Minnesota fertilizer plant built for the long haul

Farm Forum

Although Ashby Equity Association is moving its fertilizer plant south of town, General Manager Ken Johnson wants people to know the company will still have a strong presence in the city.

But the need for more space, and a lack of space in the city limits, made moving to the intersection of Highway 78 and I-94 a move the company had to make, Johnson said.

“I think it became apparent that if we’re going to do something, let’s not do it wrong or part-way and wish we had done a complete project,” Johnson said.

Construction on the new agronomy center began last fall and heated up in the spring and summer. With only a few additions left, the entire project is scheduled to be completed by the end of January.

The new center includes a 5,000-ton fertilizer plant, more than three times the size of the decades-old fertilizer plant in Ashby; increased office space for employees; a warehouse for seed and equipment storage and a scale to weigh products coming in on trucks.

Such a project had been discussed even before Johnson started with the company six years ago. The company was able to acquire 11.2 acres just off I-94, a high-traffic area officials saw as a perfect fit.

Although some residents may be concerned to see the plant move out of town, Johnson stressed the project will be good for several generations of area farmers.

“When you’re a cooperative, you’re owned by the customer,” he said. “This really is being built for many years to service that same customer.”

The company has already moved the fertilizer out of the plant in town and to the new site. Come spring, All fertilizer operations will be managed exclusively at the new plant.

Johnson said Ashby Equity will look to sell its old farm shop and office building in Ashby, but there are no such plans for the plant, which will be cleaned thoroughly before being torn down.

“Because fertilizer is corrosive, it’s not a good place to park equipment or vehicles,” Johnson said. “There’s not a lot of good uses for old fertilizer facilities.”

But Ashby Equity will maintain its propane and fuel operations, NAPA store and accounting offices in Ashby. Johnson said he will split his time between the new agronomy center and the city offices, but will spend more time on the new grounds during fertilizer season in the spring.

The company did recently hire a new salesperson, and Johnson believes the new plant should lead to more full-time and part-time jobs in the coming years.

The company has also considered adding a service station at the new site. It is prime location for one, especially during the summer months when people travel to lake homes and cabins. But Johnson said the company wants to focus its attention on getting the site up and running before adding any new buildings.

In the end, the new center should make the company more efficient while helping customers at the same time, according to Johnson. Those goals have always gone hand in hand for Ashby Equity, and moving just outside the city hasn’t changed that.

“We hope to continue to grow our business profitably,” he said. “We’ve seen nice growth and it’s a very supportive area.”