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FADC: Helping Montana 'ag-preneurs'

FADC: 'All it takes is an idea'


November 17, 2017

Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt

The Montana Food and Agriculture Development Center Network was created to help agricultural visionaries and entrepreneurs with ideas who need a little extra push making it happen.

"You have a great idea. We have the tools to get your product to market and help your business grow," a statement on the FADC pamphlet says.

Taylor Lyon, a native Houstonian who came to work for Montana State University-Northern's Advanced Fuels Center after receiving his degree in biology from Carroll College, is the Food and Ag Development Center director at Bear Paw Development Corp.

"I set people up with financing. If you want to come in to share your idea, we can help you get a business plan of cash flow. A lot of what I do is simple networking," Lyon said.

Four program centers are spread throughout the state, with Havre's FADC through Bear Paw Development being one of them. The other three are in Ronan, Joliet and Butte.

All ag centers have their specialty. The FADC in Havre specializes in renewable energy, biomass and biofuel development, and like the other three, in education and training workshop, as well as loan and grant funds and cooperative business development. If someone approaches Lyon with an idea better suited to be handle by one of the other centers, he points them there.

"I have a background in renewable energy, bio-diesel, bio-fuel stuff, and I have a particular interest in wind and solar, where at the Mission Mountain in Ronan, they're all about nutritional analysis, food safety, food safety trainings," Lyon said. "They actually have the state's only food processing center. So if you want to try out a new jam or barbecue sauce, they have all the equipment and facilities. You can just go in there and set up, get a contract with them, do your product and see if that's what you really want to sell."

Lyon said he's referred several clients to the other centers or to the right experts when people have come to him about something out of his expertise.

"I've had, for whatever reason, a bunch of barley growers, want to start malting," he said, adding Montana brewers usually buy their malt from Malt Europe in Great Falls. "But for whatever reason people call me and they want to know how to malt. Well, I don't know how to malt, but I know of grant programs that may fund a feasibility study to see if the malting operation would be feasible. I don't know the ins and outs of how to, say, malt or grow barley, but I can access some of the funding programs or maybe know some of the people who do know this stuff."

And the local FADC has seen success. On its website, FADC touts, via video, helping Big Sandy organic farmer Bob Quinn get a local business off the ground.

Quinn revived the ancient grain khorasin, which is believed to have originated in Mesopotamia and migrated into Egypt, using some kernels that found their way into Montana, listed at a fair as King Tut's Grain. He trademarked his grain Kamut, an old Egyptian word for wheat. He created Kamut International, which has a stated goal of promoting organic agriculture and supporting organic farmers; increasing the diversity of crops and diets, "and to protect the heritage of a high quality, delicious ancient grain for the benefit of this and future generations."

After he found a market for Kamut in 1986, Quinn began raising it commercially and since then other Montana farmers began raising the grain. Now it is sold in 20 countries and is used to produce a variety of products, including being an ingredient in General Mills Ancient Grains Cheerios.

Quinn turned to the FADC when he decided to start adding value locally to Kamut. He and partners, with help from a grant the FADC helped them obtain, created and started making Kracklin' Kamut - "Like Corn Nuts without the dentist" - in Big Sandy.

Quinn and Caleb Kriser, who heads up the Kracklin' Kamut facility, said that along with helping them get a Growth through Agriculture grant, FADC also helped them develop their business plan.

"It helped us get a bigger vision what this business could do," Kriser said.

The Growth through Agriculture application is the same way Bear Paw Meats in Chinook got a new state-of-the-art smoker. The facility manager, Ashley Callahan, said the smoker cost $65,000, half of which was covered by the grant. They matched the other half.

The smoker is bigger, faster, better. The old smoker, complete with manual dials, could smoke about 200 pounds at a time, Callahan said. The new one can do double to triple that amount, Callahan said. It's also more efficient when it comes to documenting process requirements. The smoker connects to a laptop, which relays the specs and measurements without having to record them manually, saving time.

Callahan said they had worked with Bear Paw Development over the years, and when they thought about getting a new smoker, they approached Lyon about writing a grant.

“Taylor is a beast (at grant writing),” Callahan said.

“They’re really supportive people. They want to help support agriculture and I feel that with them,” Callahan added.

Lyon said all that people need to justify coming to visit him is an idea.

“Usually people just have an idea. We have an initial consultation,” Lyon said. “Here’s a business plan template, here’s a cash flow template. The cash flow is when we start working with the numbers. Some people get intimidated, so I usually follow up with them.”

Sometimes the ideas pan out, sometimes not. One of the most common reasons they don’t is simple: The market just doesn’t agree, Lyon said.

From Cut Bank to Glasgow, Lyon said, $250 million in funding has been diverted to businesses.

“Cut Bank Creek Brewing, they started from scratch with a (Growth through Agriculture) grant, we helped them put together,” he said.

FADC goes beyond grant writing and loaning. The idea is to plant the seed early for buying locally, he said. Harvest of the Month is an Office of Public Instruction program which features a different ag product every month.

Havre Public Schools introduced third-graders at Lincoln-McKinley Early Primary School to the Harvest of the Month program. The goal, said Lyon, who sometimes serves as a liaison to get products to the cafeteria, is to introduce schools to buying local foods.

Shanna Flores, who is in charge of Havre Public Schools’ food service program, said November is apple month. The students were taught a lesson about apples and then, throughout the month, they had the chance to eat apples and give feedback.

The students can say they tried apples, they like apples or they loved apples.

Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt

As someone whose job entails paying attention and assessing markets there are some agricultural opportunities that are a no-brainer, Lyon said.

“Organic ag is proving to be a very valuable enterprise to get into. They’re making more money per product,” Lyon said. “I’m not going to say whether it’s right or wrong or good or bad, but economically, by the numbers, it’s proven — if you don’t have 10,000 acres, you don’t have 15,000 acres — it’s a good opportunity. … It’s a market opportunity, plain and simple, and I feel I am obligated to let people know that.”

Lyon said a majority of the ingredients in organic products, the raw ingredients, are shipped from overseas. There’s no reason for that, he said.


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