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PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) — A pulp mill under construction in southeast Washington plans to give farmers in the state and in eastern Oregon another option to sell their leftover wheat straw.

Columbia Pulp began construction late last month on a new plant near Starbuck, Washington, which will make wood-free pulp for paper products, the East Oregonian reported . The mill will pay for farmers’ straw that might otherwise be burned or plowed into the ground.

John Begley, the company’s CEO, said they plan on revitalizing the local straw industry with $13 million in annual purchases, and farmers will pocket between $5 and $10 per ton of straw. The $184 million mill will take 250,000 tons of straw per year to produce 140,000 tons of pulp to make household products like paper towels and tissues.

The process of turning the straw into paper was developed by Mark Lewis and William McKean, University of Washington professors who are co-founders of the company.

Stewart Wuest, a soil researcher at the Columbia Plateau Conservation Research Center, said farmers should be careful to not remove too much material from the land as it could lead to a dip in crop production. The straw left on fields leaves nutrients and provides cover from erosion.

Berk Davis, a wheat farmer in northeast Oregon, said he leaves about 50 percent of the leftover straw on the ground. The board member for the Umatilla County Soil and Water Conservation District said the mill could be good news to farmers as it might bring more value to the straw.

“It could potentially become an important piece of the agriculture around here, absolutely,” Davis said.


Information from: East Oregonian,