In a drought year it is unusual for a small, family-owned flour milling enterprise to expand its operations, given the constraint on grain, but Mara Global Foods, near Casino is bucking the trend.
Owner and managing director Ross Larsson, a fifth generation Culmaran Creek farmer, is a former rugby forward who adopts the pick and drive approach to business.
"We can only see what is in front of us," he advised a hundred or so soybean growers during a factory open day last week, dismissing drought concerns as seasonal and instead waving an arm across $20 million worth of investment over five years at his Shannonbrook site.
In this dry year Mara Global is importing US and Canadian soybean kibble to keep the supply chain operational, but with more than 300 Australian approved suppliers on his books, from Victoria to Queensland's Burdekin Valley, Mr Larsson is banking on some form of soil moisture to deliver the goods here in Australia - particularly the Northern Rivers.
Whatever the risk, Mara Global has been the consistently highest payer, and pricing will be strong again - around $800 to $850 a tonne delivered to its Shannonbrook facility.
"That's good news for growers," says Mr Larsson who is keen to share the benefit of niche soy products in return for loyal supply.
Mr Larsson started grinding soybeans into flour 10 years ago, using machinery housed in his grandfather's dairy. He now supplies a variety of flours - non-allergenic, gluten-free, organic and GMO-free - that go into a wide variety of increasingly popular food products.
The fact that Australia is one of two countries, along with Russia, that produces GMO-free soybeans works in favour of Australian growers supplying sensitive markets - domestically and overseas.
Mara Global's accumulation also includes field peas, yellow and white corns, sorghum, chickpeas, mung beans stretching from Victoria to the Burdekin Valley in Queensland, all handled at its Shannonbrook and Mallanganee sites, which offers 35,000 tonnes of silo storage.
Commodities are graded on two lines at the Shannonbrook site, which has doubled capacity to eight tonnes an hour for soybeans and 12t/hr for non-allergenics. These lines include self cleaning inlet magnets removing foreign objects like barbed wire and bullet casings from farms, a precision cleaning system for taking out waste and weed seeds plus destoning and mud ball removal which collects an average of 30kg for every 25t of grain, adding up to 10-15t of rock pulled off the line every year.
German and Swiss-built optical sorting machines, combining unique spectrometry wavelengths to view grain as if it was seeing through the human eye, compare each seed against a library of images taken from multiple different camera angles giving it the ability to identify bacteria and aflatoxins as well as size, shape and colour, neatly grading the end product from ordinary to saleable safe food.
There is no waste with this process, as sub-standard seed is crushed, 3t/hr, for its oil while the meal is an ingredient used in all of the major Australian stockfeed companies for livestock nutrition protein.
Like any decent commodity trader Mara Global works on a small percentage of profit. But Mr Larsson realises his venture remains a small-bit player in the industry, which is why he pursues alternative markets working closely with food science specialists.
Soyflour has a multitude uses, and most consumers wouldn't even recognise it a filler ingredient in, say, donuts - which require de-fatted flour so the deep-fried pastry eats light and fluffy - while soy ground ultra fine is used in confectionery and beverages.
Other customers are more recognizable, like Vitasoy Australia products and their range of soy based beverages and large baking companies that use ultra-fine maize flours on major fast food chain hamburger buns or make soy and linseed breads.
The future in alternative protein is particularly bright, with meat replacement ingredients demanding soy and other commodities to fill the imminent shortage of protein that will face consumers by 2050.
The company's starch modification line produces ingredients for the rapidly growing flat breads and maize based diets.
In fact, Mexican style foods are among the fastest growing on the market, with parents keen to put a flat bread roll in a child's lunchbox, rather than white bread and salami - but when they do, there is soy flour or corn flour in both these foods.
Mara Global's latest expansion has seen the development of a non-allergenic milling line, critically important in today's food market. It is made from 20,000 pieces of Swiss built equipment and arrived in 50 shipping containers before being assembled on-site by local labour.
The multi-purpose milling design is a world first for the manufacturer, says Mr Larsson, incorporating three robotic pallet lines with the ability stack 25kg bags at up to 14t/hr.
"Our supply chain is vital to the many amazing customers that we have, we all need each part of the chain to be sustainable and transparent, and technological advancements like the ones we have taken are just a small part of Mara Global Food's commitment to the industries we operate in."