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Producers Grain takeover deliberated

Friday, January 11, 2013

Producer's Grain Nevada store, 905 E. Hickory, remains open and serving customers. Photo Ralph Pokorny/Daily Mail
Representatives of two of the more important agricultural companies in Southwest Missouri, Producers Grain and MFA Inc., held an informational meeting Thursday night to say Producers is facing bankruptcy and MFA stands ready to take over, assume all the debt and run Producers' operations in Walker, Bronaugh, Nevada and El Dorado Springs, where a similar meeting was held Tuesday.

An estimated 80 people heard that the almost 100-year-old Producers Grain Co. has $6.7 million in assets and $7.6 million in debt and that everyone who has done at least $1,000 in business with the member-owned cooperative during the past year will be eligible to vote on the MFA takeover at Producers' annual meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Eagles Lodge in El Dorado Springs.

A Producers spokesman had said before the meeting that the company has 42 employees in Nevada and the three other cities. Approval by 75 percent of the Jan. 29 voters will be necessary to effect the changeover.

Producers Grain Board President Jerry Brackenridge of Tiffin, right, gives the introduction to a meeting Thursday night in which the company's possible impending bankruptcy was reviewed. Fellow board member Brad Leonard of El Dorado Springs, center, was among those who looked on as Brackenridge reviewed the panel's options to keep the firm in business. Photo James R. Campbell
In the 7 p.m. Thursday meeting in the Vernon County Fairgrounds Home Economics Building, Producers Grain Board President Jerry Brackenridge of Tiffin, northeast of El Dorado Springs, MFA Regional Manager Ed Long of Springfield and others said the Producers board hadn't learned of a crippling $2 million deficit until receiving its annual audit from Rick Westbrooke of Richmond last August.

Backed by Long, Brackenridge said MFA would ensure that there was no lapse in service and he said that whether or not the deal is approved, MFA has already accepted all the 2012 pre-pays made by Producers patrons, or customers, and is guaranteeing the delivery of their fertilizers, chemicals, seed and other pre-paid supplies this year.

Brackenridge said MFA has also agreed to invest $400,000 to $500,000 annually to modernize Producers' operations.

Accountant Rick Westbrooke of Richmond, Mo., discusses the financial problems that the El Dorado Springs-based Producers Grain Co. has incurred during the past number of years. Westbrook said the company experienced a $2 million loss in fiscal 2011-'12. Photo James R.Campbell
He said the trouble started in the 1990s when Producers Grain absorbed $1.2 in members' indebtedness and that the trouble reached a crisis with the $2 million in red ink in the 2011-'12 fiscal year. "We had thought it might be $500,000, which was bad enough," he said.

"It has been a struggle since the '90s. Our debt has exceeded our assets and our loans are in default with the banks."

Brackenridge said the panel had hoped conditions would improve because the cooperative bounced back from a $700,000 deficit in 2009 to $355,000 in red ink the next year and that it broke even in 2011.

An estimated 80 people attend a Thursday night meeting at the Vernon County Fairgrounds Home Economics Building to hear an explanation of financial troubles that Producers Grain Co. has encountered. A Jan. 29 meeting has been set in El Dorado Springs for members to vote on a proposed takeover by MFA Inc. Photo James R. Campbell
Explaining that Producers' working capital "is in poor shape," Westbrooke said increased salaries, repairs, maintenance and other costs rang up $4.7 million in expenditures against $2.7 million in revenues last year. "You are upside down in your patronage equity," he said.

As he had in El Dorado Springs, former Producers member Jim Wilson of Richards questioned the takeover plan by saying other buyers should be sought so that a better offer would enable the return of $2.4 million in equity that the members will otherwise lose.

Noting he spent $400,000 with the company in 2010, Wilson said it makes good business sense for MFA, which is currently owed $5.5 million by Producers, to cover that potential loss with an expenditure that would in effect be only $900,000.

Westbrooke said MFA would then have to keep running Producers at a loss, which it has done since August, and stay in the running while the process was lengthened. The accountant said that if another buyer were not found, Producers' assets might have to be sold at a public auction and its services interrupted for an indefinite period.

A Q&A sheet handed out during the meeting said "about the same number of employees as are currently employed" would be retained and that the company would be renamed Producers MFA Agri-Services.

The sheet said the equity issue "is being investigated to see if your equity can be deducted as a loss on your Schedule F (tax return) next year."

It said the transfer of assets will take place within 60 days after the end of this month if the transaction is approved.

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