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Tracy Frank, Published December 20 2013

Family-owned Casselton agribusiness provides seed around globe

CASSELTON, N.D. - Bob Sinner flew to Japan 25 years ago with the goal of getting overseas food companies to buy his soybeans.

He carried the doubts of many in the industry who said it was never going to work.

“We had national organizations say food-grade soybeans shouldn’t be coming from North Dakota. They’re more developed in Iowa and Illinois and Indiana because they’re larger producers of soybeans,” he said.

Sinner says he’s competitive by nature, and being told he couldn’t do something was all the incentive he needed to try.

His company, Sinner Bros. & Bresnahan, has always been focused on quality, but when farmers sell to the feed market, they’re not rewarded for quality, Sinner said.

But food companies want higher quality and pay premium prices for producers to meet those demands.

Sinner did his research and found a soybean variety that had a higher protein content than what the Asian food companies he was targeting had been using. The bean was a bit smaller than the companies typically liked and it had a different color hilum – the part that attaches the seed to the pod – than they preferred to use.

Still, Sinner convinced the companies to give his soybean a try.

“Here I am, little me from North Dakota, trying to get these big food manufacturers in Japan to use a variety that wasn’t very attractive to them,” he said. “Lo and behold they liked it, and that started our business.”

Over the years Sinner Bros. & Bresnahan (SB&B) has grown its customer portfolio, its product, and its partnership with growers.

Sinner is an owner partner and president of the company, which now exports ingredients to food manufacturers in 16 countries.

SB&B is a family-owned, large-scale agribusiness that Sinner’s great-grandfather started in 1906 near Casselton. It’s a fifth-generation family enterprise that deals in crops, seed and cattle. Seven family partners manage the diverse operation.

In 1997 the agribusiness established SB&B Foods, Inc. to manage the marketing and sale of its identity preserved, non-GMO, and organic products to customers worldwide.

Seven years later, the company built a processing facility called Identity Ag Processing, LLC., in Casselton. It has an annual capacity of 1 million bushels. And in 2010, SB&B built another processing facility in Bloomer, Wisc. That facility has an annual capacity of 1.5 million bushels.

The company handles strictly non-GMO crops. When producers bring their products to the processing plant, they’re tested to make sure there is no genetically modified contamination.

High-tech equipment ensures customers get exactly what they want, right down the specific size, color and shape of soybean. They also go to great lengths to maintain identity preservation and traceability throughout the cleaning process.

Customers need a uniform soybean because the equipment used to process foods like soymilk and tofu is very precise, said Scott Sinner, Bob’s son, an owner partner and procurement manager who handles contracts with the upper Midwest producers.

Producing high-quality identity preserved, non-GMO, and organic products is more work for farmers, but it’s worth it, both Scott and Bob Sinner said.

“Bottom line, it’s a great way to make some more money for your operation,” Scott Sinner said. “We’re always looking at bringing on new farmers who want to get involved in this industry.”

Jon Ewen, who farms just south of Mayville, has been growing non-GMO soybeans for SB&B for seven years.

He said it takes a little more management and extra effort to make sure his Roundup Ready soybeans are kept separate from his non-GMO soybeans, but it’s worth it.

“It’s just a different mindset,” he said.

In addition to Non-GMO soybeans and organic soybeans, SB&B also handles conventional wheat, organic wheat, white sorghum, and rye.

Dean Gorder, North Dakota Trade Office executive director, says SB&B is a leader in innovation related to identity preserved product and actively identifying and pursuing markets for that product around the world.

Bob Sinner is on the trade office board and is an avid proponent of improving the lot of all exporters in North Dakota, Gorder said. SB&B is also the first to know about new developments in Korea and Japan, which not only helps SB&B, but Gorder says also benefits other businesses in the state.

“They’re absolutely leading the way in a variety of different ways that benefit not only our office but many other exporters in North Dakota,” Gorder said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526