Organic bins and processing facility at Boyd Station. (Image Credit: Mary Barbercheck).
Pennsylvania is ranked second in the nation for organic product sales, behind only California. These strong sales are being driven by the demand for organic poultry and eggs, both rapidly growing sectors of Pennsylvania agriculture. The high demand for these products created a need for organic feed ingredients, especially soybeans. To help a group of about 25 farmers and ag professionals understand the process of converting their soybeans to feed ingredients, Penn State Extension educators Anna Busch and Dave Hartman organized a twilight tour of the organic soybean processing plant at Boyd Station, LLC in Danville, PA. Boyd Station produces expeller-processed, high-protein soybean meal processed without the use of hexane, solvents, or chemicals; soybean hulls as a dense fiber source for dairy, poultry, and swine; and expeller-pressed feed grade and refined food grade soybean oil.
Bryan Cotner started the tour with a presentation on the history of the business. Boyd Station, LLC started in 1912 as a farm with the purchase of 181 acres of farmland near Danville, PA, by the Cotner family. Today, the Cotners operate Don Cotner Farms as well as the processing plant. Named after the passenger train siding that existed there in the early 1900’s, Boyd Station, LLC started as an agricultural commodity and transloading facility in 2002, sourcing feed ingredients by railcar and trucking them to area feed manufacturers.
In 2004, the Cotner’s started expeller-processing soybeans. In 2008, they added more extruders and presses to the soybean processing facility to meet the local demand for chemical-free expelled soybean meal. In 2010, they obtained USDA organic certification and began purchasing and processing organic soybeans into organic feed ingredients to meet the growing demand for organic animal feed. Initially, the plant ran conventional soybeans for three weeks, and then ran organic processing for one week, which required a 2-day shutdown between the conventional and organic runs to thoroughly clean the processing plant.
The demand for organic products continued to grow so much that in 2015 Boyd Station began processing organic feed ingredients in a separate facility on the property dedicated to USDA certified organic and Non-GMO Project certified processing, handling, and storage. According to Bryan Cotner, Boyd station is currently the nation’s largest buyer of domestic organic soybeans. Their most recent endeavor is an organic soybean oil refinery for food grade oil, which opened this past year.
Russ Cotner (second from left), explains soybean processing at Boyd Station. (Image Credit: Anna Busch)
Spencer Miller runs Boyd Station’s “USA Organic Acres Purchasing Program” that prioritizes sourcing US-grown organic soybeans. Because of a shortage in the availability of domestically-produced organic feed grains to supply organic animal production, the US imports most of its organic feed grains. In the 2016/2017 marketing year, about 78 % of organic soybeans and 41% of organic corn were imported.
There have been concerns related to the integrity of the organic status of some imported feed grains in the past, therefore the “USA Organic Acres Purchasing Program” focuses on developing partnerships with US farmers to ensure organic integrity, traceability and transparency to customers. The integrity of the organic product is protected because each load of grain is tested for GMO contamination at an in-house lab before it is unloaded. Loads with GMO contamination rates of greater than the Non-GMO Project’s 3% tolerance are rejected. Because the focus of the purchasing program is to interact directly with growers rather than brokers, the supply chain is transparent, tightly controlled and direct, and rejections due to GMO contamination have been extremely rare. The Cotners consider this tightly controlled, integrated value chain for organic feed ingredients to be unique in the industry.
The purchasing program seeks to incentivize growers to transition to organic production to help address the shortage of domestically-produced organic soybeans. The program offers multi-year contracts that lock in prices to growers based on acres rather than bushels of production and arranges on-farm pick-up. Because transgenic crop varieties and synthetic inputs such as chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides are not allowed in organic production, yields can be more variable in organic compared to conventional systems. Contracting acres instead of bushels reduces risk for producers and having a contract can be useful when producers are obtaining crop insurance and bank loans. Currently, about 30,000 acres are contracted through the program, up from 3,000 in 2015.
The Cotners believe that their purchasing program is a great way for local producers to take advantage of the strong demand for organic crops and price premiums for organic soybeans that are two to three times the conventional price (as of September 12, 2018, the USDA-reported price for grower FOB farm gate organic soybeans was $18.90 to 20.00 per bushel, while the September 7 price (Illinois) for conventional soybeans was $7.79 to 8.04 per bushel) by providing a market and infrastructure. The program also benefits the organic livestock industry by providing a high quality, domestically-produced organic feed ingredient.