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November 11, 2014 | Elise Schafer

Feed Industry Invests in Education

The Northern Crops Institute renovates its feed mill on North Dakota State University’s Fargo campus with state-of-the-art equipment donated by feed industry suppliers.

The Northern Crops Institute, located on the campus of North Dakota State University in Fargo, ND, has educated visitors from more than 130 countries.
One morning late in August at the Northern Crops Institute, eager learners gather outside the NCI Auditorium as Kim Koch, Ph.D., manager of the NCI Feed Center, prepares to teach a lesson on food and feed safety.
Class begins, and 20 or so pupils file into the lecture hall. But these aren’t college students, and the fall semester isn’t even in session yet at NDSU. Students attending this one-week course are feed mill managers from across China, brought to Fargo by NCI. The course, 2014 China Feed Study Tour, gives personnel from small to mid-level Chinese feed manufacturing firms an opportunity to learn about the value of U.S. Northern Plains commodities, America’s grain storage, transportation and trading system, and provides an up-close look at state-of-the-art feed manufacturing equipment at the newly renovated NCI Feed Production Center.
Project funding for the renovation was provided by the North Dakota State Legislature, and the North Dakota soybean and corn councils, with much of the facility’s new equipment donated by feed industry partners. Equipment donations included a twin-shaft mixer, automated premix batching system, liquid pumps and meters, conveyor, testing instruments and an automated control system. 
The NCI held an open house celebration of the new Feed Production Center on Aug. 20.

In addition to training feed milling professionals, the Feed Production Center is responsible for meeting the daily feed needs for NDSU’s animal units and their various livestock research feeding trials. NDSU conducts modeling studies, using pregnant sheep to study the role nutrition plays in reproductive physiology and applying the knowledge gained to human development, as well as herd efficiency research with dairy cows, swine and beef cattle. 

(From left) Karolyn Zurn, Chairwoman, Northern Crops Council, Mark Weber, director, Northern Crops Institute, and Kim Koch, Ph.D., manager, NCI Feed Center

Koch and NDSU feed science students manage the mill’s production of up to 2,400 tons of feed a year. The mill is capable of producing feed ingredients, finished feed and premixes and provides bulk or bagged deliveries of both meal and pelleted feed. 


The Northern Crops Institute is a collaborative effort among North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and South Dakota to support the promotion and market development of crops grown in their four-state region. In addition to its Feed Production Center, the NCI’s Learning Center is an international meeting place for customers, commodity traders, technical experts, and processors to come together for discussion, education and technical services. 
NCI relies on the research conducted by NDSU and other regional  land grant universities — Montana State University, South Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota — to gain information and educate buyers from the global soybean, wheat and corn markets. To date, the NCI has provided educational programming to visitors from  more than 130 countries worldwide. 
With the addition of the feed manufacturing equipment and controls at the Feed Production Center, the Northern Crops Institute and NDSU now also showcase the most modern technological advancements the feed industry has to offer. 
An overdue upgrade

In addition to promoting the region’s crop value and classroom coursework, many of NCI’s classes include hands-on learning experiences. On site at NCI’s main facility is a state-of-the-art pilot-scale flour mill, grain grading room, pasta processing laboratory, extrusion processing laboratory, bakery  and analytical laboratory. NCI visitors also have access to an electronic simulated trading room located at NDSU’s downtown Fargo campus. However, its Feed Production Center was built in 1990 and hadn’t received any significant equipment updates since. New state-of-the-art milling equipment was mission-critical in order to provide NCI’s international feed manufacturing visitors the same world-class learning opportunity that other customers in grain procurement, milling, baking and processing received  when coming to the NCI.


By 2012, the mill’s operating system and mixer had become obsolete, and NCI began to make plans to secure additional funding to make improvements. In 2013, NCI gained approval from the North Dakota State Legislature for $100,000 in seed money and the project took off. When Koch’s long-time friend Gerry Leukam,  of T.E. Ibberson Co. at the time, heard of the Legislature’s support, Leukam offered to help take the project to the next level. Together they turned to industry partners and gathered over $450,000 in equipment donations. The North Dakota Soybean Council and North Dakota Corn Council each contributed an additional $100,000 and $77,000, respectively.  
Industry lends support
Koch and Leukam attended the International Production & Processing Expo in Atlanta hoping to secure donations from feed industry suppliers and were overwhelmed with positive feedback. 
A platform constructed with donated steel from Industrial Fabrication Services, Inc. supports the APEC and Intersystems  ingredient bins and an Essmueller conveyor.

