plentywood Columbia grains pulse crop plant

Columbia Grains has just opened a new plant in Plentywood for pulse crops.

The grocery store’s dry beans and lentils section usually has a pretty small footprint, with not so many people hanging around. But then came coronavirus, and suddenly, there was renewed fervor for these shelf-stable commodities, which are affordable, versatile, and Mediterranean healthy in the kitchen.

That’s sparking a nice rally in commodity prices for things like dried beans — and a call from Columbia Grains, which recently opened a new elevator in Plentywood, Montana, for growers in the MonDak to consider planting more acres of such crops in their fields.

“This caught the supply chain a little off-guard, Columbia Grains CEO Jeff VanPevenage said. “That is typically such a slow-moving product. It’s taking a lot of time to get supplies ramped back up again.”

In conversations with grocery store managers, VanPevenage was told that stores could readily sell more dry beans and lentils, if Columbia Grains could just get them to the stores in 1-pound bags.

Canning and packaging industries, meanwhile, have also been calling, to find out how quickly Columbia Grain can ship five or six truckloads of pinto beans or other such commodities.

“People are rushing to get these types of products to fill their cupboards with them, so they have them if they cannot get out,” VanPevenage said.

VanPevenage expects pulse crop demand will continue to rise for the foreseeable future, and he hopes farmers in the MonDak will think about planting these types of commodities to help keep the supply chains going.

CGI’s new plant in Plentywood, which just opened, can process 100,000 MT per year, and is well-positioned to play a big role in dealing with the global surge in demand for dry beans and other pulse crops.

“This is one of the most modern facilities in North America for cleaning and processing these products,” VanPevenage said.

The situation is a little ironic, because CGI had been expecting to open up its brand new facility to reduced acres of pulse crops a mere two months ago. Now, however, the market is feverishly seeking exactly the kind of products the new elevator can process.

“We have increased processing hours at our specialty pulse processing facilities as we’ve seen huge increases in demand for immediate shipments of our dry pulses and beans,” VanPevenage said. “Grocery stores are void of peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas and it’s not just a local situation. It’s all over the world. We are focusing on logistics so we don’t have any breaks in our supply chain.”

Container supply is difficult for the foreseeable future, truck transportation costs are skyrocketing. Rail, particularly in Canada, has been experiencing disruptions as well, due to protests against oil and gas.

“What Columbia Grain has done in this time frame is find as many options to move products as we can,” Vanpevanage said. “We have to be very flexible about which direction we are shipping, so we don’t put too much product into one court at a time. That helps to ensure containers are available.”

The plant has also made changes to its operating procedures to help curb the spread of coronavirus at its facilities.

“We have to keep coronavirus out of our facilities and that has been a primary, everyday concern for Columbia Grain,” VanPevanage said. “We have to keep our employees safe and our facilities operating, as well as keep our customers safe while still allowing deliveries of grain. This is critical for the food supply system in the U.S. and the world, but we don’t want to have a Smithfield type of situation and have to close down for several weeks at a time.”

VanPevanaage said the company is also works continually on sharing recipes for these products, so people learn about the broader range of things that can be created with them.

The products enjoy much more popularity globally for everyday meals than they have in the United States, largely because American consumers are unfamiliar with how versatile and delicious these products can be.

Pulses and dry beans fill the starring role in Mediterranean-style diets, though, prepared well, they do not taste like diet food.

“I’ve learned a lot about different dishes from many places in the world,” VanPevanage said. “The food is great, it’s phenomenal. There’s so many different things you can do.”

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