Roger Sammons, along with his wife, Lisa, own Pardue Grain, located west of Cut Bank on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
Two years ago, Pardue Grain had three employees. Today, they have 12 full-time employees. The company’s fast-paced growth resulted in the addition of another shift of working hours at the plant that runs seven days a week.
According to Roger, Pardue Grain is “kicking out 20,000 pounds of cleaned product an hour.” Once cleaned, these pulse crops, which include locally grown chick peas, lentils, and dry peas, are ready to be shipped to a manufacturer who will then use it to make food products.
Sixty years ago, Pardue Grain was built for the purpose of processing grain from the family farms. In the past year, Pardue Grain has invested over $7 million in the facility. It now boasts state-of-the-art food-grade processing equipment, larger warehouses and additional storage, truck and railroad loading ramps, as well as conveying equipment for moving product into and out of the plant.
The $800,000 of electrical upgrades and installation are just one aspect of the $6.4 million invested in the Pardue Grain’s pulse processing and handling equipment.
Roger explained, the new facility allows for “basic processing of pulse crops and grain. This includes cleaning it and then loading it into 50 and 100-pound bags, one-ton (2,000 lbs.) totes, and bulk packages. It then is shipped to another manufacturer who turns it into food.”
That is the simple version of what Pardue Grain does, smiled Roger. “The job of cleaning the product is a lot more involved than that, especially since we have to comply with so many food safety regulations.”
When Roger’s dad, Herb and his partner, Art Pardue, started handling the grain from their own farms at the small, original facility they built in 1959, there were very few, if any, food handling safety rules they had to worry about. The grain was delivered to the facility and shipped out in railroad cars. It was a very simple and easy process.
“The food safety standards have changed dramatically over the recent years,” said Roger. “Back when Art and Dad had the plant, they didn’t have near as many food safety issues to deal with as we do now. We have a lot more rules and there is a lot more accountability now than before.”
With those new and more stringent regulations came a host of changes at the plant, including the installation of food-grade handling equipment. Now, the products being processed only come in contact with stainless steel and food grade plastic components in the cleaning system.
Pardue Grain installed all their new equipment in late January and Pardue Grain’s employees have been operating the equipment since Jan. 22, said Roger. The state-of-the-art equipment is designed to produce 30,000 pounds of processed product, or 500 bushels, in an hour.
“We are realizing there is a big learning curve to operating this equipment, but we are making it happen,” said Roger. “Right now we are producing 20,000 pounds an hour, which is working out fine. We are still learning the equipment. We will get to the 30,000 pound level before too long,” he assured.
Looking to the future, Roger pointed out, “We are working with another company that wants us to put in a splitting line for peas and we are talking about possibly doing some flour milling for chickpeas.”
Those value-added services will mean more changes – and, most likely, more jobs. “We are still in the planning stage, but it could mean equipment add-ons and more employees,” said Roger.
When the plant started in 1959, it was mainly used for the Sammons and Pardue-farmed grains. When Roger and Lisa took over ownership in 1986, it was still being used mostly for the grains that came from their farm. Now, however, the plant is seeing pulse crops come from all over the Golden Triangle area and some farms as far away as Circle, Mont.
“We have a pretty good shipping rate for the west coast,” Roger said. “That could be one reason.”
Another reason might be the software Pardue Grain uses to process its product. The company’s software allows producers to track their product from the plant to the manufacturer and then to the table.
“I like that we can follow our product all over the country,” Roger said.
Pardue Grain has earned its mark in today’s world and is ensuring a place for its company, employees and customers for years to come.
“Everyone has really grown with us,” said Roger. “And I am really pleased with everyone we have working with us. They are all willing to do so much more. We want to be around for the future, and we are doing everything we can to make that happen,” he concluded.