American Natural Processing growing
By JOLENE STEVENS
CHEROKEE – Mark Schuett is the first to admit that he is occasionally amazed over the growth and achievements of American Natural Processing, formerly American Natural Soy, plant in Cherokee.
The operation, originally started in 1990 in Hartley by Schuett and his wife, Julie, to process their own soybeans, has since grown steadily, expanding its processing capabilities to diverse a line of organic and non-GMO oils and powders for edible consumer and livestock feeds for regional and national markets.
“We never would have dreamt starting out everything that has happened,” Schuett said. “We’ve been real fortunate, blessed you might say.
“People have asked us to develop process engineering for other than the initial soybean oil seeds, and we’ve been able for the most part to accommodate their needs.
“I’d say we’ve usually been batting 50 percent, and we’re happy with that. If we get a product that works on half the seeds we try, I’d say that’s pretty good,” Schuett said, adding the original emphasis on soybeans hasn’t gone by the wayside. “This (locally and regionally) is a soybean area, so when you’re thinking about a project and where it will be produced, it’s … good for soybean producers.”
With operations at the Cherokee plant dependent on sizable quantities of organic and non-GMO beans, Schuett said a frequently lack of availability of these products necessitates a reliance on exports.
“Our focus presently is on the organic or non-GMO produced beans, which probably are (the) biggest push today,” Schuett said.
He cites as one example, soybeans imported from India which he termed a major supplier. A visiting president of an Indian cooperative, he said, explained a portion of his county’s soybean production this way.
Tens of thousands of small farmer-coop members each have their own farms, tended by family members, to meet the U.S. demand for organic soybeans.
The farmers rely totally on hoes for planting their crops. At harvest, they hand-pick the pods, rub the beans until the seeds fall out and packed into a burlap bag.
Schuett said he was told the farmers’ equivalent to combining their crop.
Schuett said the value of India-exported soybeans is great enough for India to buy back (from the U.S.) bushel per bushel of beans for them to feed their families.
“These farmers consider it a great trade-off for them, and it’s great for us as well,” Schuett said, adding that poultry feeds continue to account for the bulk of tonnage for the Cherokee plant.
While markets continue growing for soy oils and powders for consumer food, Schuett said he’s not overlooking markets for feed for baby pig starters.
Processes are being developed for modified products to eliminate pigs’ allergic reactions to soy, replacing a more costly fish meal feed.
Schuett noted that this can be advantageous to not only U.S. producers, but to overseas producers such as China with its growing hog production.
Schuett said the company has a new products from algae oil modified to mimic oils being processed at the former Maple River Energy Biodiesel plant in Galva, purchased earlier by American Natural Processing and gutted for oil processing.
A pilot Cherokee-citing project prior to the expansion produced jet fuel for the U. S. Defense Department.
Schuett said current algae markets are the major fish-raising companies in the Pacific Rim and Asian countries.
Diversity is key
ANP’s executive team stresses the need for planning ahead for unexpected market situations, Schuett said, which paid off during the avian flu outbreak in Iowa.
In this instance a California company that had for years been taking rail loads of bean meal from the plant stopped its orders.
“They got gun shy when they heard about the situation,” he said. “That cost us to lose production on the meal side.
“It’s a little more complicated for us to manage five processing lines as we do – soy, flax, canola, non-organic, non-GMO and hemp. That we have the five lines, however, allows us to pull in some dollars in another product line in times like these.”
Schuett said edible food powders are currently originating at the company’s Hartley operation.
Flax and hemp, the most recent addition to the company’s Cherokee processing plant, are presently edging into the demand for other raw products.
Schuett said ANP has growing visibility by attending natural product trade shows such as that in Anaheim, California with close to 5,000 exhibitors whose products go to retailers’ shelves. This, he said, help his company to track the newest in consumer-desired natural food products.
“It’s an indication,” Schuett said, “of what, say Whole Foods or similar stores and the organic/non-GMO shelves at Hy-Vee, Fareway or Walmart locally, offer for their customers be it energy bars, milk and other soluble drinks or similar natural products.”
Schuett said ANP is dependent on a sound rail system to transport imported products to Cherokee from the West Coast.
The majority of flax arrives from either the Dakotas or Canada, the later the source of the company’s supply of hemp (arriving with the seeds extracted to meet regulations).
While as many as 13 states have approved or are in the process of legalizing industrialized hemp production, ANP’s Cherokee operation is one of only a few processing plants available at present, Schuett said.
The company’s reliance of rail has, meanwhile, been responsible for its most recent expansion project, a 300-foot rail canopy for the Cherokee facility.
“Our rail service is important to our growth serving as we do for a crusher for customers throughout the Midwest and from abroad,” Schuett said, noting the canopy provides a safer working environment in all weather conditions.
Schuett said he expects to add to the efficiency of the Cherokee operation with its corporate office at Dakota Dunes.
“As we look at what American Natural Processing is, it’s growth and the product diversity of today with the majority or products still being produced in Cherokee,” Schuett said, “I feel a big part of our success is our excellent Cherokee work force with many of the individuals’ long-time employees.
“This is important. So, too, is that we understand as a company what our customers want.
“This makes it real easy for us as a management team for there’s not a whole lot we have to do from day to day in a plant like our.”
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