Alfalfa acreage in western North Dakota and eastern Montana could increase dramatically, thanks to a new processing plant at Tioga, ND.

At full capacity, the plant is expected to ship 200,000 tons of double-compressed bales and cubes annually. That's according to Mike Bloyed, president and co-owner of Heartland Feed, Inc., the Nevada-based company that's opening the facility.

Bloyed says Tioga was selected for the facility because of available water from Lake Sakakawea on the Missouri River. The town also has a direct link to the Burlington Northern rail line.

“We'll utilize both dryland and irrigated alfalfa,” says Bloyed. “This region offers a lot of acres for potential irrigation.”

The company anticipates that several thousand acres of irrigated alfalfa will be developed within a 125-mile radius of the plant. Research indicates that nearly half a million acres in western North Dakota and eastern Montana have irrigation potential.

“With those untapped resources, plus the direct rail line to Burlington Northern for shipping to Seattle or Florida, we see a lot of possibilities,” points out Bloyed.

The plant will operate as Northwest Alfalfa Products and will buy hay to produce double-compressed bales, cubes and, before long, pellets. The company plans to add a pellet mill within a year or two.

“We'll be fully integrated,” says Bloyed.

The alfalfa plant is located in a former manufacturing facility with 65,000 sq ft under one roof. Heartland Feed bought 70 acres with the facility and plans to build numerous pole barns for storage, says Bloyed.

Most of Northwest Alfalfa's products will be shipped to the West Coast, Florida and Wisconsin dairy markets, and some will be exported to Pacific Rim countries.

“We plan to split the market,” says Bloyed. “We can maximize our dollar value if the products stay domestic, but we will have some overseas market.”

Bloyed says long-distance shipping is feasible because North Dakota has historically had some of the lowest alfalfa costs.

“Being able to buy it at a good price allows us to ship farther,” he says.

He anticipates paying $75/ton for alfalfa that meets the company's quality standards. Products directed to the dairy market will need to be tested for nutrient content.

“But that will be a small percentage of our product,” he says.

Bloyed says the company has had good response from producers and plans to offer long-term contracts to interested growers.

The plant has some hay on hand for initial processing this spring and is expected to be fully operational when the summer's cuttings come off.

For more information, contact Bloyed at heartlandfeed@aol.com.