(Union Mills, IN) - Farmers in parts of northern Indiana and southwest Michigan should be served better by a $6.6 million expansion of a Co-Alliance fertilizer hub.
Work has begun on refurbishing and expanding the fertilizer portion of the plant in Union Mills after the LaPorte County Council last week unanimously approved a five-year tax abatement on the project.
The goal is for the work to be completed in the fall of 2024, said Paul Wolfe, who’s overseeing the project as the Region 4 Agronomy Manager for Indianapolis-based Co-Alliance.
“This is a tight timeline to get this completed,” he said.
Co-Alliance is a farmer-owner cooperative with about 80 facilities serving growers in Indiana, southern Michigan, and western Ohio by providing fertilizer and grain storage along with agronomy services.
The project strictly involves the fertilizer portion of the plant at 3551 West 800 South.
Wolfe said the existing facility with a capacity to store 24,000 tons of fertilizer will be refurbished and added onto to store another 9,000 tons of fertilizer.
The fertilizer mixing equipment inside the existing tower will be replaced with state-of-the-art mixing technology capable of doing things that can’t be done by the current system, in addition to a faster pace.
For example, Wolfe said, different products will allowed to be mixed into the fertilizer ingredients for offering more nutrient varieties. He said the new system will also be able to feed each of the storage bays independently, a time saver for making available freshly mixed products.
Three storage bays will also be added to the existing six storage bays.
“We’re just going to replace that mixing system with one that will allow us to be more efficient and use products we cannot use today,” he said.
Wolfe said the new technology will also allow trucks hauling 24 tons of fertilizer to the plant to be unloaded a little quicker than the “five to six minutes” it takes presently.
The Union Mills facility is one of four fertilizer hubs Co-Alliance uses to distribute soil nutrients farmers can purchase at five of its branches in LaPorte County, Porter County, Argos, and Buchanan, Michigan.
Amy Kinsler, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for Co-Alliance, called the investment critical for keeping up with the future by eliminating delays that can occur in farmers receiving products exactly when they need them.
She said farmers need fertilizer sooner nowadays because modern technology allows them to plant and harvest quickly. As a result, Kinsler said, it’s gradually become more challenging to provide them with crop nutrients at the moment it’s needed, though, under the current processing system.
“This is that investment to allow us to make sure we’re not holding them up when it comes to harvest and planting,” she said.
Wolfe said the plant in Union Mills has a separate facility with a capacity to store up to about three million bushels of grain, which is about average for a Co-Alliance facility.
Currently, Co-Alliance has about 25 other ongoing projects at its facilities in all three states, said Ryan Satchell, Capital Asset Manager for the cooperative. He said all of the projects, based on the needs of farmers in each of their service areas, are different than what’s occurring at Union Mills and they vary from large to small in size.
“We’re constantly looking at really understanding from our customer base, which is our members, what their needs are and how we can continue to reinvest in our business to support that,” Satchell said.
Matt Reardon, Director for the LaPorte County Office of Economic Development, applauded the decision to grant tax abatement, saying that existing businesses might not always provide a home run in terms of job creation, but they definitely contribute to the health of local economies, particularly in rural areas.
“These are the blocking, tackling kinds of activities that help make local governments successful. $6.6 million is not insignificant,” he said.
Co-Alliance has about 20 employees in Union Mills with a handful of those working in the fertilizer division.