Grain Millers keeps growing its oat processing capacity
ST. ANSGAR, Iowa — A small-grains processing facility here has grown to 143 employees, with its focus on organic oats.
Grain Millers is the world's largest organic oat processor and North American's second largest oat processor. It operates at eight locations in three countries and employs 600.
"Here at St. Ansgar, we process 85 percent oats, and the rest is other grains," said Mayer. "St. Ansgar is Grain Millers' largest oat milling facility."
The company mills oats, barley, hard red wheat, soft white wheat, rye and triticale. Grain Millers processes organic corn in Marion, Ind. In addition to St. Ansgar, plants at Yorkton, Saskatchewan and Eugene, Ore., process small grains.
Grain Millers started in the 1980s in Oregon. It purchased the St. Ansgar mill and continued to grow through acquisitions, said Melissa Edgington, human resources manager.
The St. Ansgar plant was started by Claire Brasch, who processed race horse feed, said plant manager Tony Mayer. In 1983, it was purchased by local investors who hoped to move into the human food consumption market. They renamed the business NorOats. The facility was destroyed by fire in 1986. Insurance paid for it to be rebuilt as a race horse feed mill.
Plans for food grade products remained, and the facility started flaking for human consumption in 1988. By the 1990s, the facility was processing 100 percent eating-quality food, and in the early 1990s, the plant started processing organic food products.
Expansion has occurred about every two to four years, Edgington said. The plant expanded significantly in 2001 as a result of a joint venture with Malt-O-Meal. The two entities split off in 2008. Grain Millers added two new mills in 2007.
The plant has 100,000 square feet of warehouse space. A value-added plant opened in 2013.
"Grain Millers is a leading manufacturer in agribusiness with diversified interests in whole grain manufacturing and merchandising, dairy trading and risk management services, organic and conventional consumer food products and the import and export of commodities," Edgington said.
A St. Peter, Minn., plant cleans and packages specialty soybeans, lentils, pearl barley, mustard seed and buckwheat groats, which are sold in grocery stores.
Grain Millers ingredients are in products made by Sara Lee, Gerber, Kellogg's, Post, General Mills, Barilla, Nature's Path, Malt-O-Meal, Clif Bar, Cascadian Farm, Kashi, Nabisco, Subway and Hormel.
Each load of oats is sampled for quality at the receiving gate. Next the oats are dehulled, and the groats are kilned to extend shelf life. After kilning, oat groats are milled into flakes, flours, brans and fiber.
Area farmers are encouraged to grow organic oats to supply the plant.The Iowa Organic Association has received a grant to survey organic farmers on factors that limit oat and other small grains production, said Amber Anderson-Mba, IOA executive director.
"We want high quality and high yield," Anderson-Mba said.
Sam Raser, who works with Grain Millers' supply chain management, said oat prices will be strong in 2014, especially for organic oats. His company will pay $7 per bushel for organic milling quality oats delivered to St. Ansgar, if they meet specifications.
Organic oat production continues to move north and west in Canada, but transportation logistics make it difficult to transport the product to St. Ansgar, Raser said. The United States produced 65 million bushels of oats in 2013. That compares to a 14-billion-bushel corn crop. Canada's crop was 268 million bushels. Producers in southern Canada are abandoning small grains to grow corn and soybeans.
For more information
For more information about Grain Millers, go to grainmillers.com.
For more information about the Iowa Organic Association, go to iowaorganic.org.