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Confection Industry Changes With Times

Sunday, November 1, 2009
filed under: Utilization/Trade: Confection-Non-oil

By John Sandbakken

When the U.S. confection sunflower industry first sprouted up during the 1970s, processing plants were built in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota, as most of the acreage was found in the Red River Valley. It’s a pattern that has changed through the years as sunflower acreage shifted from the Red River Valley to central and western North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and the Texas Panhandle. As planted acres moved farther and farther away from processing plants, it became more difficult for confection processors to contract acres due to rising freight costs.

To alleviate the situation, confection processors now offer producers various regional seed delivery sites. In essence, the industry is attempting to make the crop easier to grow and handle.

“Growers have been telling us that the dynamics of on-farm help is changing,” says Bob Majkrzak, president and CEO of Red River Commodities. “They may or may not have the drivers available for trucking loads into the plants, and some of the round trips are taking more hours than a regular hired man was able to put in for one day.”

Within the Dakotas, Red River Commodities has created storage and receiving points along U.S. Highway 281. Brinsmade and Jamestown, N.D., along with Redfield, S.D., cover the two states well, allowing for a reasonable trans-load between the grower and the processing plant in Fargo, N.D.

In the High Plains region, Red River Commodities has organized delivery points in the important growing districts in eastern Colorado and northwestern Kansas. Colorado sites are at Prospect Valley, Flagler and Burlington. Kansas sites at Grainfield and Hugoton help support the receiving at Red River’s Colby plant. Within Texas, sites at Muleshoe, Petersburg, Hale Center and Lubbock cover that state’s Panhandle. Southern Texas is served by another two to three facilities each year.

Once placed into storage, confection sunflower takes additional care to assure the quality. Good air flow and proper moisture control are critical to long-term storage success. So some growers want to move it to the processor or a better storage location more quickly. Having a delivery point closer to the field helps to ensure that objective.

Dahlgren & Company offers delivery points at Crookston, Minn., Grace City and Fargo, N.D., and Ipswich, S.D. The Ipswich facility, located along U.S. Highway 12 and operated in partnership with Sylte Farms, has drying capabilities in addition to its 30-million-pound storage capacity. Both oil and confection sunflower are being purchased and handled at the site. “The ability to contract, purchase and deliver sunflower year-round will be extremely helpful for South Dakota producers,” says Tim Egeland, Dahlgren’s chief financial officer. “Some growers just do not have the right-sized equipment to make a long-distance haul of their crop; so the convenience of a closer location was clearly required.”

Steele, N.D., sunflower producer Tim DeKrey agrees with Egeland. “I can get a lot more done in a day when I don’t have so far to haul my crop [i.e., when instead it’s to] a location that is closer to my farm,” he says. “There are only so many hours in the day, and I need to use my time as efficiently as possible.”

SunOpta Sunflower has processing plants in Breckenridge, Minn., and Goodland, Kan. Additional delivery locations are at Barney, N.D., and in the High Plains at Ulysses, Kan., Amherst, Texas, Paoli and Eaton, Colo., and Hemingford, Neb. “Providing alternative delivery locations is another way to strengthen relations with confection growers — and, ultimately, providing quality finished product for our customers,” points out Steve Arnhalt, SunOpta’s general manager.

CHS Sunflower offers several locations as well. Producers can deliver seeds to its processing plants in Grandin, N.D., and Hazel, Minn., or to local elevators in the North Dakota communities of Barlow, Pillsbury, Galesburg and Drayton, as well as Thief River Falls, Minn.

Larger grain cooperatives — such as Lake Region Grain Cooperative in northeastern North Dakota and Sun Prairie Grain in northwestern North Dakota — offer various elevators for delivery. In South Dakota, CHS Sunflower has delivery sites at Northern Plains in Gettysburg and at Midwest Cooperative in Onida.

And it isn’t only the “big guys” of confection sunflower processing who offer delivery alternatives to confection producers. Hi Pro Sunflower has a processing plant in Halma, Minn.; Anderson Seed Company, a processor based at Mentor, Minn., has delivery points in Selz and Durbin, N.D.; and Erker Grain of Fort Morgan, Colo., sources confection seeds from Colorado, Nebraska and as far away as South Dakota and southern Texas.

“The processors are offering good locations for delivery and options for the grower who has the quality storage available,” affirms Don Schommer, president of the National Sunflower Association and a grower from Munich, N.D. “The storage incentives that I receive include an extra payment on top of my contracted price. This is very attractive to me as a confection sunflower producer.”

If you think you are too far away from the market to grow confection sunflower, think again. The market might be closer than you think.

John Sandbakken is marketing director for the National Sunflower Association.
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