*This article was published as part of the EDC’s Spring 2023 Newsletter*
The Prairie PROducers facility in Olivia is ready . . . ready for hemp fiber products to be laid out in the display case. Ready for bales of hemp to fill the storage units. Ready for the hum of machinery to come to life and start processing quality industrial hemp fiber to be sent nationwide, even globally, for production into a variety of products. But, like many things in this world now, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic put the brakes on the steady progress Prairie PROducers was making in 2020. BUT, also like many things, the momentum is building with the prospect of hemp processing starting up this May in the west-central Minnesota town of Olivia.
Tim Seehusen, Chief Operations Officer, has learned a lot over the last three years; about the industry, processing, and equipment necessary to create the kind of fiber that is in demand. “To create quality fiber, you have to have different types of equipment along the line to finally be able to have the result be the very fine, very fluffy fiber that can then be processed into a specific type of product, like clothing or cosmetic products like baby or facial wipes’ explained Seehusen as he lifted a piece of hemp fiber to the light, showing how thin and soft it needs to be.
In July of 2022, Prairie PROducers held a field day with the Agriculture Research Utilization Institute (AURI) to educate about industrial hemp production. The processing demonstration was made possible by a partnership with the Lower Sioux Indian Community, which purchased equipment but had no place to operate it, whereas, Praire PROducers had the space but no equipment. “The partnership worked out well and we both learned a lot from it’ Seehusen adds about the agreement.
“Right now, this equipment will be perfect for what the Lower Sioux needs, but for our production, we need a higher volume of production,” Seehusen stated. Currently, Prairie PROducers will be the only hemp processing plant in Minnesota. It hopes to produce 3,000 pounds of hemp fiber/per hour for a total of around six million pounds a year. The hope is that most of that product will be grown within a 200-two-hundred-mile radius of where it is located. Production is predicted to be able to begin this spring, hopefully as early as May. Like so many things in the supply chain, Prairie PROducers is anxiously awaiting a piece of electrical equipment, due to arrive in mid-April, that was ordered last November. Once received it’ll be an essential part of a multi-machine process of shredding the bales.
After being shredded, the hemp goes through multiple stages of being shaken, blown, and separated. From the harvested stalk about 30% of that can be processed into fiber and the other 70% is hurd. The hurd is what the Lower Sioux Indian Community will be processing for hempcrete, whereas Prairie Producers will be targeting fiber production. Currently, it is in communication with three businesses that will use this material for a variety of products such as plastics or baby wipes. “There isn’t a lot of equipment out there designed for hemp processing, so we have been working to adapt cotton processing equipment.
It has been a years-long process of trial and error, learning along the way, that has evolved into a concrete plan to have the right equipment. “We are lucky to have been working with people who are very creative and innovative when it comes to engineering equipment’ Seehusen said as he looked across the warehouse; you could see him picturing the scene buzzing with machinery and producing products.
By 2024 the hope is that local area fields will be growing hemp, the seed designed for a Minnesota climate, and planted close together to produce thick, strong stalks that will be filling trucks and taken to Prairie PROducers for processing. “It is going to happen – and we are very excited’ said Seehusen. The energy around industrial hemp is growing, and along with it, Prairie PROducers. To learn about Prairie PROducers, the plans for processing and production, and to see the list of over 25 products that can be created from hemp visit its website at https://www.prairieproco.com/.