scheduled to open early next year.
The plant, known as Montana Specialty Mills, is expected to crush organic canola, non-genetically modified canola and flax, grown by farmers in Western Canada and the northern U.S. Plains.
“It will be operational the first of the year,” said Dave Loboy, president of Montana Specialty Mills, located in Great Falls, Mont.
The new facility can handle 10,000 bushels per day, or 225 tonnes of oilseeds daily. That’s about 75,000 tonnes per year.
In comparison, the Louis Dreyfus plant in Yorkton, Sask., can crush about 850,000 tonnes of canola annually.
Montana Specialty Mills was formed in 1997. It sprang out of another veg oil business that operated a crush plant in Great Falls for decades.
The new plant is a joint venture between Columbia Grain and Evans Grain, a firm based in Idaho.
A large chunk of what we do process (for) organic canola, originates out of Alberta and Manitoba (and Saskatchewan). – Justin Hager.
Columbia Grain operates dozens of elevators, pulse processing and agronomy centres, from Washington state to North Dakota.
Montana Specialty Mills already has non-GMO and organic canola seed in its bins, ready to be crushed. Most of the organic canola was grown in Canada.
“A large chunk of what we do process (for) organic canola, originates out of Alberta and Manitoba (and Saskatchewan),” said Justin Hager, MSM procurement merchant.
“There’s not a whole lot of acres of organic canola grown here…. Canola, in Montana, is still in its infancy.”
As for non-GM canola, MSM buys it from “both sides of the border,” Hager added.
The former MSM crush plant specialized in organic canola and flax, but the owners decided the new facility would also crush non-GM canola
“As we transitioned into the new plant, it was a natural fit to continue down the non-GMO path,” Hager said.
The big market for organic and non-GM canola oil is California and other states on the U.S. West Coast. There is also strong demand from the northeastern United States and in cities like Minneapolis and Chicago.
“(This) gives end users, meaning food manufacturers, another option that maybe is a little closer to their backyard,” Loboy said, noting organic canola is also grown in Europe.
The company has stocks of canola and flax from the 2018 and 2019 crop years, but next month it will start contacting farmers about 2020 production, Hager said.
Hager didn’t share the price offered to growers of organic and non-GM canola.
However, the price of organic canola is typically 150 to 160 percent higher than conventional canola. So, organic canola would likely be priced at $22 to $26 per bushel.
Montana Specialty Mills relies on suppliers from Canada, but winter canola is gaining traction in the central portion of Montana in a region known as the Golden Triangle.
Traditionally, farmers in the Golden Triangle followed a crop rotation of wheat-fallow-wheat.
That practice may be dying out.
“When I started (12 years ago) there wasn’t a whole lot of rotational crops,” Hager said. “It’s gotten to the point here, lately, that most producers want to have a pulse crop and an oilseed in their rotation.”
Some believe winter canola makes sense because summers in much of Montana are too hot and dry for spring canola.
This year, Montana farmers seeded only 20,000 acres of winter canola, but some farmers and crop advisers expect acres to increase by 10-fold.
“I think it could easily get to a couple hundred thousand,” said Curt Droogsma, a district sales manager with Winfield United in Billings, Mont.
Hager agreed that winter canola is becoming more popular, but that won’t help Montana Specialty Mills. At least, not immediately.
The winter canola now grown in Montana is genetically modified.
Seed companies are working on non-GM winter varieties, suitable for Montana, but commercialization could take a few years.
In the meantime, Montana Specialty Mills will continue to buy organic and non-GM canola from Canada, North Dakota and elsewhere.