VIDEO: Milk the oilseeds along with the cows

WOODSTOCK, Ont. — Ten years ago, Jasmin Hofer and her father started thinking about why they were growing cash crop soybeans and then buying back expensive soybean meal for their 120 dairy cows.

“It seemed like we were leaving some money on the table,” the chief executive officer of Energrow said earlier this year in an interview at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in Woodstock.

“If we cut out the middleman on that portion of our feed, we could add to the bottom line.”

The Hofers, who farm near Listowel, Ont., began working with engineers and machinists to develop a system that would handle a wide variety of oilseed crops, allowing the family to harvest the oil and the meal once the combine was put away.

Unlike most of the smaller cold presses on the market, the family knew they would need something that could handle the soybeans that are popular in Central Canada but also canola and other oilseeds such as flax and hemp.

“Quickly we realized we had to come up with our own,” she said.

“For a dairy or cattle producer that is feeding 2.5 to three kilograms per day, you can pay for it in about a year and half for 120 head. The more you feed, the faster it pays for itself.”

An Energrow cold press will crush enough in a day to cover the protein needs for about 300 animals.

“We have owners with more than that,” she said.

“You can install them so that they run around the clock and multiple units.”

The Energrow screw presses are fully automated with remote monitoring and performance analysis. A touch screen interface with diagrams of the machine makes it easy to set. It controls a five horsepower electric motor directly driven on the press.

“All of those features were developed over time and tested on our own farm, and with feedback from our customers we have improved many parts of the design. We went from greaseable bearings to oil baths. There are things we have improved that have made the system nearly service-free,” she said.

“Collectively we have about a million hours on presses so far.”

Oil runs into a mini-bulk tote and the pellets go into mini bulk bags, bins or hoppers.

The pellets are dry, at about 10 percent moisture, and can be augered or moved by vacuum.

“These are kind of like cookies for cows. It makes a good replacement for all of the protein systems,” she said.

“At 10 percent (moisture) it pulls moisture into it in the ration; a great fit in a TMR (ration)…. This is kind of like milking the soybeans not just milking the cows.”

Small seeded oilseeds such as canola and flax can be directly processed without a grain mill, but soybeans need pre-processing to get the size down and the efficiency up on the stainless steel extruder system.

“Just because soybean is so hard and abrasive, you need that milling process,” she said.

“The oil can be used by the producer or, in Ontario and Quebec so far, the company is buying the oil from its farmer customers and marketing it to feed and food ingredients buyers.

“Other oilseed crops such as hemp can be processed. You could do coconut if global warming takes off in North America. It can press almost anything.”

A combination of stable protein supplies and a desire for traceability and local production are causing some producers to produce their own protein rations.

“Usually a fairly big (issue in the)buying decision for our customers. They like to know where the source of their feed is. It is their own crop,” she said.

“We treat it like a quota program. We bring an empty tote, they fill it. For every tonne of beans that a farmer processes, she gets about $60 of oil. It varies for the different crops, depending on the oil content. Canola produces more oil than beans for instance.”

A tonne of soybeans produces about 100 litres of oil.

Some producers burn the oil in their diesel farm equipment in the warmer seasons.

“Five to 10 percent is a good lubricant in the fuel. Today’s low sulfur diesel is very dry and older engines weren’t designed for it,” said Hofer.

The oil gets used on the farm for a variety of things.

“Keeps foam down on manure. Keeps dust down on the laneway. Farmers are using at as a surfactant in their crop spraying,” she said.

“Chefs love it for deep frying. The cold pressed oil has a lot of uses and is very marketable.”

At about $45,000 for a complete system, including a grain mill, the automated equipment typically repays its purchase price long before any maintenance is needed or five year warranty expires. It can run in uninsulated buildings because it has its own heating on the press to ensure the oil moves freely and the process operates under optimal conditions at all times. Each press and mill consumes about $6 of electricity per tonne, depending on energy prices.

“There aren’t a lot of wear items, and most units run year around and many around the clock,” she said.

The company will also work with producers to explore government grants and programs to help cover the costs of the systems.

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