Couple build farm-to-fork business — and community — in central Minnesota
24 Mar 2023
Business Expansion, Business, Manufacture, Manufacturing, Economic Development, News, Agriculture, Community
Jenni and Tom Smude continue to retool their central Minnesota farm-to-fork operation — which includes their sunflower oil operation plus popcorn, Black Angus beef and wood products.
The Smudes almost lost their 160-acre farm in 2008 and 2009 to drought and hail. At that point, they pivoted and have continually changed to keep it growing.
Since I first visited in 2016, the couple and their family have expanded their on-farm sunflower-processing plant into a 55,000-square-foot facility that was nearly vacant in nearby Pierz. They are now one of the largest employers in town, second only to the school district.
The operation includes a wood-working business they bought with the building in 2019.
"We used to have a banker. Now we have a team of bankers," quipped Tom Smude, 48, who oversees eight related enterprises that also are a model of sustainability and a showcase for how homegrown specialty foods can command premium prices.
Managing double-digit annual sales growth can be challenging.
Jenni Smude, 47, the top financial executive, said: "We've gone from flying by the seat of our pants to making equations that make sense for our bank. We've got our reporting system down to how much each sunflower press makes in oil by the day and hour. We measure it down to how much sunflower meal is left and fed to the animals."
The Smudes this year expect positive cash flow from revenue of $12 million generated by up to 30 employees.
"There's been a learning curve from food-grade products to specialty lumber products," Jenni Smude said. "Everything we do is still based on commodity prices. When trends aren't favorable, we have to adjust. "We're not getting rich. We are paying everybody and building working capital.''
The bankers are pleased.