Closing of the WFS grain elevator in Blue Earth may have been inevitable, but the news came unexpected and was a complete surprise.
Mark Mensing of Blue Earth was paying his bill on Friday, Jan. 4, when he got the word.
"Nobody was notified before Friday this was going to take place, not even the employees," he says.
"There should have been a public meeting to give farmers a chance for input. I didn't think it wasn't going to happen this quick," he adds.
WFS officials issued a press release on Monday, Jan. 7, saying the grain facility will close indefinitely on Feb. 28.
"I hate to see it happen. The elevator is what helped establish and build Blue Earth," says Mensing. "Now due to a mega elevator in Delavan, it's being closed."
Two cooperative management level employees spent the week working at the elevator office.
Feedback from patrons and phone calls to the headquarters office in Truman prompted WFS management to hold a public meeting Thursday afternoon at Hamilton Hall in Blue Earth.
Todd Ludwig, CEO of WFS, apologized to the more than 50 people in attendance for the cooperative's decision to shut down the facility
"It's not a fun thing to do, or is it easy. We had to go through a similar situation in Winnebago. We don't love doing this," says Ludwig.
The company's board of directors and senior leadership cite several reasons for making the decision:
location of the facility;
cost of maintenance;
and, not being able to meet government regulations.
"We thought long and hard on what action to take. Our back is against the wall. We can't operate it," says Ludwig. "You've been good loyal customers and I'd love to keep it open."
The main structures of the elevator were built in the 50s and 60s, say WFS officials, and some parts are even older than that,
Ludwig says it is not cost-effective to make "band-aid" repairs on an old elevator that could cost millions.
While closing the elevator is a done deal, Ludwig says the meeting was held to listen to people's concerns and any ideas they might have to keep them as customers.
WFS has operated the 1.25-million bushel facility since 1997, when they took over from Grain Land Co-op.
The company hasn't decided what they'll do with the elevator. One of the three full-time employees will be retained.
Last September, the company opened a new $24 million grain facility outside of Delavan along Highway 109.
WFS also has $4 million on improvements to its Wells elevator and another $4 million to make upgrades in Lewisville.
While Mensing takes only a small portion of his corn and soybeans to the Blue Earth elevator, he is concerned what the impact will be on farmers who rely on the facility.
He says WFS officials have neglected to make needed repairs and do timely maintenance.
"It boils down that they want us to haul our grain to Delavan," he says.
The cooperative plans to continue operating its cardtrol gas and diesel fueling center, and the anhydrous ammonia, chemical and seed plant located on 14th Street in Blue Earth.
Farmers will be receiving a letter explaining the closing process and options for them to deliver their grain to other locations.
WFS also plans to schedule on-farm grain pick up and provide farmers a Grain Price Protection Service program.
Mensing wonders whether the Delavan elevator will be able to handle the extra grain.
At last month's Faribault County commissioners meeting, a Lura Township farmer storing corn on his property for area producers until there was space sparked debate.
In WFS's letter to farmers, the cooperative says there are plans to add two 675,000-bushel bins at their Bricelyn facility by the end of this year.
Ludwig says management realizes the cooperative will lose some customers, but they had no choice.
"We try to do the best we can. No matter how hard we try, we won't do everything perfect or make everyone happy," he says.
Any producers having grain contracts at Blue Earth that need to be fulfilled after Feb. 28 should contact Tom Hoffmann at Delavan, (507) 854-3204.