Columbia Grain in full operational mode
Elevator can handle up to 250 semi loads a day
CRYSTAL – Standing nearly 14 stories tall and rising from the flat, black terrain of Crystal, North Dakota is the town’s newest and only high rise.
One of several new or expanded grain terminals that have appeared on the landscape of Walsh and Pembina counties in recent years, Columbia Grain’s terminal in Crystal is about as high tech as it gets.
With on-site grain inspection, a card reader system, a robotic arm to probe grain samples from incoming trucks, and a shuttle loading operation that includes a rail track 1.6 miles in circumference, Columbia Grain’s Crystal facility can process an almost unimaginable number of rail cars and semis in a day.
Larry McCollum, the manager of the Crystal terminal, says it takes about 8 hours to load 120 cars in shuttle or unit. “We have three employees who load the shuttles, said McCollum. The engine operator moves the train, when directed by the loading operator inside the terminal. He has to move the train approximately every 3-4 minutes to load another car. The guy on top of the train opens each car for loading and the loading operator inside operates all the loading equipment.”
The two-year-old facility can handle approximately 25 shuttle or unit trains in one year. During harvest, the facility has handled up to 250 semi loads of commodities in one day. It has the capacity to store 1.3 million bushels of commodities, primarily wheat, corn, canola, soybeans, and barley.
Dakota Northern Railroad is the short line railroad servicing the terminal. That line connects with Burlington Northern Santa Fe in Grand Forks.
The Crystal terminal supports Columbia Grain’s Terminal 5 export facility, located on 40 acres near the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers in Portland, Ore. It is this facility that gives local independent growers and farmer owned cooperatives in the area a distinct marketing advantage – access to a west coast rail unload, grain cleaning and shipping hub.
Although privately owned, Columbia Grain works with area coops in what both entities refer to as a win-win situation. The smaller cooperatives get to market their commodities to west coast buyers, rather than being limited to those that ship over the Chicago market.
The benefit to Columbian Grain is that it gets to originate a more diverse product that can go into their export market. Also, when the Crystal facility gets a shuttle or unit train, sometimes they need help filling the train and other elevators help out.
“Growers also benefit, as there is still a lot of competition out there for the commodities produced here,” said McCollum. “We have built this terminal to provide the best service to all of our customers.”
Adding to the efficiency of the terminal’s rail car operation is the card reader system that quickly identifies each truck with the grower or supplier bringing the commodity to the terminal. A room above the main offices at the terminal houses the card reader system, robotic probe, scale, and an on-site automated grain inspection operation, affiliated with Northern Plains Grain Inspection Service, Inc. of Grand Forks.
“At their incoming stop at the terminal office, each driver receives a scale ticket that reports the incoming weight of the truck,” says McCollum. “When they return after unloading, they pick up a scale ticket that includes the number of bushels they hauled in and the grade of the commodity.”
In addition to the Crystal terminal, Columbia Grain operates facilities in Oakes, Valley City and Arvilla, along with dozens of elevators, shuttle loaders, barge loaders, and agronomy operations across the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Their one export elevator is located at the Portland, Ore. location.