Like many dairy farmers, Jasmin Hofer’s family grew soybeans. They sold the beans to a processor, who converted them into soybean meal and oil, and the Hofers bought back the meal to feed their cows. That’s the way everyone did it.
Then, on a 2006 trip to Switzerland, Hofer and her father saw tractors running on vegetable oil. It was an a-ha moment. If farmers could process their beans on the farm, Hofer thought, they could produce oil to run their tractor and cut their feed costs at the same time.
Back home, they launched Energrow and teamed up with an engineer and a local machinist to create a farm-scale cold screw press. The first prototype came out looking a bit like Frankenstein, Hofer admits. Today, however, the Energrow system wins praise from every farmer who buys one.
A hammer mill breaks the soybeans apart, while the press converts the beans into pelleted soybean meal and oil. Add a bin and you’ve got a completely automated system that can run 24/7. And if you’d prefer to sell the oil rather than put it in your tractor, Energrow offers a guaranteed market.
It all adds up to a sweet financial deal. Between the feed savings and the oil revenue, Hofer estimates a farmer with a herd of 75 cows can typically recoup the costs of the $30,000 system in just three years.
Today the Ontario-based company has 15 dealers across North America and a customer base that Hofer expects to double in the coming year. “They love the machine,” she says. “The paybacks are there. The cows do really well on the feed. It’s really, really awesome.”
Customer testimonials back her up. “Not only did we save on feed costs, our cows came up 15 per cent in milk,” says one Jersey and veal farmer. “It’s easy to operate, very easy to set up and fairly maintenance free,” says a cash crop producer. “It’ll operate while I'm sleeping or taking deposits to the bank!”
At several points throughout her entrepreneurial journey, Hofer turned to Bioenterprise for support. The agri-business accelerator helped her source market data, connected her to industry contacts and provided all-important reality checks. “They were a really good sounding board,” she says.
Now, as Energrow develops new technology and sets its sights on global markets, you can bet Hofer will be calling on Bioenterprise to help guide this next stage of business growth. “They are a really good resource,” she says.