Farm Horizons, May 2008

The state of area feed mills varies quite a bit

Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

The sight of feed mills across rural Minnesota is commonplace, but each mill’s current operating status is what separates them from each other.

Some mills are abandoned, some are operating at a level pace with its past, some are far exceeding its past production, and some have changed into a completely different business, housed within the old mill’s walls.

Our rural area has a mix of all of these types of mills right in our back yards.

Howard Lake’s mill is running at full speed

Munson Lakes Nutrition in Howard Lake was originally called Munson Feeds up until about 12 years ago. Floyd Munson and his father, Ray, started the company about 75 years ago, and it has been growing ever since.

The mill currently manufactures almost 300 tons of feed per day. It has 16 different ingredient bins for the most essential ingredients for feed, but almost 200 ingredients are kept on hand to satisfy custom feed demands, according to Munson Lakes Nutrition Manager John Zander.

The mill utilizes either a hammer mill or a roller mill to process corn into ground corn, cracked corn, or rolled corn.

The mill is an LLC owned by several companies including Land O’ Lakes Purina Feeds, Centra Sota Cooperative of Buffalo, Lake Region Cooperative of Maple Lake, AMPI of Glencoe, and Federated Cooperative of Princeton.

The way farmers bring their corn to the co-op is ever changing. Although smaller wagons, like 160-bushel grain boxes, are still bringing in corn, farmers are sending more and more semi loads of corn to the mill, Zander explained.

The mill not only processes the corn that farmers haul in, but it also wholesales product. In addition, The Country Store in Howard Lake is owned by Munsons, and distributes product, as well.

Munson Lakes Nutrition estimates that it feeds about 41,000 lactating cows every day, based on conservative numbers, Zander explained.

The mill has the capacity to hold about 120,000 bushels of corn, and usually processes 100,000 bushels per month.

“Mark Dahlman, our grain manager, does an excellent job purchasing grain and ingredients – he makes sure we’re running at near capacity,” Zander said.

Six sales people service area farmers from Munson Lakes Nutrition by conducting on-farm analysis of the farm’s nutritional needs via a computer rationing and balancing software program.

Also on the road are eight Munson trucks every day. They cover all of central Minnesota, and parts of Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Munson Lakes Nutrition recently installed a robot that stacks bags of feed, instead of manual stacking. The robot will help the busy mill operate more efficiently.

Winsted’s mill is trying to survive

The Winsted Farmers Elevator is trying to hold on to every farmer that comes in the door. This farmer-owned mill has seen “a lot less farmers” in the last few years, according to Manager Dick Klosowski.

“It’s just a matter of time until we’re (feed mills) all extinct,” Klosowski said. “Agricultural times are really changing. We’re getting more and more corporate farmers.”

Klosowski has been in the business for 31 years, and says the small farmer is not a staple any longer.

Klosowski has heard a similar story over and over lately. That is, from small farmers saying that they will rent out their land instead of farm it themselves.

“They’re getting $200 to $250 per acre for rent. That’s hard to turn down,” Klosowski said. “Especially when you consider the prices of fuel, fertilizer, and seed. You need the volume that corporate farms produce to make money.”

The mill has a 110,000-bushel capacity, provides feed and grain custom mixes, and will deliver on farm. Grain storage is still a big part of its business.

Klosowski hopes that the mill will survive many more years, but is unsure of its future because of today’s economy and the decrease in the number of small farmers.

Lester Prairie’s mill was torn down in 1998

Lester Prairie’s grain elevator and feed mill, once owned by Glencoe Butter and Produce, was torn down March 30, 1998.

Charlie Wilkens of Plato worked at the mill from 1971 to 1989, and said it was still owned by farmers during that time period. Wilkens started out as hired summer help and worked his way up the ranks to assistant manager. He had his fingers in just about every operation of the mill.

“We bought and sold grain at the mill,” Wilkens said. “We had a fertilizer business, sold anhydrous, had a bulk plant in Winsted that is now torn down – we did a little of everything.”

The mill had a 9,000-bushel capacity, and after it joined with Hutchinson’s co-op, the mill slowly lost business to the larger co-op and couldn’t make a profit anymore, Wilkens explained.

