Using their noodles: How Dakota Growers Pasta works with Northern Plains Electric

handing holding penne
Dakota Growers makes a large variety of pasta shapes including penne.

The Dakota Growers Pasta plant in Carrington, North Dakota, comes from co-op roots.

“It was a group of North Dakota farmers who pulled together to say, ‘Let’s do something more with our durum wheat crop to provide more value to us as growers,’” says Jason Jarrett, Dakota Growers plant manager.
The plant was built in 1993 and started production in October that year. Initially, the plant did grain handling and milling using durum wheat which was turned into semolina, a flour used to make pasta. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the cooperative doubled its production capacity to keep up with demand.

In 2010, the 1,200 or so farmer-owners of Dakota Growers decided to sell their investment. “We grew into the third or fourth-largest dry pasta manufacturer in the United States throughout that time period,” Jarrett says. “In 2010, the farmers, the owners, decided that they were satisfied with where the investment had grown and sold the business.”

Today, Jarrett works for 8th Avenue Food and Provisions, which has owned the Dakota Growers plant since 2018. 8th Avenue Food and Provisions is a private-label food company that has interests in peanut butter and nut butter production, pasta, and snacks like nuts and dried fruits. It’s owned by Post Holdings and Thomas H. Lee Partners.
“From a pasta perspective, we are a multisite pasta company. There is the Carrington site, which is the largest production site from a capacity perspective. We have a facility in New Hope, Minnesota, and then we recently acquired a facility in Winchester, Virginia. With that transaction has come the purchase of the second-largest retail pasta brand in the United States, Ronzoni, which had been owned by the prior owner in the Winchester acquisition,” Jarrett says. “That couples up fairly well with our Dreamfields label, which is a Dakota Growers label. That’s a bit smaller in scope and distribution throughout the country.”

Using resources wisely

Dakota Growers, which is a member of Northern Plains Electric Cooperative, a Basin Electric Class C member headquartered in Carrington, sources its wheat from northwest North Dakota, Montana, and Canada. It comes in by both truck and rail.

Drought conditions in central to northwest North Dakota have been categorized as extreme to exceptional, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“Every crop year is a bit different, but this one has some added challenges to it,” Jarrett says. “I think producers are seeing that their yields are definitely down. The quality, though, is holding steady. Good to very good quality, proteins and hard counts are holding the level that we all need.”

When the plant was operated by the co-op, the farmer-owners were responsible for delivering their own grain for processing. Today, a grain merchandiser at the plant works directly with farmers, maintaining contact and building relationships, and also works with commercial grain elevators to buy the grain needed to make enough pasta to fill contracts.

“There is a team behind him at the corporate office, but they have to work harder in a year where supply and demand is a bit out of kilter,” Jarrett says. “There are enough connections and experience there that we can be successful buying at the right price, buying the right quality, and then converting it to finished goods. But there is going to be more effort this year to make that happen with the drought pressure that’s there.”


Jarrett says over time, North Dakota farmers have been replacing their wheat acres with other, higher-margin crops like soybeans and corn.

“We’re fortunate that just north of Carrington we have an NDSU (North Dakota State University) research center, and we have in recent months worked with them to make sure that we get in front of the North Dakota farmer and educate about durum,” he says. “The opportunities, the breeding program that has built better durum varieties, will help growers manage the agronomic risks that they have, as well as help us make quality pasta products.”
Having grown up on a North Dakota farm himself, Jarrett knows farmers are very tuned in to their input costs and margins. “There is a competition to maintain enough wheat acres to services our customers,” he says. “Durum is a viable crop that we want producers to continue to consider in their crop rotation because there is a market for it. There are a number of competing crops for the North Dakota farmer’s acres, and we want to make sure we keep durum in front of the producer.”

Jarrett says sustainability and energy conservation are important to the bottom line. “We’re always committed to improving yields in a variety of ways. So getting the most out of that wheat, getting the most out of our power input, we’ve incorporated capacitors, we’ve looked at ways to utilize the North Dakota climate, heat pumps and things like that, to harvest cold air to drive back into our processes to manage temperatures,” he says. “Those are the ideas we’re working with Northern Plains on over time to see how we can become a better steward of electrical power.”

Reliability and rates

The Dakota Growers pasta processing plant is Northern Plains Electric’s largest member, using about 3.5 million kilowatt-hours per month. Seth Syverson, Northern Plains Electric general manager, says Dakota Growers “is an important part of both the community and the cooperative.”

“Virtually every department that’s a step in the process is consuming electricity at some level, but it’s concentrated in grain handling, milling, and production,” Jarrett says.

two men standing near a train
Seth Syverson, Northern Plains Electric general manager, says the co-op works to keep an open line of communication with Dakota Growers because they understand the importance of maintaining reliability and affordable rates. Syverson is pictured at right with Jason Jarrett, Dakota Growers plant manager.

Northern Plains Electric has been a good partner in ensuring power is reliable at the plant, Jarrett says. “We’ve enjoyed a high level of reliability over the 28 years this plant has been in operation,” he says. “There are five transformers that feed power into the building, so we’ve got some redundancy. Northern Plains has done a good job at helping us be able to reroute power with switchgear that we put in with their help in the last 10 years. This switchgear helps route power if a transformer would fail, so we’re still able to keep much of the priority pieces of the facility running by calling them and asking them to reroute power as needed.”

Dakota Growers’ two sister plants (in Minnesota and Virginia) don’t have the cooperative advantages the North Dakota plant does as a member of Northern Plains Electric: service and price.

“You don’t see that, normally, in manufacturing sites where you have that ability to work with your local provider,” he says. “And the price of our electricity is lowest at our plant here in North Dakota.”

Jarrett says having reliable electricity means the difference between making sure customers have pasta to put on grocery shelves or not. “If we lose power, we’ve got all this product, particularly in pasta processing, that’s in process. A long goods dryer has about six hours of finished goods in it from beginning to end. If you lose fans and pumps, that product is lost, unable to go to the customer,” he says. “We’re able to recycle it back to the mill, but we’re not going to cover an order somewhere. That’s anywhere from 35,000 pounds of product per production line across eight production lines if they are all running.”

He says the plant has lost power very few times, and didn’t at all during the February energy emergency event, in which some cooperative members were forced into an outage due to the extreme demand across the Southwest Power Pool system.

“We didn’t sustain any downtime from that. We got warned, we got a phone call. They were on top of letting us know that load shedding may occur, but we did not lose power,” he says. “Both parties have focused on continuous improvement. We’ve had outages, but we’ve come together, we’ve put battle plans together to improve. It’s been a good organization to work with, and we need to keep that up because that’s what keeps a facility like this successful.”

Jarrett says the plant is taking measures to improve customer service with farmers who bring in grain directly to the plant, including an additional commercial grain scale to improve unloading capacity. “We’ve never been built to be a commercial grain handler. We’re a commercial food processor, so we’re not always the fastest at taking a truckload of grain, inspecting it, and completing the unload as efficiently as a commercial handler does,’” he says. “With our proposed improvements, we are trying to reduce the time onsite for the farmer from an hour down to a maximum of 40 minutes.”

Syverson says the cooperative serves a wide range of members throughout its service area, and relationships across all members are key. “We maintain an open line of communication with Dakota Growers to address items of concern which may be electrical rates, reliability, or facility improvements,” he says. “We understand the importance of maintaining a high level of reliability and keeping electrical rates affordable to ensure the success of a facility like Dakota Growers.”

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