Created with a Purpose
Founded in 1922, the North Dakota State Mill was created to solve a challenge facing farmers in the state. At the time, Minneapolis was the primary wheat market for North Dakota farmers and elevators. The mills and grain exchange in the Twin Cities proved a costly market for the North Dakota farmers, who lost portions of their profits to freight costs.
By establishing the North Dakota State Mill in the city of Grand Forks, farmers had a much closer destination to where they could send their harvests. Nearly 100 years later, many North Dakota farmers still ship to the Mill, which provides value-adding services by converting spring wheat to flour (used for bread, rolls, and bagels) and durum wheat to semolina (used to create products such as pasta and couscous).
Growth and Change
The Mill and the State have a unique relationship. The Mill—the only state-owned mill in the country—doesn’t receive funds from the State to subsidize operations, despite what some could assume based on the ownership. The Mill operates entirely off its own revenue and has incredibly deposited more than 50% of its profits into the State General Fund annually for the past 35 years. Like any business, however, the Mill must make regular improvements to stay competitive.
When the Mill recently increased its milling capacity, that meant also expanding its rail shipping infrastructure.
A few years ago, the Mill began improving its infrastructure by reconstructing 1,140 feet of track and constructing a new concrete crossing and turnout, which allowed the Mill to expand its building footprint. But these were just the first steps in a string of improvements, and the Mill has undertaken a far more ambitious project since.
While constructing four large storage silos, the Mill began a second and much greater track expansion project, initiated with two goals in mind. First, it would allow the Mill to land 115-car-unit trains; longer trains like these are more economical than the shorter trains landing before. Secondly, the Mill would significantly save on future demurrage (i.e., storage) costs by storing rail cars on its own tracks instead of in a nearby railyard. The Mill must pay a daily fee for railcars that are stored in the railyard, which eats into profits.
The project constructed approximately 16,000 feet of new track. It starts south of the Mill and runs north, initially paralleling the existing track adjacent to Mill Road. From there, the new track extends beyond where the existing track ended, crossing English Coulee and Mill Road to create more than 4,000 feet of track designated for storing railcars. In addition, seven new turnouts and numerous crossings were constructed.
This new track will allow the Mill to operate more economically in a few ways, which together will increase profits for the Mill and the North Dakota State General Fund.
They recently added a third track for railcar storage on the north end of the property, with construction finishing in June 2020. This extra track added about 2,100 feet to the total length of the constructed track!
More Than Just Track
With the longer trains, rail traffic will occasionally prevent vehicular access to 27th Avenue North from the east. Its previous west-side connection to US 81 was lost when the bridge over English Coulee was taken out of service. After working with the City of Grand Forks to examine solutions, the Mill constructed a new box culvert on 27th Avenue North, restoring access to the roadway from US 81 and ensuring that rail traffic will never cut off 27th Avenue North completely.
The Mill also added a building to house a locomotive that they will use to move cars around while unloading unit trains.
A novel idea at the time of its founding, the Mill stands as a unique facility today. And while staying competitive isn't easy in any market, the Mill has ensured it will remain a unique agricultural fixture with its recent infrastructure investments by reducing long-term costs and, consequently, contributing more to the North Dakota General Fund.
This project won the 2020 ACEC ND Excellence in Engineering Award for Transportation.