Creating a Niche: Connecting Agriculture and Engineering

Creating a Niche: Connecting Agriculture and Engineering

MFU Member Profile:

The hemp industry in Montana and the U.S. is evolving. It’s becoming more apparent that the key to success in the industry is finding a niche in the market. Montana Farmers Union member Andrew Bishop is doing just that by combining his two passions of farming and engineering. Bishop grew up on the family farm near Brady originally homesteaded in 1916. The Bishops farm winter wheat, spring wheat, barley and pulses. Last year Andrew and his dad raised a hemp crop.

The Bishop family roots run deep in Farmers Union. Andrew’s grandmother Doris served as education director and in many other roles in the organization. Andrew was also heavily involved in leadership with MFU’s Arrowpeak Youth Camp Program. “The Bishop family loves Farmers Union, loves everything it stands for and standing for family farmers,” said Andrew. “Without organizations like Farmers Union my dad and I probably wouldn’t be farming. We are excited to continue to be part of the organization.”

Since graduating from college Bishop set his sights on combining his two passions – farming and engineering. “As a farm kid I kind of had to create my own opportunities in agriculture and engineering because it’s not really two industries that are used to being married together,” said Bishop. He passed on the opportunity to work for John Deere and Case in the mid-west as an engineer. After working in the petroleum industry he found his way back to agriculture by starting Ag Processing Solutions located in Great Falls, MT.  The company designs, builds, and operates processing facilities. “We have been lucky in this business venture with Ag Processing Solutions to bridge the gap between agriculture and engineering. We develop some really interesting technology for hemp processing. I believe this technology has changed how the industry is viewed. “The company is growing rapidly. Soon the new, larger facility will be fully operational.

Last year Bishop and his dad Todd conducted hemp trials to see how it would grow on dryland in the state of Montana with the objective of incorporating the hemp crop with the processing business. “We were pretty blown away that we had a fiber variety that grew to 12 feet tall that only had three inches of rain on it from May to September when we eventually harvested it,” said Bishop. Bishop is using his facility to showcase to customers what the company’s processing equipment can do. “The technology side of agriculture is becoming more and more relevant. My generation the millennials want to know where their food comes from and that what they are eating is good for them and good for the environment. Millennials really care about incorporating more technology into how we process agricultural commodities.” The company mills the hemp stock to make a finer material used for a variety of end products including fiber, CBD, seed oil, and hearts. The inner hurd can be used for animal bedding and hempcrete. 

Plastics is one emerging market for hemp hurd that Bishop is pursuing heavily. He is working with a company interested in using the hemp-based plastic to make biodegradable lunch trays. “It’s really fascinating to be a part of that movement. You hear about all these great things about hemp, but there’s really not a lot of action happening in the industry. We are lucky enough to have these chemical companies reach out and say hey we want to make a change and we want to be more sustainable. We want to change how we are using and looking at plastics. With those large companies getting into the industry that is going to change how people view it and increase the supply chain. You have interested manufacturers, you have farmers that want to grow it, but you don’t have anyone with the ability to process on a large-scale domestically. That’s where we come in and that is where we have been successful.”

Bishop said the next step forward is to process thousands of pounds of hemp monthly with the goal to process millions of pounds monthly. As with other industries the pandemic slowed growth, but the company is on an upward swing. “The industry is breaking loose. What I have seen is that my customers up in Canada have already seen the benefits of pursuing hemp, and are capitalizing on it. What we want to do with the facility is really create more domestic markets for commodities grown in the state of Montana and increase that demand. We would like to capitalize on some of the movements that we are seeing whether it be in the alternative protein industry, the biofuel industry, the hemp industry and plastics.”

Bishop has high hopes for hemp hearts as they are a rich source of nutrients for humans and animals. The recent passage of HB 396 paves the way for hemp to be used commercially for feed for pets and horses. He plans to ramp up the production of hemp hearts in the next year. Ag Processing Solutions also processes pulses and has been part of designing pulse facilities around the region. They have also done a lot of work in the oil seed market, bio-fuel market and in eggs. “We try to diversify because I think diversification is key for any business. For us always being able to think outside the box is how we can stay successful. My grand vision for ag processing is bringing more of the farm into our operations. That is where my passion lies is in our small family farm and diversifying the family farm so we can become a little bit more sustainable, help other folks become more sustainable and do different things for the farming industry.”

By Lyndsay Bruno, Montana Farmers Union