Courtesy Crystal Valley

Feb 14, 2023

New feed mill advances Crystal Valley's growth mission

Expanding cooperative brings a cutting-edge feed operation to southern Minnesota’s pork producers.

Bob Raue, vice president of feed for Crystal Valley Cooperative, believes the key to a co-op’s success is its ability to anticipate future needs over focusing on short-sighted goals.

With that as a guiding principle, the Mankato, Minnesota-based farm supply and grain marketing cooperative developed a master plan for growth, leading them to conduct a study in 2019 with Land O’Lakes on three of its four feed mills throughout the state at the time.

The study concluded it would be too costly to renovate and expand the three mills to compliance level for safety and efficiency, so the co-op decommissioned its Janesville, LaSalle and Jackson locations.

Janesville production shifted to the recently expanded and updated Vernon Center feed mill (not included in the study) to serve its swine producing customers in the eastern part of their footprint.

Feed production for its western Minnesota customers needed to shift from the other two decommissioned feed mills to a new location. When leadership began evaluating options where to site the new mill, Trimont, Minnesota, rose to the top of the heap.

“It was the prime spot,” Raue said. “Based on our study of grain and ingredients, Trimont was the best location to add a feed mill, and it made sense since we have grain there.”

Raue, a nearly 50-year feed industry veteran, said the town was home to a woodhouse grain elevator and a small feed mill decades ago, but both were decommissioned well before the 2002 merger that created Crystal Valley.

Years later, a new grain elevator was built in Trimont by FCA Co-op, which Crystal Valley merged with in 2017. The co-op added a new grain bin there after the merger to bring total grain storage capacity to 2.5 million bushels, and by mid-October 2022, a cutting-edge new feed mill was added adjacent to the grain facility.

Communication, collaboration set tone for construction

Raue and his team seized the opportunity to design the feed mill of their dreams with greater efficiency, state-of-the-art automation and all-new equipment to better serve the area’s swine producers.

Crystal Valley hired McCormick Construction, Inc., the same company that completed its Vernon Center feed mill renovation in 2021, as the project’s general contractor and builder.

Crystal Valley’s priority list for the strictly bulk mash feed mill was brief but forward-looking. They wanted a concrete mill versus steel for longevity and housekeeping reasons, and the output needed to be 1,000 tons of feed in a nine-hour day and 2,000 tons of feed in an 18-hour day.

“We wanted to have the ability to increase capacity, so we sized the mill to handle the capacity of the future, withstand the test of time, and continue to meet regulatory compliance from a safety and sanitary perspective,” Raue said.

Raue spoke highly of the team McCormick Construction assembled to design, excavate and build the Trimont feed mill, emphasizing that good communication made all the difference.

“There were about four key individuals from Crystal Valley that served as project managers in a sense, assisting McCormick’s project manager and on-site supervisor,” Raue said.

“We fostered good communication back and forth. We suggested the excavation company they hired, Beemer Companies, and we were in favor of their choice for electrical contractor because we had experience with Knobelsdorff Electric in 2012 and ‘13 when we built a new rail site for grain.”

The team collaborated to design a 280,000 ton/year, 153-foot-tall feed mill with a 55,000-bushel corn silo and a 141-foot-long free-span bridge weighing 48,000 pounds.

Construction began in spring 2021 and took 150,000 total man hours to build. It took 200 people — working in 100-person crews — 28,000-man hours to slip the feed mill and corn silo over the course of 12 24-hour days.

Feed production started in October 2022, adding another chapter to the history of feed production in Trimont, and fulfilling the next phase of Crystal Valley’s master plan for growth.

Feed mill operations and features

The mill will use more than 7 million bushels of corn/year, and its 55,000-bushel corn silo stores enough for about two days’ worth. Grain is brought into the mill from the grain facility on a 357 ton/hour drag conveyor 165 feet overhead.

Corn is ground with three 36 ton/hour triple-stack roller mills, fed by two roller mill elevator legs that stand 162 feet tall — one rated at 55 tons/hour and another rated at 127 tons/hour.

Meanwhile, the single ingredient receiving bay is outfitted with a 90-foot dump-through scale, where trucks get weighed, dump into a 250-ton/hour elevator leg and are issued a ticket in under nine minutes. The facility’s total ingredient storage capacity is 1,688 tons in 23 bins.

Batching equipment consists of a 40-bin microsystem — 36 for vitamins and four weigh-in-loss, an eight-tote hanging system, a 9-ton major scale, a 5-ton mini major scale, a 1,000-pound minor scale and a 500-pound minor scale.

Up to 23 screw conveyors can feed major and minor ingredients into the 9-ton double-ribbon mixer that weighs 48,000 pounds and stands 16 feet high.

All mashed feed at the Trimont mill is cleaned with a 200 ton/hour feed cleaner. Each of its two loadout bays have 24 loadout bins, comprised of eight 60-ton bins and 40 30-ton bins for a total loadout capacity of 1,680 tons.

The loadout bays and receiving bay are also outfitted with high-speed automatic doors to reduce airflow and the effects of harsh outdoor environments during operations.

“Trucks pull in, and within a few seconds the doors close,” Raue said. “This allows us to load feed and receive ingredients without the doors being open, which is important for biosecurity and dust control. When the driver is ready to leave, they pull ahead, and the door automatically raises before they exit.”

Feed mill automation assures quality and compliance

Automation controls from CPM are integrated throughout to enhance mill performance and FSMA compliance.

“Feed mill automation enhances traceability and increases employee accountability,” said Jim Harriman, feed operation manager. “You can run multiple reports to see what’s taking place operationally over time and get a good pulse on your mill’s performance.”

Crystal Valley’s present feed output is about 280,000 tons/year running one nine-hour shift/day. While the mill is capable of increasing output should the need arise, the co-op’s master plan for growth involves more than just room for expansion — it’s about holding the cooperative to a higher standard of quality, innovation and service.

“Crystal Valley is known in the area for having top people and top equipment,” Raue said. “Our trucks are updated, our rolling stock and agronomy are top-notch, we have two highly efficient rail facilities for grain — that’s the type of operation we have. No other co-op has brought that vision to a new feed mill in southern Minnesota for several years, and our board saw the importance of doing that here.”

Last August a nontraditional open house was held in Trimont ahead of the mill’s startup to give customers and the community a preview of its cutting-edge capabilities. By all accounts, attendees walked away with bolstered confidence in Crystal Valley’s feed quality and safety.

“The new mill checks all the boxes for our customers’ needs,” Harriman said. “Now when our customers ask for compliance data, we can assure their diet is correct with integrity reports showing down to the 10th of a pound what’s in their feed.”

As Crystal Valley continues to expand its membership and footprint, it stands firm in its mission, values and commitment to achieve the highest level of customer satisfaction — and the new feed mill in Trimont delivers the proof.


Elise Schafer

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