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First bushel of corn to be delivered to Bushmills plant Monday

ATWATER -- Andy Quinn was one of the first in line to lead the capital campaign to build a $62 million ethanol plant in Kandiyohi County.

On Monday morning, he will deliver the first bushel of corn to the Atwater plant.

Actually, it will be 950 bushels of corn, which he will bring in a Kenworth grain truck from his Litchfield farm, to weigh and unload in the new ethanol processing facility.

"It's a big thrill for me to be the first one across the scale," said Quinn, who is president of the board of directors for Bushmills Ethanol.

Construction workers were moving at a fast pace this week to complete the project so that ethanol production can begin yet this year. Original plans called for production to begin March 1, 2006.

Quinn said when it became apparent a couple months ago that there was a chance the plant could open early, the construction crews were encouraged to finish in time for the switches to be thrown Dec. 28.

The annual production of 45 million gallons of ethanol will then begin.

Being officially on-line in 2005, even if it happens on the last couple days of the year, could mean receiving a larger slice of a federal bio-energy grant than waiting until 2006. The grant program sunsets in 2006.

"It'll be a good feeling to see this plant under operation on the 28th of December," Quinn said.

Considering the steep financial commitment, daunting regulatory obstacles and numerous details to work out, the project has moved at lightning speed.

It's a pace that Quinn and the other board members set right from the get-go.

Board members began a grueling capital campaign in March 2004, conducting meetings once or twice a day. In communities within a 75-mile radius, the board members tried to persuade people to pony up $20,000 for a share in the proposed plant.

The capital campaign resulted in $32 million being raised in 2½ months. In comparison, it took promoters of the ethanol plant in Granite Falls, which began production this fall, nearly 2½ years to raise their needed capital, Quinn said.

In November 2004, Bushmills Ethanol conducted a ground-breaking ceremony, with Gov. Tim Pawlenty and local legislators lined up to speak.

"It went rather fast, looking back on it," Quinn said.

Less than two years from the start of the Bushmills Ethanol capital campaign, the plant will be in production and investors will be collecting dividends.

Quinn praised Fagen Construction of Granite Falls for getting the project done two months early. "They built a great plant," he said.

Erik Osmon, general manager for Bushmills, cautions that there is still plenty of work yet to be done before Dec. 28, and finishing touches on the grounds will continue after that.

Osmon moved his office from a construction trailer to the spacious, sunny -- but very bare -- administration building this week. The carpet was still being laid in the freshly painted building and furniture should arrive next week.

Outside, about 120 construction workers were busy on every corner of the sprawling plant. At one time, there were up to 250 workers on the site.

All of the plant's 32 full-time employees have been hired. They were training in Russell, Kan., this week, learning how to operate the facility.

The plant is guaranteed to produce 45 million gallons of ethanol a year. That's an increase from the original projections of 40 million gallons. Quinn said the plant may be able to squeeze out 49 million gallons, which is the top limit allowed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Osmon said the goal is to reach the "nameplate" production levels within one week of production starting. The plant will also produce dried distillers grain, a byproduct of the process that is sold as livestock feed.

Don Carlson, the commodity manager for Bushmills, began buying corn in September. He's currently secured bids through December of 2006.

Having the ethanol plant in the community should increase local corn prices by at least a nickel a bushel. Bushmills is currently paying about $1.70 a bushel.

"It's really going to be a boost to this farming community," Quinn said. The payoff won't be "just for the farmers that invested in this plant," he said, but also for the corn farmers who didn't invest. "This is good for all farmers. I feel real good about that."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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