CHS Mankato Facility
Creating Connections to Empower Agriculture
Nestled along the Blue Earth River off the beaten path near Sibley Park and situated along the railroad tracks is a key reason Mankato is considered one of the largest soybean oil processing centers in the world. CHS is a Fortune 100 business owned by U.S. agricultural cooperatives, farmers, ranchers, and thousands of preferred stockholders. Based in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, it owns and operates various food processing operations, wholesale farm supply markets, Cenex brand fuel, financial services, and retail businesses. It’s also a co-owner of Ventura Foods, a vegetable oil processor.
CHS has had a presence in Mankato since 1960. As a farmer-owned cooperative, CHS connects growers to consumers all around the world. Two facilities located in southern Minnesota are key pieces in that global framework: one in Mankato and one in Fairmont.
“Mankato’s unique location allows us to connect with local soybean growers, tap into Mankato’s dynamic workforce, and access strong transportation hubs to help us move food and animal food ingredients around the world. CHS is committed to serving farmers and the communities in which our farmer-owners, customers, and employees live and work,” explains Jim Graham, plant manager at CHS Mankato.
Collectively, the CHS Mankato and Fairmont plants maintain a workforce of more than 270 employees, which doesn’t fully illustrate the impact they have on our region.
“A 2016 study conducted by Ernst and Young estimated three indirect related operation jobs for every one CHS employee. Beyond employment, there are induced economic impacts to CHS suppliers, local cooperatives from patronage dividends, and customers supporting local communities,” Graham said.
CHS moved into southwestern Minnesota because it is at the heart of soybean production. The CHS Mankato soybean processing plant has a deep and rich heritage of adding value to soybean growers’ crops by transforming them into key ingredients for human and animal food.
The company has long been known for quality, consistency, and dependability. Its Mankato plant is a key cog in that, producing refined soybean oil, high oleic soybean oil, crude soybean oil, lecithin, soybean meal, soybean hulls, defatted soy white flake, defatted Honeysoy®, soy flour, and PlastiSoy® epoxidized soybean oil. From Mankato, CHS supplies soybean oil around the country and soy flour around the world. Much of the soybean meal is used regionally, although some is marketed nationally or exported, particularly to Latin America.
With 225 employees in Mankato, CHS is continually upgrading its practices and facilities.
“The CHS Mankato plant is committed to continuous improvement, efficiency, food safety, and quality. Areas of growth include the purchase of the Poplar Street rail yard, providing space for additional car storage, the addition of a CHS-owned process wastewater treatment plant, and building of a 24/7 railcar/truck wash facility,” Graham said. “CHS requires food-grade washes of all tank cars and trucks hauling finished oil products to ensure food safety and food-grade requirements.”
The Mankato plant has increased efficiency as a result of higher throughput, new product offerings, and a strong focus on energy reduction. In 2010, CHS Mankato began production of PlastiSoy, an epoxidized soy oil that is used in food wrap and medical applications. This allowed the facility to use existing manpower and repurposed equipment, along with a competitive advantage of already using specialized soybean oil feedstock in the refinery, to bring a high-quality, value-add product to market.
“Safety has been a continued area of focus and improvement at the Mankato facility, in terms of employees, community compliance, and food safety. Many of our products are manufactured to standards that require many third-party audits and accreditations. For example, kosher, halal, and Safe Quality Food (Institute standards),” Graham said.
Finding the southern Minnesota region prime for expansion, CHS increased its presence here, starting production at a Fairmont facility in 2003.
Jim Graham, plant manager at CHS Mankato
“With the growth of hog and turkey production in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, CHS was seeing strong demand for soybean meal and oil from our customer bases. The CHS Mankato facility was at full production and was seeing a demand increase each week for extra product,” explains Brandon Nordstrom, plant manager at CHS Fairmont. “The Fairmont facility allowed CHS to meet that demand and create additional market access for local farmers who grow soybeans.”
The Fairmont plant produces crude soybean oil, soybean meal, and soybean hulls. Like Mankato, Fairmont’s soybean meal and hull products are primarily used for animal feed in the region, although some of the meal is marketed nationally or exported. The crude oil is transported to the CHS soybean processing facility in Mankato for further refining to produce refined edible soybean oils.
“The CHS Fairmont soybean processing plant adds value to farmers’ crops by processing them into animal feed products and ingredients for human food products. As a farmer-owned business, CHS is unique in its close connections to growers and cooperatives that deliver soybeans to the plant 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Nordstrom said.
