Japanese company investing $14.4M in hay storage at Pasco plant

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldDecember 3, 2012 

A Japanese company is making a $14.4 million investment in hay storage at its alfalfa hay cubing plant in Pasco.

Zen-Noh Hay, which ships compressed hay cubes to dairy and beef cattle farmers in Japan and other parts of Asia, is building two hay storage buildings on its property in the Port of Pasco's Big Pasco Industrial Park.

The skeleton of an 81,900-square-foot building is taking shape at 2444 E. Dock St. in Pasco. The company also received a building permit for a 263,250-square-foot hay storage building, according to city of Pasco documents.

Both buildings will be almost 30 feet high at the peak, according to city documents. The smaller of the two will be able to store up to 8,900 tons of hay.

Zen-Noh Hay officials declined to comment on the new hay storage buildings.

Mid-Columbia farmers say Zen-Noh Hay has had a positive effect, giving farmers a regional buyer for alfalfa hay. And it has been a dependable company to work with, they say.

Alfalfa hay is a major export crop out of the region when it comes to the number of containers, said Jim Toomey, Port of Pasco executive director. Having a major consumer of alfalfa hay in the area is positive for the economy, he said.

Hay is Washington's fifth-highest-valued commodity, bringing in $714 million in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Apples, milk, wheat and potatoes are the state's top four commodities.

Washington has 780,000 acres of hay, with about 380,000 of them alfalfa. Last year, 3.4 million tons of hay were produced by Washington farmers.

Benton County has about 14,000 acres of alfalfa and 5,000 acres of other kinds of hay, while Franklin County has about 84,000 acres of alfalfa and 31,000 acres of other kinds of hay.

Alfalfa is used as animal feed by dairies and feedlots, which makes it the building block for other foods Americans eat.

Statewide, about 35 percent of hay heads to such countries as Japan, Korea and China.

Zen-Noh Hay is a subsidiary of Zen-Noh, the world's largest agriculture cooperative, according to a financial ranking done by the International Co-operative Alliance.

The Tokyo-based company has 970 cooperative unions and employed about 8,530 people as of 2011, according to the company's website. Zen-Noh's revenue was estimated at nearly $57 billion, according to the International Co-operative Alliance's 2010 report.

Zen-Noh is involved in research, supplying production materials, feed ingredients and fertilizer. It became a Port of Pasco tenant in 1994 and opened a $3.1 million hay cubing plant in 1995. It signed a 20-year lease with the port a few years ago, Toomey said.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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