Milling, packaging slated at old Seneca site in Buhl

1000 Springs Mill partners Tim Cornie, left, and Kurt Mason at part of the former Seneca Foods processing complex in Buhl, Idaho.

Capital Press

South central Idaho farmers Kurt Mason and Tim Cornie plan to make and package various specialty grain products — from popcorn and polenta to feed, flour and a component of vodka — starting later this year in former Seneca Foods buildings in Buhl.

In late 2015 and early 2016 Seneca wound down and closed its longtime food-processing operation. Mason and Cornie recently bought about half the complex on the east side of Clear Lakes Road north of U.S. 30. They plan to operate 1000 Springs Mill there.

“We are ordering equipment,” Mason said. “We are hoping to be packaging this fall as we bring crop in off farm ground.”

He farms in the Kimberly-Hansen area. Cornie farms in Buhl. Both farms are certified as organic. They raise red wheat, often made into bread, and are raising popcorn as well as flint corn — a hard-kernel American Indian heirloom corn — and some grain corn as a component of feed.

Mason said 1000 Springs Mill will package popcorn, and will launch organic and non-GMO chicken feed lines. The business will make cornmeal-based polenta, and will have stone mills for producing wheat, corn and buckwheat flours.

“We plan to have our brand on the shelf at Costco, Amazon, or customers can buy straight from us,” he said. “And we will be able to trace to the place of origin.”

Mason expects strong demand.

“On the organic and non-GMO side, it is just going to keep growing because people are really concerned about where their food comes from,” he said. “The consumer is starting to be more of a label reader and wants to eat healthier. We can bring it right from our farm straight to the consumer.”

Also at 1000 Springs Mill, red wheat will be turned into a flour-like material for shipment to organic vodka maker American Harvest in Rigby, Idaho. And 1000 Springs will have specialized equipment so it can offer custom bean cleaning and storage to grower-suppliers of Pocatello-based Amy’s Kitchen.

For this year, Mason and Cornie, who are cousins, are growing all the crops on 2,000 acres. They hope to increase that total substantially, with the help of contract growers — a couple of whom are contributing already — in the next few years as demand grows.

“As the markets expand for 1000 Springs Mill, we will need other growers in the Treasure and Magic valley areas (southwest and south central Idaho, respectively) to grow crops on contract to meet demand.”

Employee headcount is likely to start at about 40, at $15 to $27 per hour depending on qualifications, Mason said. The staff total could increase to 100 as demand warrants, he said.

Mason and Cornie bought about 40,000 square feet of ag shop space, 8,000 square feet of office space, and 233,000 square feet of dry warehousing, of which they recently sold 79,000 to another business.

Mason estimated the project’s cost at $5 million to $6 million including property and equipment acquisition.

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