Wheat harvest

United Grain Corp., which operates the largest West Coast export terminal, has purchased facilities in Ontario and Notus, Idaho.

ONTARIO — United Grain Corp. is expanding its holdings into the Treasure Valley on the Oregon-Idaho border with the purchase of two grain storage and shipping facilities, in Ontario and in Notus, Idaho.

The Vancouver, Washington-based exporter announced the deal Feb. 2.

Jason Middleton, region manager of United Grain, said the properties will add more than 1.6 million bushels of capacity for wheat and corn. They were bought from Scoular, a grain handling company headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska. Terms were not immediately available.

“They’re great facilities,” Middleton said. “It fits well into our program.”

United Grain, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019, operates an export terminal in Vancouver with a capacity of 8 million bushels — the largest on the West Coast.

About 85-90% of soft white wheat grown in the Northwest is exported to countries in Asia, most notably Japan, where it is used to make products such as noodles and crackers.

Another part of United Grain’s business model is owning “origination assets” including grain bins, piles and upcountry elevators where farmers deliver their grain after harvest.

Middleton said that gives them a handle on the entire supply chain, increasing speed, space and service to the grower.

”All of that equates to margins,” he said. “Nobody’s getting rich farming right now. Wheat prices are down.”

United Grain now owns 15 upcountry locations in five states — Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota. Perhaps its biggest splash came in 2016 when the company purchased nearly all grain assets from Pendleton Grain Growers in Eastern Oregon, an 86-year-old farmers’ co-op that voted to dissolve after suffering major financial losses.

The crown jewel of that acquisition was the McNary Terminal along the Columbia River in Umatilla, Ore. Middleton said about 99% of grain sent to Vancouver for export now goes through that terminal, where it is loaded onto river barges.

Wheat from the Treasure Valley has already been sent to the Columbia River for years, Middleton added, making the Ontario and Notus facilities a natural fit.

”It’s not like it’s something that’s a stretch,” Middleton said. “Moving wheat is like moving water. Grain wants to move in the path of least resistance.”

United Grain says it will immediately have bids at the facilities for soft white, hard red winter, club and spring wheat. The company will also continue to partner with Scoular on its corn program for the next year to ensure a seamless transition.

”We feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to take these facilities over from a company that has developed strong relationships with growers,” Gary Williams, vice president of marketing and business development at United Grain, said in a statement. “We intend to continue investing to bring reliable service that (United Grain) has become known for.”

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