The loss of business, combined with safety reasons, is why the mill was torn down 10 years ago.

“It was built in the late 1800s or early 1900s – it was getting weak,” Wilkens said.

Dassel’s mill is keeping pace

Dassel is proud to have its feed mill serving area farmers. It boasts a feature that many mills no longer offer, which is the use of a hammer mill which allows people to bring ear corn to the mill and have it shelled, according to Dassel Feed Mill Manager Dennis Danielson.

This member-owned co-op provides custom mixes to area farmers. Farmers can bring in their own corn by bulk or by bag, and mix it with ingredients that are kept on hand.

“We have a hammer mill and a roller mill,” Danielson said. “Not too many people have hammer mills anymore.”

The mill does bulk or bag on-farm delivery, and is keeping pace with the area’s demand.

Norwood Young America’s mill is now a multi-purpose building housing three businesses

We’ve all heard about extreme home make overs, but how about an extreme mill makeover? That’s precisely what happened to the old grist mill in Norwood Young America.

The makeover has taken place in a few different stages since 2003, which is the year Pat and Sue Samuelson of Norwood Young America purchased the building.

Grist mills were used to grind grain into flour. The building itself has a long and rich history dating back to its reconstruction in 1865, after a fire burned part of the then saw mill and grist mill dual-duty building, according to a history book about Young America.

The saw mill was eventually discontinued, but the grist mill continued in operation. A livery was once under the grist mill, with a stockyard adjoining the livery and building.

The building has served several purposes in its long-running history and has had many owners over the last 143 years including the Hamm’s Brewery at one time, which was documented on the abstract, according to Samuelson.

The old grist mill continues to serve the area, but in a much different way and with a new look. Three businesses are now thriving within the walls of the old grist mill including The Mill House, Millstone Pantry, and The Flower Mill Design & Gifts.

The Mill House offers home decor, furnishings, accessories, and gifts. The Millstone Pantry has daily lunch specials, coffee, atmosphere, custom cake making, and more. The Flower Mill offers a complete floral service, as well as gifts and decor.

The current owners have creatively renovated the building using as many recycled materials as possible.

Part of the interior ceiling is dressed with the old exterior tin that was torn off to make way for a new roof. Interior brick on the walls in The Mill House was taken from the Mark and Donna Grimm brick barn that was torn down near Norwood, according to Sue.

Field stone was collected and split to construct fireplaces in the building. Old barn wood from several barns that had been torn down adorns much of the interior walls and beams.

Creative design overflows within the building, and even the rest rooms are attractive. Warm, personal touches are around every corner. The landing on the stairway, from the upper level of The Mill House to the lower level, has a unique rock inlaid barn in the tile. It turns out that Pat designed and made the artful landing to look like the barn that Sue grew up with.

“I love barns,” Sue laughed.

All three businesses offer something for everyone.

Delano’s mill is now a feed store

Five years ago, Delano Elevator became Delano Farm Supply after longtime owner Marvin Styrbicky sold the building to Mike Persons. The Styrbicky family had owned the mill since 1924, according to Persons.

The mill has a 25,000 bushel capacity, and though it is not operating in the capacity it once was, it is still mixing bird feed in part of the mill. A company called JRK has been mixing the bird feed in Delano Farm Supply since July 2007.

Delano Farm Supply offers animal needs from farm animals to companion animals including horse, chicken, sheep, and goat feed to pet food, dishes, buckets, and wormers. The store also supplies garden fertilizer, pasture seed, baler twine, and much more.

“What’s cool about these feed mills is that they make great little retail outlets,” Persons said. “It’s a farmer twist that’s part of their heritage, rather than building strip malls. They’re cool buildings.”

Persons owns another feed mill in Elk River called Hunt’s Farm and Feed.

“Farmers abandon the mills because as they consolidate their truck lines and operations, they haul grain to larger companies now,” Persons explained.

New Germany’s feed mill is inactive

The feed mill in New Germany was up for auction a few years ago, and the new owner hasn’t done anything with the building as of yet.

A unique aspect of the building is that it is situated on railroad property, the Dakota Rail Trail, so the building can be owned but the land it sits upon cannot, according to local residents.

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