Dave Eiynck and Tyler Hoban are commodity farmers in Mahnomen County, Minnesota. They also run E-H Oats, an oat milling business they launched in 2018 with the help of the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI).
Eiynck, 49, and Hoban, 39, have known each other for almost 20 years. Eiynck’s great grandfather started the farm. When Dave Eiynck took over the operation, he acquired some additional acreage and transitioned the farm from dairy cattle and hogs to commodities like soybeans, peas and oats.
In 2017 Eiynck and Hoban started working on a plan to start their own milling business. They had an idea for a way to separate the oat kernel from the groats and then clean it. They purchased an old combine at a farm auction and then retrofitted it to see if it would process oats. After hours of research, testing and tinkering they had a machine that worked.
“It was a lot of trial and error,” Hoban said of the process. “At first it was really just to see if we could do it.”
Eiynck said one of the biggest challenges to getting started was not having anyone to ask for practical or technical advice.
“We really had to figure out how to do this on our own. We did a lot of research when we were getting started, but we quickly found there was not much information out there. Eventually we were able to figure out what worked and what did not,” — Dave Eiynck, E-H Oats
Working with AURI
In 2017, Eiynck and Hoban started working with AURI. Since then, the organization has been an integral part of the company’s success.
“AURI has really taken the time to understand what we are trying to accomplish. They have been out to the farm many times and are always willing to take a look at our operation, do some testing and make sure everything is working. We have had a lot of conversations with the staff. They are a great group to work with,” Hoban said.
Harold Stanislawski, AURI’s business development director, and Riley Gordon, AURI engineer, worked closely with E-H Oats, providing technical assistance and conducting research for the business to purchase new equipment to make the operation more efficient. AURI also identified potential markets for sales and growth and contributed networking and business development services.
“There are two aspects of our work with [Eiynck and Hoban]: the project side and the technical side. On the project level I want to make sure we are good listeners, and we dig into the challenges and fully understand what they are trying to accomplish. That helps us articulate the issues to our technical team who can then do what they do best by trying to maximize the efficiency of the equipment,” Stanislawksi said. “When those two pieces come together, we end up with great results.”
Gordon worked with Eiynck and Hoban and made a strategic recommendation on equipment upgrades. He recommended purchasing an impact huller that ncould more quickly dehull the oats. He facilitated connections with a vendor, which expedited the purchase and delivery of the equipment.
The results were immediate and positive, Gordon said. After the first trial the new machine was nearly 95 percent efficient and could almost double output.
“What used to take them nearly a full day can now occur in a matter of hours,” Gordon said. “With those better numbers, the investment in the equipment will pay for itself in a short period of time. As an engineer, one of the things I really like to do is work with a client to identify their problems and then work to find a solution to solve any bottlenecks and increase efficiencies.”
That was an important step in the development of the business. E-H Oats plans to purchase a second impact huller to further grow production. Becoming more efficient and growing production capabilities has opened doors to new business possibilities and growth.
“In order to attract customers, we needed to have a larger capacity and more volume,” Eiynck said. “We are kind of the new kids in town, and it can be hard to break into some of these specialty markets. Now that we have had some success, we have been able to work with some of those established business. That has been a real positive experience so far.”
More Uses for Oats
E-H Oats processes about 6,000 bushels a week and sells their product to the food grade market. In addition to selling milled oats, the business also uses the hull byproduct. They sell the fiber to dairy and beef farmers for animal feed and some customers use the product in turkey and poultry bedding. Milled oats are packed with dietary fiber and are extremely nutritious.
“That is another revenue stream for us, and it opens up markets to other farmers in the area. That is something that was important to us. Oats is a specialty crop with not as many outlets as other [crops]. To help out the other local agricultural producers in the area is something we wanted to do,” Eiynck said.
Last year was E-H Oats’ busiest year ever. Eiynck said the business has the capacity to expand even more but is now dealing with a new challenge: a supply shortage.
“That is our issue right now. We are always looking for more oats. We definitely have room to grow if we can get our hands on that supply,” Hoban said. “At the same time, we are seeing a lot more people calling us that want to sell us oats every year. That also helps us keep up with the volume and customer demand.”
The next challenge is to ramp up output and expand their service area. E-H Oats would like to process more bushels and transport the oats to more customers in an efficient and cost-effective way.
For AURI, there were many positive outcomes of working with Eiynck and Hoban, Stanislawski said.
“To do what they are doing on the scale that they are doing, you have to be really smart, and you have to right-size your equipment. When they started it was a homemade operation. We worked with [Eiynck and Hoban] to make some adjustments to their equipment so they could realize better efficiencies,” Stanislawski said. “It is always wonderful when projects happen in greater Minnesota, especially in smaller communities. As an organization, we want to spread our resources across the entire state whenever we can.”
Eiynck and Hoban are grateful for AURI’s assistance and guidance throughout the evolution of their business.
“Every step we took had its ups and downs. At first, we just hoped the machine would work, that it would do what we wanted it to do. Once we figured that out the next challenge was tracking down the supporting equipment to make the process faster and more efficient,” Eiynck said. “We had to change a lot of things on the fly and rethink and redo a lot before we got to a place where it was working. That is where AURI’s assistance was the difference. We can’t say enough about how much
they have helped us so far.”
AURI offers unique resources designed to help develop new uses and value additions to Minnesota-grown agricultural products. We are here to help you find new uses for traditional, unexplored or overlooked resources. Learn more at auri.org.