The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

November 13, 2012

Northstar’s COO in quail hunt

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — One of the new shooters at this year’s Grand National Quail Hunt plans to start a new manufacturing plant in Enid.

Neil Juhnke is president and chief operating officer of Northstar Agri Industries, which will build and operate a canola plant here.

Speaking Tuesday at Best Western Inn, hunt headquarters, Juhnke said company criteria for selection included seeking a location where feedstock sourcing is available. Company officials wanted to put the canola plant in the center of where the crop is grown.

“There’s a rotation of 1.4 to 1.6 million acres within 90-120 miles of Enid,” he said.

Canola is grown in Garfield and surrounding counties.

The Enid area also is on a major railroad center, has surface transportation, available utilities, natural gas, water and electricity. Juhnke said the company had been studying winter canola production for about 15 months and talked with Enid officials for about nine months before last month’s announcement about the new plant’s location.

The Enid plant will be the company’s second; Northstar also has a canola plant in Minnesota. Juhnke said there are between 12 and 14 canola processing plants operated by companies in the United States and Canada, and that number is growing.

He said canola is growing in popularity because its main product, canola oil, is healthy: It is low in saturated fat, and even lowers the risk of cancer, according to some recent studies. Some large cities in California and New York passed ordinances banning trans fats — which contribute to heart disease — in foods, helping bring about the growth of canola oil in cooking.

“Its driven by health,” Juhnke said.

Canola’s price has made it the No. 1 crop in Canada, he said. As a broadleaf plant, canola uses moisture efficiently, and farmers can grow it with the same equipment they use for wheat. They also can use different herbicides and clean up weed problems in their fields.

“When something works for the farmer, that’s what we want to build on,” Juhnke said. “We’re building a $200 million plant and employ about 55 people.”

When the plant opens, about a dozen management personnel will be brought in from elsewhere. The company will hire between 40 and 45 people locally and send them to a three-month training program.

When the Minnesota plant opened, it ran full out within three weeks and there were no mistakes, Juhnke said.

Juhnke was one of the founding investors in Northstar. The initial 105 investors in North Dakota and Minnesota raised a limited amount of money to start the company, and accepted an equity investment of $60 million from PICO, now Northstar’s parent company. Its headquarters is in Fargo, N.D.

Juhnke said he primarily is a pheasant hunter and has never hunted quail. He was raised in rural North Dakota and hunted ducks and geese since he was old enough to hold a gun.

“It’s pleasant to be invited, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said of the quail hunt. “Enid is a fine community, and I feel welcome here.”

The 46th annual Grand National Quail Hunt started Tuesday and will continue through Friday. A competitive trap shoot is scheduled Thursday.

Juhnke is one of 18 new shooters at the hunt, one of the oldest quail hunts in the United States.