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Expectations-beating success during its first season operating in the heart of Idaho hop country wasn’t good enough for Mill 95 leaders.
They are working on in-house improvements on two fronts. One is obtaining an international quality certification for food safety. The other is an internal mapping and detailing of all inputs and processes.
“We continue to strive for quality and service. Those are at the forefront of everything we are doing in the offseason,” said Jamie Scott, manager and sole owner. “We are going to come into year two smarter, stronger and better-prepared. We keep getting better.”
The business on U.S. 95 between Wilder and Parma, Idaho, offers hop cold storage, cone-to-pellet processing and logistics services. It considers itself an alternative to facilities hundreds of miles away, such as in central Washington or western Oregon.
Unique challenges materialized in Mill 95’s first season.
Operations Manager D.J. Tolmie said startup went fairly well but took more effort than envisioned. Historically heavy snow accumulation as 2017 began tightened labor availability, backlogged various projects in the strong construction market and ultimately pressed the new hops facility as harvest loomed.
“We had hop traffic and construction traffic,” he said. “You can’t delay hop harvest.”
Mill 95 formed in 2016 and commenced construction last April on part of its 20-acre site. The cold-storage building of 40,000 square feet was finished enough in late August to receive just-harvested hops. The pelletizing operation that anchors a 10,000-square-foot building began operating in November.
The expanded team that helped get Mill 95 running included the crew, the building team led by Boise-area builder Engineered Structures Inc. and vendors, Scott said.
“It ended up taking all hands on deck,” she said. It’s amazing what people will do under the gun, and we delivered. There was no way we weren’t going to.”
The business employs eight full-time, not including founder and owner Scott, plus 15 to 20 during the hop harvest and production season from late August through February, said Amaya Aguirre-Landa, marketing and sales associate.
Before Mill 95 opened, many southwest Idaho hop growers shipped 200-pound bales of the cone-like flower bunches to storage and processing plants in Washington and Oregon.
Sales Manager Meagen Anderson said Mill 95 can help growers greatly reduce shipping expense, limit their crop’s exposure to quality-lessening heat and other conditions during transport, and even increase the Idaho hop industry’s exposure to brewers.
Hop pellets are easier for brewers to buy in bulk and store in a way that helps them last longer while retaining quality, she said.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity, particularly in craft brewing and smaller brewers,” Anderson said.
Mill 95 can store or pelletize hops for growers, or buy them for processing and packaging under an in-house brand. The business does not grow hops.
Tolmie said Mill 95 handled about 2.8 million pounds of hops harvested in 2017, either cold-storing or pelletizing them. That exceeded expectations, though the facility probably could handle 3.5 million pounds, he asid.
“That said, I would like to pelletize every hop in Idaho, and we would expand to do so,” Scott said.
“It is a great thing, and we will be using them in the future,” Brock Obendorf, who co-owns and manages Obendorf Hop near Parma, said of Mill 95. He is president of the Idaho Hops Commission.
His family’s hop farm now hauls its yield to a broker’s receiving station nearby. While the broker bears the cost of shipping the hops to its own pelletizing plant, reducing that cost would be beneficial, he said.
“Their whole plan is really good for the area,” Obendorf said, “getting Idaho’s quality of hops out there.”
Tolmie said Mill 95 by early July expects to receive its International Standards Organization 9001 best-practices quality certification for food safety. Concurrently, Mill 95 is integrating an enterprise resource planning system designed to optimize processes from receiving to processing and delivery.
He and Scott said brewers like the best practices the ISO certification demonstrates, while the enterprise resource planning system enables the company to accurately trace products from raw-material inputs to final form. Hops data of interest can include growers’ pesticide and irrigation records.
Mill 95 got some 90 percent of its first-season revenue from buying and reselling hops, so there is much room to grow its service and logistics segment, officials said. All aspects of Mill 95 can grow given the potential Idaho’s hop industry — ranked in the top three nationally by volume — offers, they said.
Traditionally, many Idaho hop farmers contracted with processors elsewhere, and relatively few processors focused on craft beers, Scott said.
“We want to be a partner with the growers and the brewers,” said Scott, who is well known in Idaho business and philanthropy circles. ”We are in a stage right now where we are trying to earn business.”