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Mich. Alfalfa Co-Op a $1.3M Failure

January 10, 2001

AKRON, Mich. (AP) _ After less than a year, a $1.3 million effort by 180 Michigan alfalfa growers to start a cooperative has gone bust.

The last Michigan Alfalfa Processors Cooperative employee was Manager Karl Wildner. His last day was Friday.

``The plant is very much in debt and out of cash,″ Wildner said. ``We have a large accounts payable list to our vendors.″

Wildner would not say how much the co-op owes. Its board of directors decided to shutter the operation.

``I think this business can go and be profitable, but we need a different marketing plan,″ Wildner said.

Construction began in December 1999 on the 64,800-square-foot Alfalfa Processors Cooperative. Growers had hoped to have the plant running by May 2000.

``We finally got going around the end of July, and that really hurt us,″ said Rich Sylvester of Fairgrove, one of the co-op investors.

The plant dried alfalfa into cubes for animal feed. Wildner said the target market was the horse industry. At its peak, the facility employed 16 workers.

Wildner did not divulge sales figures for the first six months of operation, but said the project was underfinanced from the start.

``There were several mistakes made along the way that hurt our business,″ Wildner told The Bay City Times.

Sylvester identified several factors he believes caused the plant’s shutdown.

``We ended up with some equipment that was older than we thought and couldn’t perform some of the jobs adequately,″ Sylvester said. ``We had a tremendous crop this year, and the plant just couldn’t keep up.″

Sylvester also said there were construction problems with the plant on the co-op’s 69-acre site, and described sales as sluggish.

Wildner said the board of directors would continue to meet to try to save the operation. He would not speculate on its chances of reopening.

``Right now, I’m out of a job, and I’m disappointed,″ Wildner said. ``I poured my heart and soul into this place for the past year and now it’s gone.″

Alfalfa is one of the most important crops grown in the Thumb, and the region’s Sanilac and Huron counties rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the state in its production, according to the Michigan State University Cooperative Extension Service’s Huron County office.

``Alfalfa serves as an important cash crop and high quality alfalfa is essential for profitable dairy production,″ according to the office’s Web sight. ``Alfalfa also plays an important role in restoring and sustaining soil fertility.

``Alfalfa has such an important impact on soil structure, drainage, and fertility that many row crop farmers are seeking to put alfalfa back into their crop rotations.″

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On the Net:

Michigan farm Bureau: http://www.michiganfarmbureau.com

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