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Tuesday, Sep. 16, 2014

Agri Economics pursues farm market with new product

Monday, July 19, 2010

Farms and agriculture-based industries provide a constant stream of material, some marketable and some not. Finding a way to use a waste bi-product or create a new product through repackaging is the goal of Agri Economics, one of three businesses operating under Ed Mareth's Genesis Project in Purdy.

Sean Priest runs Agri Economics. His business has acquired a small pellet mill and is concentrating on manufacturing animal feed and feed ingredient processing. Priest has an office in the historic Purdy hotel with the other firms in the Genesis Project. His feed mill is located a block away between Commercial and Front streets.

Priest's family is from the area though he grew up in Colorado. Priest is a member of the Alpha Gamma Sigma fraternity at Missouri State University. Mareth, a fraternity brother, approached the organization in search of someone interested in getting into an agriculture related business. Priest was the only ag student graduating in the Class of 2009.

"I had originally interviewed for a position on an 8,000-acre corn farm in Mozambique," Priest said. "The people there have no equipment or background in raising corn. We were going to help them make corn for the poultry industry."

Mareth approached Priest last summer about going to work and Priest accepted.

"Ed put up all the capital. He owns the equipment," Priest said. "Especially in ag, it's hard to start anything on your own. The cost of equipment at times is astronomical, particularly if you don't have a credit history."

Another attraction to contracting with the Genesis Project for three years was using a unique manufacturing approach.

"There's a lot of production agriculture, but no one has done anything quite like this," Priest said.

The initial strategy has been to take fat waste from area ag plants and pelletize it into a product that could be sold for animal feed. A dairy farmer from Crane has since approached Priest about another feed combination that is now being developed.

"Pellet mills are considered more of an art form," Priest said, "especially the small ones. There are humidity, pressure and temperature issues. A lot of it can't be controlled. On a bigger plant, it's a lot easier."

Priest is also working on a biodiesel process to extract walnut oil from discarded material used in an Oklahoma factory.

"Most everything I've done, working on tractors and farm implements, is going into this," Priest said. "Stationary plant equipment is way, way different. There's quite a learning curve. A lot of it is trial and error."

Mareth connected Priest with an experienced pellet mill operator from Marionville whose team has helped improve Priest's process. As the bugs are worked out, Priest plans to build a bigger pellet mill for larger production near Purdy.

"It could be a very big operation," Priest said.

Priest was the first of the Genesis Project businessmen to come on board. He has worked out of Purdy since January and helped as the office area took shape in the historic Purdy hotel building. The mill equipment was acquired a year ago and has been in operation for the past three months as Priest fine tunes it.

Priest now has one employee, a Purdy High School student who is working full-time for the summer. During his second year in the Genesis Project, Priest hopes to have the mill running six days a week and hire employees for three shifts a day, including transporting the finished product. Blueprints will be drafted for a bigger mill as well.

"We will have an opportunity to make jobs, but we've got to be able to afford to pay people," Priest said.

Typical of someone who grew up with an ag background, Priest works long days and seldom hangs around the office, according to his colleagues in the Genesis Project. He is fully confident in the future of Agri Economics and the support making the business possible.



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