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Skyline view now includes 'tri towers' for turkeys

The newest additions to the Perham "skyscape" are Jennie-O's "tri towers," pictured here on a foggy morning.1 / 2
Perham and Henning Jennie-O manager Mike Jones beneath the "tri towers."2 / 2

East Otter Tail County now boasts a cityscape with "tri towers."

The immense structures aren't tall, architectural urban masterpieces, with offices, apartments and boutiques. They're "rural skyscrapers," with a capacity of 300,000 bushels of corn.

"It definitely changed the Perham skyline," laughed Jennie-O manager Mike Jones.

And it's all for the birds-and filled to the brim for future Thanksgiving turkeys. For the turkeys, the Perham-produced feed is a fleeting thing-they aren't around long to enjoy it.

Perham's Jennie-O turkey feed plant can now store a 40 day supply of corn in the immense, 94-foot-tall cylindrical bins, according to Jones, who started at the Henning Jennie-O plant for ten years, and has managed the Perham Jennie-O facility for the past eight years.

"This enables us to more steadily receive feed will really speed up the dumping time for farmers and local suppliers," said Jones. The Perham plant will produce 135,000 tons of finished poultry feed next year. "These allow us to order more corn, and have a consistent inventory."

Actually, whether it's Christmas or July 4, the pace of turkey production remains steady year-long; there's no "Thanksgiving rush," noted Jones.

"People tend to assume we're busy leading up to Thanksgiving," said Jones, "but as far as feed production, the only real peak is in the mid-winter. The turkeys eat more when the weather is cold."

The Perham expansion was part of a $10 million initiative at Perham and three other Jennie-O plants: Swanville, Atwater and Dawson. Perham is one of three locations to expand to 300,000 bushel capacity. Atwater expanded with massive bins holding 450,000 bushels.

Perham's Jennie-O may have built enough capacity for even larger bins, but it is restricted by its location-confined in tight quarters between the railroad tracks and Perham's Main Street.

The turkey industry, though operating somewhat quietly and unnoticeably, is still big business in East Otter Tail County and the wider region. Jennie-O purchases 2.6 million bushels of corn per year for the Perham operation, most of it from farmers within a 50 mile radius.

In addition to Perham, Jones manages the Henning Jennie-O plant, which stores 100,000 bushels and produces 85,000 tons of feed per year. Henning buys about 2 million bushels of corn per year.

Between the two plants, about 42 area turkey operations are serviced, said Jones.

How big is the turkey business in this area?

Well, Jones is hesitant to discuss specific figures, but multiply a recent price of corn at $3.52 per bushel, at the 2.6 million bushels Jennie-O buys a year, and the total exceeds $9 million.

Now, do the math on corn when it was selling for as high as $7 a bushel, within the last two years.

The economic impact on the region is substantial. In addition, Jennie-O employs 15 full-time and contract employees in Perham; and another five in Henning.

A division of Hormel, Jennie-O is a fully integrated company, said Jones, meaning its operations are capable of producing a Thanksgiving turkey all the way from the egg to the dinner table. One of its packing plants is right in Otter Tail County, in Pelican Rapids. Jennie-O's main offices are located in Willmar; while Hormel's headquarters are in Austin, Minnesota.

The turkey business is stable, said Jones, with a steady market share during good economic times and bad.

Hormel, on the other hand, experienced an increase in consumer buying during the economic downturn. According to Jones, sales of one of its best-known products have been up substantially: Spam.