Work activities for the cooperative’s initial year of existence have focused on three main areas: determining desirable wheat varieties and growing them for Summer’s Harvest Flour Mill’s operations; setting up the flour production lines at the mill to meet customers’ specs; and working with mill personnel to develop a delivery system for commodities from field to finish as a packaged flour product.
Research indicated that ‘Argent’ wheat was an excellent variety for the flour mill’s needs and two of the coop’s members purchased and planted the wheat in 2005. The wheat is being held in storage on the individuals’ farms and is ready for delivery. In addition, other potential coop members were contacted and a portion of their 2004 crop was purchased for production development testing. There has been considerable interest by area farmers in being involved with the new mill once it’s operational. There are other crops produced in the area, such as corn and soybeans, and marketing efforts have shown that there is a need for flour from those commodities as well. The new mill will have the ability to produce those products as well as the traditional flour made from wheat.
Will Robinson, a milling specialist formerly with NDSU/NCI, was hired to develop Summer Harvest’s flour lines to meet customers’ specs for stone ground, whole wheat and white flours. Milling consultants were retained in the spring of 2005 to continue preparing the mill for grinding and a new miller, Rustin Coulter, was hired to replace Will in June of 2005.
The co-op members worked with mill personnel to develop an accounting system and paperwork system for grain deliveries and payments. Pricing and packaging options were researched and progress is being made on those. A logo was developed by a graphics designer and modified for the various ways it would be used-bagging, correspondence, marketing, etc. Office equipment and supplies were purchased to handle the mill’s business needs. A website and internet tracking system for identity-preserved crops is being discussed as well.
A number of interested parties and their employees were invited to attend an April Northern Crops Institute flour milling course, funded by Summer’s Harvest, to showcase the identity-preserved wheat produced by its owners, also members of the co-op. A similar course was later presented to a group of bakers and warehouse purchasing agents at the mill itself. Their needs and the mill’s potential capability were incorporated into that gathering and groundwork for future sales was laid.
Negotiations have begun for the rent or purchase of a grain cleaning facility within a few miles of the new mill. It will require slight modification, but will allow the co-op to increase its profit margin and pass it on to producers.
Co-op members worked through the winter months to assist the construction and milling personnel in the completion of the plant and office space. All time was donated in this effort and they worked on many areas of the building process.
WORK PLAN FOR 2006
Summer’s Harvest has been working with additional investors to reorganize the company, which directly affects the growers’ cooperative. Another company has been contacted to complete the mill’s white flour line, a key component needed for sales to larger markets. When those issues are resolved, the co-op will move forward on acquiring a cleaning facility for its grain and contact growers to plant and deliver commodities to the mill.
Additional wheat and durum varieties suitable for the mill will be identified. Members will continue to work with the mill on meeting customers’ product specifications. The co-op will work to come to an agreement with a rail-loading facility located near the mill and explore land transportation options.
Development of a website and internet tracking system of identity preserved commodities will continue as the number of growers delivering to the mill increases.
The initial groundwork has been laid for the purchase of grain and sale of flour. A good system is in place to maintain both company records and give farmers information for their records.
A logo has been created and has been modified for use in bagging labels, company paperwork and promotional materials.
Several farmers have been contacted and a pool of growers is available to participate in the identity-preserved co-op. Wheat has been grown for the specific needs of the mill and is available when it becomes operational. Efforts, which include a grain cleaning facility, have been geared toward increasing the price paid for commodities.
Marketing efforts show that there are sales opportunities for the type of product and capability that the mill will have. Other crops besides wheat can be used in the milling process, thus expanding the potential for sales and the usage of area crops.
The efforts of the co-op members in assisting mill employees with the construction phase of the plant moved the project along considerably. However, finding the technical help needed in the flour line processes and paying for the additional work that it will require has proved to be a challenge. While many aspects of the business are in place, until engineering and financial issues are resolved, the company has had to suspend its operations. [Editor’s Note: The engineering and financial issues were not able to be resolved and the business was dissolved.]
Information has been shared formally and informally with others. The Northern Crops Institute course on flour milling had 20 attendees while a similar course at the Summer’s Harvest Mill hosted 12 people from the food industry. Co-op members have talked with neighboring farmers about identity-preserved crops with respect to the mill.
A focus group of 12 area consumers were polled on their labeling and bagging preferences during the developmental stage. A tour of the mill under construction was also given.
A marketing firm attended trade shows in California, Minneapolis and Chicago, meeting with potential customers and keeping them updated on the progress and capabilities of the mill. Emphasis was placed on local companies in the tri-state area where present and potential customers are more likely to buy the new products available through Summer’s Harvest.
Tours of the mill will be held upon its completion, to inform and also to generate interest in delivering grain and other commodities to the mill. A more formal effort to expand the identity-preserved co-op membership and its grain base will begin once the plant is operating and markets are developed.
The growers’ co-op will continue to support mill activities through customer contacts, informational materials, marketing efforts and possible trade show advertising.
To add value to commodity type crops, a group of producers formed a cooperative for the purpose of producing identity-preserved and variety specific crops for a new full service specialty flour mill being built in east-central North Dakota. The cooperative will focus on producing and milling crops, such as wheat, rye, corn, soybeans and peas that will serve it’s niche markets.