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Liquid feed mill planned north of Merrill

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

(Photo)
John Rakestraw
A plant that would produce 55,000 tons of liquid cattle feed supplement and create nine jobs is looking to build north of Merrill.

Agra Holdings, the largest supplier of feedlot supplement in the U.S., got approval on their plans to build the $3.5 million plant from the county zoning and adjustment boards on Monday.

John Rakestraw, CEO of Agra Holdings, shared the proposal for the plant and said they hope to start construction in May.

If all goes as planned, he said, the 160- by 180-foot plant will be ready to start production by Jan. 1, 2008.

The county supervisors will decide whether to approve the zoning board's recommendation on Tuesday.

Rakestraw said they'd been looking at building in northwest Iowa since February of last year.

"If you take a 200-mile radius of this area, it would be the fourth largest cattle feeding state in the U.S.," he said. "According to USDA numbers, there's probably over a million and a half head of cattle on feedlots within two hundred miles of Plymouth County."

This would be Agra Holdings' seventh liquid feed mill. The company owns three in Nebraska, two in Colorado and one in Kansas.

They've already delivered product to this area and to southwest Minnesota, but decided an Iowa plant would be a smart move.

"I spent a lot of time up here a year ago visiting different little communities and really not telling people what I was doing. I just told them I was in agribusiness and I wasn't an ethanol company."

The people he met, he said, were really the driver behind planning the plant here.

"There was a can-do attitude," Rakestraw said. "We can build railroads and we can start plants, but we've got to have people to run the business. That sold us on Plymouth County."

Rakestraw said they plan to hire three people to work in what he called a "very automated" plant, plus six delivery men. Mark Susemihl is their first employee here, and he'll begin work in April.

"He'll manage the site construction and then be plant manager," Rakestraw said. "We'll let Mark hire his own staff for the plant."

The 20 acres they picked are in Washington Township, section 35. Located along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and C-38 about two miles north of Merrill, the site had what Agra Holdings was looking for: rail access, highway access, three-phase power and the availability of the rural water system.

The plant will be powered by electricity and, according to Rakestraw, won't use much water. He said one of their similar-sized plants used about 800,000 gallons of water in a year.

The plant will be self-contained, he added, eliminating any concern about runoff.

Operating hours for the feed mill will be from around 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week, plus half-days on Saturday during busy feeding time, according to Rakestraw.

On the site, they plan to build 800 to 1,000 feet of railroad spur for their own use. However, the majority of their traffic will be by truck, Rakestraw said, estimated 77 trucks in and out a week.

As far as noise concerns, Rakestraw said liquid feed mills aren't very loud, and Agra Holdings hasn't had sound issues in the past.

"They're very quiet compared to the dry mills," he said. "Usually all you hear is the pump of the motor."

He described the smell common to the plant as like molasses, "a sweet smell."

The liquid feed supplement, which Rakestraw called a 70-percent dry matter product, includes corn distillers' solubles from ethanol production, whey, molasses, salt, urea, calcium, micronutrients and a clay that keeps the mixture suspended.

If the biodiesel industry gets to a certain capacity, he said, they will likely replace the molasses with glycerin, supplied by biodiesel manufacturers.

Agra Holdings started 35 years ago as a small one-plant company. Now they own the seven liquid feed plants, one dry feed plant and they trade liquid feed commodities.

"We're just really happy to be here. We look forward to working in this community," Rakestraw said. "I promise we'll try to be good neighbors."



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