BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's state-owned flour mill, which has stood for nearly a century as a symbol of the state's socialist past, is coming off a record year and is poised to become the largest wheat-grinding facility in the nation, its chief executive said Thursday.
General manager Vance Taylor told the state Industrial Commission that a $27 million expansion of the Grand Forks facility is underway and should be completed next summer. The mill produces about 3.8 million pounds of flour daily, and the expansion will bump production by 30 percent, he said.
"An increase in demand from our current customers is what is driving this," Taylor told reporters.
Taylor said the Grand Forks mill, the only such state-owned operation in the nation, currently grinds about the same amount of wheat as a Nabisco facility in Toledo, Ohio. The expansion would make the North Dakota mill the largest single milling site in the nation, he said.
The mill recorded a profit of $16.7 million in the year that ended June 30, up from $13.3 million in fiscal 2013 and the highest in its 93-year-history. More than half the mill's profits go to the North Dakota treasury to finance a variety of state programs.
Taylor said first-quarter profits have dropped from a record $4.5 million last year to $3.3 million, which is still the second-highest on record. Taylor attributed the decrease to lower negotiated grain prices with suppliers than a year ago.
The state-owned flour mill began operating in 1922. It was part of the radical agrarian platform of the Nonpartisan League, which also established the state-owned Bank of North Dakota. The socialist institutions were founded by farmers who were trying to fight what they regarded as oppressive private banking, grain and milling interests.
The mill was established to provide an alternative market for North Dakota farmers' grain. "It's still serving the same purpose it was created for," Taylor said.
The mill processes North Dakota's staple crop, hard red spring wheat, into bakery flour, which is used to make breads. It also mills durum into semolina and durum flour to make pasta. Most of the mill's production is sold in bulk to food makers. It also markets smaller bags of flour sold in grocery stores, along with packaged pancake and bread machine mixes.
North Dakota typically leads the nation in production of spring wheat and durum wheat. The mill processes about 26 million bushels of wheat annually.
"The mill has been good for producers," said Erica Olson, a marketing specialist with the Bismarck-based North Dakota Wheat Commission. "It has a reputation for a good, quality product."
The mill, which typically runs around the clock, employs 135 people. A dozen workers will be hired to handle the additional production, Taylor said.