CHS expanded the Fairmont plant in 2015 to include 5.5 million bushels of flat storage. The facility is undergoing another $105 million expansion and renovation which will be completed by fall 2021.
“The renovation project will increase the plant’s soybean crush and soybean oil production capacity, expanding regional soybean grower market and returning value to owners through increased production of high-demand, soy-based food and feed ingredients,” Nordstrom said.
Currently, the Fairmont plant has 52 employees, but as the expansion nears completion that number is likely to rise. Depending on food ingredient market trends, CHS anticipates possible expansion of high-oleic soybean oil contracts with area growers.
“CHS has a strong connection with the surrounding and local Fairmont community. Martin County is the largest producer of pork and one of the largest producers of soybeans in Minnesota,” Nordstrom said. “CHS takes pride in being able to provide market access to area farmers and in processing soybeans into soy meal which is sold to local livestock producers.”
Brandon Nordstrom, plant manager at CHS Fairmont
CHS has also committed to securing the future of farming in southern Minnesota. It invests in programs that develop new generations of ag leaders, promote ag safety and strengthen hometown communities. Each facility — Mankato and Fairmont — has a local stewardship committee and funds to help create a stronger connection between employees, their plants, and the communities where they operate. Giving examples include local 4-H and FFA programs, supporting local fire departments, and providing funding for grain bin safety training and lifesaving equipment to conduct grain bin rescues.
In 2019, the Fairmont plant donated $100,000 to the Construction Trades Academy at Fairmont High School. The school aims to train the next generation of Minnesota’s workforce, which needs to replace more than 200,000 skilled tradespeople over the next 48 months due to baby boomer retirements.
To help create more ag educators in greater Minnesota, the CHS Foundation donated nearly $3.5 million to the University of Minnesota to transform agriculture education from kindergarten through higher education. By updating curriculum, creating active learning classrooms for teachers in training, and connecting students with rural communities, this program brings the next generation of top-notch agriculture teachers to greater Minnesota. In the past five years, CHS has also donated over 160 scholarships to students studying agriculture in Minnesota.
CHS’ impact on the Mankato and Fairmont communities goes far beyond its number of employees or the amount of product going out its doors. Its commitment to serve the communities in other ways is evident, as well.
Since 2008, the Mankato plant has donated nearly $300,000 to local organizations to fund area food relief programs and legacy community projects, such as the CHS Pergola and CHS Rock Garden at Sibley Park in Mankato and the Mankato Kiwanis Holiday Lights. Local stewardship dollars in 2021 will provide continued support for the Feeding Our Communities Partners’ Backpack Food Program, which provides local children with supplemental meals, and a $5,000 donation to Mankato Area Public Schools to help build a greenhouse and provide curriculum on agriculture and the food supply chain.
Long-standing community involvement from the Fairmont soybean processing facility includes donating wheelchair-accessible playground equipment to local parks and providing resources to youth leadership programs, community safety, and the Fairmont Area Schools Food Service Angel Fund, which wipes out school lunch debt for local families.
Connecting with its consumers and its communities, CHS continues to make a difference in the global ag economy from right here in the GreenSeam.
CHS Fairmont soybean processing facility.
A Rich History
The history of CHS began in 1931 with the founding of the Farmers Union Central Exchange in St. Paul. Later, the core cooperative company became Cenex, from the combination of the last two words in its previous name. In 1998, Cenex merged with Harvest States Cooperatives to form Cenex Harvest States. In 2003, the cooperative changed its legal name to CHS Inc.
Today CHS is a diversified global agribusiness cooperative owned by farmers and local cooperatives across the United States. CHS employs about 11,000 dedicated people around the globe who provide the owners with a strong, efficient supply chain, global market access, and inputs.
• Net income for fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2020: $422.4 million
• Revenues for fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2020: $28.4 billion
• Owners: 900 cooperatives, 75,000 producers, 20,000 preferred stockholders
• Originates more than 765 million bushels of grain
• Distributes 2 million tons of crop nutrients
• Supplies more than 300 million gallons of energy products
• One of the largest U.S. marketers of ethanol products, a leading marketer of biodiesel blended fuels, and a growing participant in global renewable fuels imports and exports.
CHS is a cooperative that is governed by the farmers and local cooperatives that own it. Seventeen full-time farmers or ranchers serve on the CHS board of directors. They represent eight regions from across the country. The number of directors representing each region is determined by business volume and the number of farmers, ranchers, and cooperatives in an area.
1833 130th Street, Fairmont, MN 56031
2020 South Riverfront Drive, Mankato, MN 56001
Phone: (800) 642-0046
Photography by Adam Hester