"found an economical way to keep the cost of the business down and their farms viable"
By Jason Isaac - Special to The AgriNews CASSELMAN - For many years, farming’s been a tough way to make a living as producers strive to find a way of balancing the high cost of inputs and revenue from unpredictable crop yields and ever-more-intrusive government regulations.
Many family farms have been forced to sell, in many cases to developers to build new compact communities. While prime farmland is being lost to towns and cities, some producers have found an economical way to keep the cost of the business down and their farms viable.
One of those is Jan VanCriekingen, who along with his wife Ingrid of New Hageland Farms, has jumped on board the Evergrow bandwagon and has bought into the company’s oil press technology. This system allows Jan to produce feed on the farm instead of sending his soybean crop (of which he has 1800 acres) to a processing plant and have it returned as feed for his dairy cows. This is not only time consuming, but it can cost a farmer like Jan upwards of $14,000 per month in feed costs.
Evergrow hosted a demonstration of its oil pressing system at New Hageland Farms in late February to give local farmers a chance to see the technology at work and to learn about the efficiencies as well as the nutritional benefits of producing their own feed. The company’s product manager, Nick Leja, was on hand to explain the background of Energrow and the pressing process.
"Energrow started back in 2004. We were looking for a solution on our own dairy farm and we needed a way of cutting input costs. Oil pressing has been a popular technology in Europe for many years, so we decided to try it out. At the time the press didn’t work for soybeans but after some modifications and refinements we started processing and found out immediately this system was going to be a great cost savings for us. We knew we had to bring the this technology to the rest of North America."
Jan has fully automated the process, which, as Leja explained, is a cold pressing extraction process that takes the soybean from the silo into the hammer mill, and then run through the auger. The oil is squeezed out while the resulting mash is compressed into small pellets. The feed is ready to be stored or given fresh to the cows. Currently to press one tonne of soybeans takes a full day. The oil press has been running so efficiently, that Jan has a six-day supply stored in his silo. While Energrow recommends feeding fresh pellets to the cows, the pellets lose none of their nutrients in storage.
"We feed each cow three to five kilograms of feed per day," said Jan. "So far, since installing the machine almost a year ago, my feed costs are down to a third of what they were last year." Jan would eventually like to be able to bag and sell his pellets to feed stores and maybe even other farmers to roll more money back into the farm.
Energrow sales manager Jasmin Hofer said that, "Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec has become the best area for us in the business and, when every penny counts, especially with feed prices fluctuating throughout the year, farmers never know if they are going to be paying more or less for their soybean meal. It just makes sense to control it themselves on the farm. Energrow is here to help make that happen."
Unlike companies that sell a product but not the technical support to their customers, Energrow prides themselves on the fact that their machines are not only backed up with a dependable parts warranty, but the company is there to build a long-lasting relationship with their customers. Hans Spuehler is the regional service rep for Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec whose job is to ensure the farmers get the support they need to make this process work for them. "A product isn’t any good if you cannot get service for it. That is why we pride ourselves on manufacturing the product entirely in Canada and providing the service support as well
"We continue as a company to do a lot of ongoing research," said Hofer, "We are able to recommend to the farmers anything from what seeds can go into the press to how upgrades to the machines can equal better efficiencies in the oil extraction. Even how to make a better pellet for hogs and chickens, which is something we are working on now."
She continued, "We are really lucky in our contacts with universities and industry in general. A lot of times you can reach common goals by working together. We have put in an application to do some on-farm feeding trials and working with a nutritionist at the Kemptville Campus of the University of Guelph. All this is guarantee of service to our farmers"
Timing of course is everything and, as Leja explained, skyrocketing oil processes gave more validity to the oil pressing process, as the by-product became a valuable resource at very little cost. "When we started doing this, it was right around the same time as the big oil crunch from a few years ago. What we found, again in Europe, vegetable oil was massively used in on-farm fuelling as a diesel substitute. We thought that was such a great idea that you could take the oil and filter it and then refine it and use it right away as a bio-fuel." While some farmers have been known to use it in their tractors as fuel, most have found since the drop in the cost of crude oil, they can sell the pressed oil to feed companies looking to balance out the fat content in their feed. "I sell it to a local poultry producer," said Jan. "They use it in their feed." Jan had found a another family favourite use for his oil, "We use it in the deep fryer and it makes the most beautiful french fries you ever tasted!"
Jan also has dreams of one of his daughter making a small business out of his oil by selling it in small jars labeled with a company name. "You know, we always have to think outside the box and this is one way to add money back into a farm or start up a new business."
While the research is still to be done, there has been anecdotal evidence that the feed pellets have improved the health of the cows that consume the feed. "Their coats are shinier and they look happier," said Jan. "We were worried at first with changing the feed, it would have an impact on milk production. In fact, it couldn’t be better." Jan and the folks at Evergrow are certain that when the nutritional impact data comes out, it will indicate hands down that home grown and produced feed is far better than the soy meal feed that is currently produced and sold today.
For now, Jan is the happiest he could be after 30 years of farming in Canada. "I will be working this farm for many years to come and being able to save money and make money is the only way I can turn a good a living in this business. This machine is another step in that process and I am very thrilled to using it on my farm."
For more information on Energrow and its Oil Pressing system, check out their website at www.energrow.ca.