Stone Mill helps nurture Richardton grain growers
Stone Mill has been buying Richardton-area grains since 1986, and as the processing plant expands and grows its facilities, the owners look forward to being able to buy more and teach more to area grain producers.
"We buy organics as well, so we maybe go out to a 600-mile radius for organic flax because your organic farmers are fewer," said Daneen Dressler, one of the owners of Stone Mill in Richardton. "So we go out further on those particular crops but on the conventional side we're usually staying in a 200 mile radius and as many local (products) we can get, obviously it's better for freight and we can pay the farmer a little bit more."
Stone Mill deals in all manner of grains, but primarily deals with garbanzo beans — also known as chickpeas — and flaxseed. They also do some lentils, radish seeds and some specialty grains like quinoa.
"Garbanzo beans are very well suited for our region because they're drought tolerant," Dressler said. "Acres are going to be up this year, we are seeing more interest on the farm side. There's great local demand, we're seeing record numbers of garbanzos going through our facility."
The expanded facility isn't quite running at full capacity, but they are expected to be underway come the summertime, with another line due to open after that. Even at full capacity, Stone Mill is largely automated, with the company expecting to have about 20 employees this year.
"Not a lot of labor, but good-paying jobs," Dressler said. "Everything will be automated so it should be fairly easy for a couple of folks to watch the grain coming off the lines."
Stone Mill engages with area producers in an educational as well as an economic capacity.
"We do a lot of in-house assistance, just teaching them what works, what doesn't work ... obviously we want them to do well on the emergence and the yield and the growth side," Dressler said. "We're trying to provide a premium to them so they don't have to haul their grain to Fargo ... or a long distance away."
For Stone Mill, doing the same thing for as long as they have has given them a quiet confidence and a firm bedrock of knowledge to share.
"We've been here long time, we've been buying the same thing for a long time," Dressler said. "We do a lot of farm consulting, helping people start planting."
Stone Mill has grown and had to change in the face of the ever-global agriculture market. While the majority of their sales are within the U.S. — and indeed, Stone Mill is federally certified to sell in U.S. markets.
"Not every company is yet qualified to do that," Dressler said. "It's a very long process and a lot of very strict regulations. We are focusing on the U.S. because that's where we specialize, but of course the overall landscape is very much dictated by the demand for that product and a lot of that demand ... we've been seeing a lot of that demand slip because our dollar is so strong. We do see some of the other, more commoditized bigger products like wheat or corn are obviously struggling right now price-wise."
Once the expansions to their facility are complete, Stone Mill will be accepting double the capacity. Stone Mill says its grains aren't just a good potential investment for producers, but can enrich their soils. Dressler is an advocate for crop rotation and maintaining soil health.
"Rotating your crops between specialty crops like garbanzo beans will put nitrogen into your soil ... it's a win-win to rotate your crops," she said. "These crops we are providing is a kind of unique mix that will help mellow out their soils and increase diversity. We like to provide that kind of education as well."