Through research, experimentation and innovation over the past decade, corn has become a jack of all trades. Once mainly used for animal feed, consumers now can find the versatile crop in everything, from fuel to bioplastics, and fibers to food products.
Cargill, an international producer and marketer of food, agricultural, financial and industrial products and services, has a campus in Blair that’s a working example of these diverse uses for corn.
“The Blair facility was in operation in 1995, producing high fructose corn syrup, ethanol, crude corn oil, corn gluten meal and innovative feed products,” says Facility Manager Matt Parsons. “The Blair site continues to grow, and now has multiple businesses and site partners, making it a hub of many different products and services.”
Some of the co-located companies that operate from the Blair campus include Purac, a producer of lactic acid derivatives; Novozymes, an enzyme company; NatureWorks LLC, makers of corn-based biopolymers for packaging and fibers; and Evonik, the producers of an amino acid that is added to animal feed.
Cargill also makes polyols, which produces erythritol, a low-calorie sugar substitute. Polyols are often used in toothpaste, mouthwash and sugar-free chewing gum.
“The Blair campus allows each business to achieve economies of scale that they wouldn’t enjoy on a stand-alone basis,” Parsons says.
As for the key ingredient, the campus grinds approximately 300,000 bushels of corn per day to supply to each business, sourcing the crop from Nebraska and Iowa.
All products made by the co-located companies are produced using corn. Cargill pulls starch from the corn and breaks it down into simple sugars, so that co-located companies can use it in their fermentation processes and ultimately produce their final products.
In addition to showing the great potential of corn, Cargill’s Blair campus also plays an important role in the Cornhusker State’s economy.
Parsons says the campus employs approximately 1,200 Nebraskans, as well as some Iowans, broken down into three categories. About 550 employees work for Cargill directly. About 250 employees work for co-located companies on the campus, and about 400 employees are contracted, working on maintenance and construction at the plant.
In 2011, the campus partnered with the Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership to figure out the annual economic impact of the Blair campus, located northwest of Omaha. They found the complex contributes a little greater than half a billion dollars per year to local economic activity.
Parsons says the impact of Cargill’s Blair campus has been substantial.
“Our partnership with Nebraska and the local Blair community has been extremely beneficial to all of us. It is amazing to look back and consider the amount of growth and change that has occurred at our facility over the last 20 years,” he says. “The City of Blair has been a key part of that. We believe that these strong relationships, coupled with our great employees and expanding opportunities in the bio-manufacturing space, will create many new opportunities for continued growth in the future.”