Just when Malheur County’s economy looks promising, local industry is reeling from the collapse of Farmers Grain. Business and government leaders should build something new from the rubble.
Farmers Grain sunk under a load of debt. The Nyssa company appeared on the outside to be a go-go outfit. Corn and wheat farmers in the Treasure Valley had a new buyer for their product. They could rely on modern equipment, sleek new silos and a management apparently attentive to their needs. The company said in court filings it did $30 million in revenue last year.
But the sun bouncing off the silver silos seems to have blinded company founder Galen Jantz to what was really happening. The company had more debt than it could pay, and running harder didn’t make it any better. By accounts of those who know, Jantz’s ambition outran his business expertise. He is shouldering the blame, but he had partners who so far have said very little publicly to explain this mess.
Now, lawyers and the courts and creditors will pick over the remains. Local farmers have to wait to see what they will collect, if anything, on what they are owed. While times have been pretty good for farmers lately, it’s not likely many can watch $50,000, $60,000, or $400,000 disappear without feeling pain.
Sorting all that out is likely to take time. Meantime, Jantz himself is likely to be stripped of personal assets built up over a lifetime of farming. That means Vale-area property is likely to pass to new owners.
All this upheaval may seem a distant problem to those who aren’t involved in agriculture. But of course, Malheur County’s economy is built on agriculture. The failure of Farmers Grain is more than a loss for farmers. It is a loss to those employed by Farmers Grain and allied businesses. It is a potential loss for the community of Nyssa, which has seen more good news than bad lately on the economic front. And the loss will stretch to corners not apparent in bankruptcy papers – to the local charities who benefit from generosity of successful ag businesses, to area businesses who count on sales to farmers and others to make their own numbers black instead of red.
The best result is to find an experienced operator to step in and take over the Nyssa plant. That may be some other entrepreneur who perhaps knows better how to build success. Or it may be some giant of the agricultural world who sees the same potential Jantz did, but is better equipped to build that potential. A going business in Nyssa would mitigate the financial ripples still yet to be felt.
The fate of the business – or its assets, really – is up to the trustee appointed by a federal judge. The trustee’s prime duty is to cash out what’s left of Farmers Grain to pay off those owed money. That can be done by finding a buyer for the whole plant or from a garage sale that would cannibalize Farmers Grain.
Here’s where local business and government leaders can lend a hand. They should look around to recruit someone to come in to buy the entire operation. These leaders have their hands full right now with substantive economic projects, such as the new rail shipping center. We get that there is only so much time and so much help. But those efforts focus on building the area’s agriculture industry. Farmers Grain’s revival needs to be part of that effort. — LZ