“First we went to APEC to ask for a microsystem, and without batting an eye they said ‘That’s not a problem. How many bins do you need and when do you want them?’ I couldn’t believe this was real. We shook hands on it, and then we went to Interstates Companies, Scott and Essmueller,” Koch remembers. “By the end of the day, we had a new 10-bin microsystem, a promise for a new operating system, a new twin-shaft mixer and a conveyor for the microingredients.”  


Randy Best, project manager, Interstates Companies, says, “We feel like you can never go wrong by investing in education. Our returns will come in the future in the form of students and people from all over the world working with our system.” 
Michael DeBoer, division manager, Interstates Companies, says the high-tech system is also user-friendly. “From the HMI screen, users simply select what they want to make,” DeBoer says. “The system pulls up saved rations and sets up the mixes, sets how long they need to mix and which ingredients come from which scales. The operator then selects the destination bin for when it’s done mixing.”
Thanks to a combination of industry donations, legislative funding and commodity group backing, the Northern Crops Institute has a world-class feed mill to help it provide education to domestic and international clients and students, supply NDSU’s animal health units with quality feed and explore new uses of the region’s rich resources.


Donor List



Scott Equipment Co.

Twin-shaft Mixer, Surge Hopper, Conveyor

APEC, Automated Process Equipment Corp.

10-bin Micro System

The Essmueller Co.

Microingredient Conveyor

Interstates Control System, Inc.

Controls and Operation System

Endress+Hauser, Inc.

Mass Flow Liquid Meters

Seedburo Equipment Co.

Lab Testing Equipment

Bliss Industries, LLC

Hammermill Safety Equipment

Viking Pump, Inc.

Liquid Pumps


4-Bin Flexible Bulk Container Dosing System

Industrial Fabrication Services, Inc.

Structural Steel Platform

T.E. Ibberson Co.

Project Oversight


Northern Advantages for Foreign Buyers

The Northern Crops Institute was formed in 1983 by wheat growing groups in Minnesota, Montana North Dakota and South Dakota to promote wheat products from their four-state region. But as wheat lost its spot as the area’s dominant crop, the NCI’s mission expanded to promote soybeans, corn, pulse and oil crops. According to Mark Weber, NCI director, studies on protein quality show the advantages of Northern crops. 

“Recent studies by the University of Minnesota show that soybeans grown in this northern region have a potentially higher feeding value than previously thought,” says Weber. “U of M’s research shows that measuring soybean feeding value by raw protein is not necessarily a true indicator of feed value. It is rather the quality of the protein contained in the soybean as measured by its essential amino acid profile. One of the concepts we’re teaching in the China Feed Study Tour course is to look beyond the crude protein content when buying soybeans, and look more to the quality of the protein as measured by the essential amino acid profile.  Research has shown we have some of the best soybean protein quality in the world, especially compared to the South America,” concludes Weber.

Karolyn Zurn, chairwoman of the Northern Crops Council and a Minnesota soybean farmer, notes that the region’s climate and soil give Northern soybeans distinct advantages for feeding hogs. 

“Our location is conducive to allowing the bean to contain critical amino acids values,” Zurn states. “When you’re feeding hogs, it’s not the protein that is needed; it’s the essential amino acids. Nutritionists have known that for decades and have been enhancing their feed with synthetic amino acids, but you can replace synthetics with soybeans grown right here.” 

Despite recent problems with rail car shortages due to the oil boom in western North Dakota, the region is strategically located to serve the PNW destined for export markets, particularly to China and the growing Southeast Asian markets.

The China Feed Study Tour students returned home with not only knowledge of the latest feed manufacturing technology, but also assurance that Northern grown soybeans provide high quality and easy access. 

For more information about the NCI, visit


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