Safflower Technologies International (STI) is studying whether a refinery would be feasible to build at its location in Fairview, N.D.
The other half of Fairview is in Montana, and producers from both Montana and North Dakota contract with STI for certain varieties of safflower.
Jerry Bergman, part owner of STI and director of NDSU Williston Research Extension Center, has worked in safflower breeding for years.
Bergman was also the superintendent of Montana State University’s Eastern Ag Research Center for many years, where he developed new leading varieties of safflower.
“We have done a feasibility study on a cold press processing plant for safflower and found it was feasible,” Bergman said. “Now, we are looking at whether a refinery would also be feasible.”
Last year, heavy rain in August and September damaged the safflower crop in the Yellowstone Valley and throughout eastern Montana and western North Dakota.
“We had sprout damage on our safflower crop last year, and the seed broke down in its fatty acid complex and had an odor,” Bergman said. “It could not be cold expeller pressed.”
But if the state had a refinery for safflower and other soft oils, including canola, sunflower, flax and mustard, it could have processed the sprout-damaged safflower.
Last year, STI processed the damaged safflower for bird seed, but it still needed to be color sorted for a brighter color.
“Consumers don’t like to buy a dull color of birdseed, but the birds don’t care about the color,” he said.
STI is trying to figure out if it would be better to have a cold press processing plant that produces crude oil or a refinery that produces refined oil.
Consumers do prefer non-GMO cold pressed safflower oil, as it retains vitamins and other components.
“Food manufacturers tell us that oil for ingredients is a refined oil,” Bergman said. “That could be a big market for us.”
In some years, using a refinery with a mild refinery method that uses bleach, clays and deodorization steps is not as expensive as using other chemicals to refine.
If STI went with a refinery, it would use the mild refinery method. STI would consider buying a refinery that would process a lower tonnage of safflower per day, furthering lowering costs.
“We’ll be visiting refineries and finding out the costs of purchasing one,” Bergman said.
If a refinery is purchased, Bergman expects both acreage and markets to expand for safflower growers.
The McKenzie County Job Development Authority and the McKenzie County Commissioners funded $16,000 for a refinery feasibility study.