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Northwood plant eyes public start Monday

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An oilseed crushing plant in Northwood, N.D., is expected to reopen to the public Monday.

The Prairie Premium Oil plant eventually could expand to other crops, but has no immediate plans to do so, said Kent Weston, the company’s president.

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“I think we’ll be primarily a canola plant,” he said. “We’ll be ready to change if we have to, though.”

The company has about 30 owners, most of them North Dakota canola farmers. The owners will supply much of the canola crushed by the plant. But Prairie Premium Oil will crush other canola as well, said Weston, a farmer and the owner-operator of Weston Seed House in Sarles, N.D.

The plant, which previously went bankrupt under “completely different” ownership, will face some public skepticism, he said,

“We have good connections (in the canola industry) and we’re starting in good financial position, but we have to let people know about us. The challenge we face will be getting people comfortable with us,” he said.

Leased facility

The Northwood plant, which opened in 2007, initially crushed soybeans, but later expanded into canola, sunflowers, corn germ and flax, with a daily output of 200 to 300 tons. North Dakota is the nation’s leading producer of canola, sunflower and flax, and soybeans and corn are increasingly popular in the state.

The plant cost $10.2 million to design and build. It closed in 2009 after running into financial difficulties and had been idle since then.

Weston said his group, which includes investors from Sarles, Munich, Rolla, Rock Lake and Langdon, all in North Dakota, once hoped to establish a new canola crushing plant in Munich.

When that didn’t work out, they turned their attention to the defunct plant in Northwood. The farm town of 945 is about 35 miles southwest of Grand Forks.

Bret Morrison, owner of Nebraska Bean Co., based in Clearwater, Neb., bought the plant for $1.1 million at public auction in Northwood on Nov. 26, 2012, but didn’t reopen it.

Prairie Premium Oil is leasing the site from Morrison, Weston said.

Canola supply

Canola is grown in the Northwood area, but isn’t common there.

Prairie Premium Oil is nonetheless confident of getting the canola it needs, in part because of its industry connections, Weston said.

The plant, which has 17 employees, is fully staffed. Bob Killam, who has extensive industry experience, is plant manager.

Canola seeds — similar in size to poppy seeds — are crushed to produce oil, which has a reputation for being healthy, and meal, generally fed to cattle and pigs.

Growing U.S. demand for the crop already is so strong that the U.S. imports most of its canola from Canada, industry officials say.

“The demand is just tremendous,” Weston said. 

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