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Published March 05, 2012, 11:20 AM

Economic engine

REDFIELD, S.D. — Craig Johnson says he has high hopes that a sunflower processing facility in Redfield, S.D., that was built in 2010 by Anderson Seed Co. Inc., can reopen soon and take its place as an employer in the community of 2,300 people.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

REDFIELD, S.D. — Craig Johnson says he has high hopes that a sunflower processing facility in Redfield, S.D., that was built in 2010 by Anderson Seed Co. Inc., can reopen soon and take its place as an employer in the community of 2,300 people.

“I’m anxious for it to be resolved,” says Johnson, executive director and sole employee of Grow Spink Inc., a nonprofit economic development company. “Agriculture is the No. 1 economic engine for this county.”

A native of Minnewaukan, N.D., Johnson served a stint in the U.S. Air Force, graduated from North Dakota State School of Science in Wahpeton, and had a career in utilities in South Dakota before taking this post in 2002.

It was only January 2010 when Johnson remembers first meeting Ron Anderson and his daughter, Stephanie. They came to his office, asking if he knew of any property available for building a sunflower receiving station.

The Andersons had one site in mind, but Johnson knew of another site, seven-tenths of a mile west of town on U.S. Highway 212, which could be more easily acquired. It was owned by the city of Redfield. Part of Grow Spink’s mission is to help underutilized property, or property with zero property tax, get into the private sector. Johnson also has been a Spink County commissioner since 2006.

The property Johnson had in mind had access to a Canadian Pacific railway spur, which interested the Andersons. According to the Redfield Press, the 10-acre site on which the Anderson Seed plant was built had been an “above-ground dump, but was closed in the 1960s and planted back to grass and hay.”

Initially, Johnson recalls, the Andersons wanted a site for just two storage bins, and intended to hire one full-time employee for sales. When they came back in April 2010 their plans had changed. The project grew to about $3 million he says, and 20 jobs. Those included mill operators, quality control positions, office staff, forklift operators, baggers and maintenance staff.

“I thought that was great,” Johnson says. “Essentially, they just took off.”

Johnson, a member of the ABC Regional Rail Authority Board, helped the Andersons apply to the South Dakota Department of Transportation for a South Dakota Rail Authority loan. The competitive grant request was for a 15-year term loan, at 2 percent annual interest rate. It was for $750,000, but the company never completed the paperwork in the required 60-day period, and didn’t respond to repeated phone inquiries, says Bruce Lindholm of the S.D. Department of Transportation. The loan would have been used to replace ties on existing track and refurbish 419 feet of siding.

According to articles in the Redfield Press, the site initially had three, 65,000-bushel bins, a scale and scale house and a dryer for the receiving plant.

Why Redfield?

Some have questioned why Anderson Seed would have built a sunflower handling operation here, when sunflower acres are more prevalent farther west.

The Andersons explained that they liked the central location, with access to north-south U.S. Highway 281, which connects Canada to Brownsville, Texas, and Highway 212, which goes east to Watertown, S.D., and west to Belle Fourche, S.D.

Stephanie Anderson told the local paper the Redfield site would put the company “closer to our growers in South Dakota, which will bring greater efficiency to our company.” She cited the rail service and talked about being able to stimulate the local economy. In July 2010, Stephanie said the Redfield plant would only be buying sunflowers and wouldn’t be competing with South Dakota Wheat Growers, which has a large grain facility in Redfield.

At the time, Stephanie Anderson said the Mentor, Minn., facility was producing sunflowers in bulk or bagged in 25- and 50-pound bags, and in 2,000-pound super sacks.

The Durbin, N.D., facility supplied bulk black oil and stripe sunflowers. The Selz, N.D., receiving station had BNSF rail sidings and offered “bin-run” oil sunflowers, Stephanie said.

According to the Redfield Press, the $3 million project was partly financed with a REDI (Revolving Economic Development and Initiative) Fund loan and the pooled-bond program, administered through the South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who assumed office on Jan. 8, 2011, attended the ribbon cutting ceremony on Jan. 13, 2011. The governor’s office didn’t immediately return calls about the status or size of the REDI loan.

After the ribbon cutting ceremony, Ron Anderson gave a tour of the plant. He said after sunflowers are hulled, kernels are sorted according to eventual use — primarily baked goods, snack foods and bird food. Most of the kernels would eventually go to Germany and the seed hulls were often used by turkey growers for bedding, he said. The facility included 260,000 bushels of storage.

Speaking to 100 people in attendance, Daugaard said “helping a value-added agriculture venture open its doors” was a “perfect way to start a term as governor.” He said the plant had “up to 34 employees” working in three, eight-hour shifts. The Redfield Press said the Andersons would be spending about “$1 million a week” in Redfield.

Despite the apparent troubles, Johnson says he still thinks well of the Anderson family.

“I felt they were a good, business-

oriented Midwest family,” he says. “Good people.”

He says the last time he talked to Ron Anderson was in November over lunch.

“I asked, ‘How’s it going?’” Johnson recalls. “He said it’s a struggle.”

“I think that, given time for the legal actions to take place, we’ll have a sunflower plant out here,” Johnson says. “I don’t know whose business umbrella, or structure, it will be. I feel bad for both the employees and the farmers who haven’t had their contracts fulfilled.”

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