The first few months of operation have been strong for Columbia Grain International at its processing plant east of Hastings.

CGI, one of the largest processors and exporters of high-quality pulse crops in the United States, commenced operation in December 2020 of the Hastings plant.

The facility was built by the Peavey Co. in 1979 and was acquired by CGI from Gavilon Grain. It has 286,000 bushels capacity with a 60,000-square-foot processing building. CGI anticipates processing over 50,000 metric tons of pulses per year at this location alone.

Gavilon had begun processing field peas at the Hastings facility in June 2016.

Tony Roelofs, vice president of CGI’s pulse division, said the company recently was awarded several U.S. Department of Agriculture contracts.

“Which has kept the plant quite busy since we took over here,” he said. “We’ve been able to extend very good bids to the Nebraska pea farmers, and we’ve been really happy with the support we’ve been able to bring to the community down there.”

The Hastings plant will be home to CGI’s first-ever small-pack pulse line for the consumer market. All products in the new line will be grown, procured, cleaned and processed by CGI for pulse crops including peas, lentils, chickpeas, and dry beans.

“Being able to take them essentially from what you see growing in the field, or what you would see in the farmer’s bin and turn it into essentially what we see on grocery store shelves,” he said. crop

The plant has several different kinds of cleaning equipment.

Roelofs said CGI is planning on plant upgrades.

He expects the staff to grow, as well. While there are currently eight employees at the Hastings plant, he thought the number of employees could grow to 11 in the next six to 12 months.

The pulse crop market has been improving. Roelofs said pulse crops fell victim to heavy supply back in 2017-18 due to shifts in import policies.

“Since then we’ve seen adjustments happen to global supply and demand, and we really started to see pulse crops come back around in terms of pricing and supply over the last year,” he said. “We’ve really seen demand pick up for them quite a bit. Peas primarily have been led by this boom we’re seeing in the pulse fractionation business. That’s really supported peas quite big here.”

CGI will be processing pulses at this location for domestic food and pet food markets, as well as for export.

Roelofs said the vast majority is going to domestic edible and domestic pet food and government food assistance.

He said pulse crops are a big component of pet food.

“One of the things we’ve seen in the last four or five years is we’ve really seen that big increase happen in the pet food market,” he said. “It’s really been the rise of the grain-free diet that has contributed to that.”

Pulse crops give pet food manufacturers the ability to provide a grain-free pet food without sacrificing anything from a nutrient standpoint. Pulse crops are rich in amino acids and are high in protein and fiber.

Pulse crops aren’t common in south central Nebraska and are primarily grown in Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Washington.

“So they are very geographically centered away from the majority of manufacturing in the U.S., which is in the Midwest and the East Coast,” Roelofs said.

Hastings gives CGI a location that is closer to the end use for domestic demand. It is also helpful that the plant is right on the BNSF and Union Pacific railroad lines, providing access to markets, both domestically and worldwide.

“With COVID we’ve seen supply chains and transportation become very difficult to find sometimes,” Roelofs said. “Moving to a location that is a little closer to demand shortens the supply chain for a lot of our customers and provides flexible transportation options for them.”

Roelofs said the arrangement is similar to the traditional corn and soybean growers and elevators in Nebraska.

CGI offers new crop contracts to lock in production. CGI also offers marketing programs.

The company also has producers who grow in the open market and sell on the spot market.

“There’s a lot of different options,” he said.