Jay Debertin named president and CEO of CHS Inc.

Tom Meersman Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Farm Forum

(TNS) — A veteran manager at CHS Inc. has been selected as the cooperative’s new president and chief executive.

Jay Debertin takes over the position from outgoing leader Carl Casale, who led the global energy, grains and foods company since early 2011 and more than doubled the size of its balance sheet from $8.7 billion to $17.3 billion during his tenure.

“It’s with a clear sense of purpose for our future together that I step into the role of president and chief executive officer of CHS,” Debertin said in a letter to the cooperative members. “Change in our cooperative system holds the promise of great opportunities to get stronger operationally and execute well so we are positioned for growth now and for the long term.”

Although the Inver Grove Heights-based company did well in the early years of Casale’s leadership, earnings have dropped significantly since 2014, in large part because of low commodity and energy prices and the weak farm economy. The co-op, formed from the merger of Cenex and Harvest States Cooperatives, is best known for its grain and petroleum-based businesses.

Debertin previously served as CHS executive vice president and chief operating officer for the company’s diverse energy operations, which include Cenex, and its processing food ingredients business. Since joining CHS in 1984, Debertin has held several leadership positions in energy, trading and risk management, transportation and agricultural processing. He also serves as chairman of Ventura Foods.

In its past two fiscal years, CHS reported that net income dropped 28 percent in 2015 and 46 percent in 2016, sliding from $1.1 billion in 2014 to $781 million a year later and then to $424 million. The declines were attributed in large part to lower values for the energy and grain products that it handles.

During Casale’s seven years with the company, CHS also invested $9 billion in new capital expenditures, including $400 million to increase efficiency and diesel production at its refinery in Laurel, Mont. In 2014 the company announced plans to build a $3.3 billion fertilizer plant in Spiritwood, N.D., just east of Jamestown. But it switched gears in August 2015 and decided instead to invest $2.8 billion in CF Industries Nitrogen, a nitrogen fertilizer manufacturing firm that operates three complexes in the central U.S. and has production facilities in Canada.

“There’s no doubt recent market declines have caused a number of challenges for our industry and CHS,” Debertin said.

CHS is also reported to be a large creditor of Seara Ind e Com de Produtos Agropecuários Ltda, a Brazilian commodities trader that filed for bankruptcy protection last month.

CHS vice president of enterprise marketing and communications Beth LaBreche confirmed that CHS Brazil is a secured creditor of Seara, but declined to comment on the bankruptcy filing.

“We are actively managing the situation to understand and respond to any potential impact to our business,” she said in an e-mail statement.

Debertin’s duties as the new CEO began immediately after the CHS board of directors elected him. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and an MBA from University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is originally from East Grand Forks, Minn.