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New agronomy centeer now open in Freistatt

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ribbon cutting ceremonies were held on Friday at the new Farmers Agronomy Center. The 6,300-square-foot facility has been in the planning for the past three years and offers a new lease on life for 44-year-old Freistatt Farmers Exchange. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]
Dedication ceremonies were held Feb. 12 for the new Freistatt Farmers Exchange Agronomy Center. The 6,300-square-foot facility, located a half mile west of Freistatt on Highway H, provides expanded service for the Freistatt organization and completes a plan that has been in the works for 15 years.

According to Kenny Knaust, who serves on the board of directors for the Freistatt Farmers Exchange, the area was faced with losing its local agronomy services two and a half years ago. Member/owners in the exchange got together and determined to build a fertilizer plant that could also supply a spraying service and sell ag chemicals.

Forty-six investors over a 20-mile radius joined the undertaking. In the meantime, fertilizer prices shot up from $300 in 2007 to $550 in 2008, after which the general ag economy weakened significantly.

"We kept plugging away," Knaust said. "We spent a thousand hours on design, looking at plants in Arkansas, Kansas and northern Missouri. We picked the features we liked."

Despite the number of investors, the ability to finance such a major project was still out of reach until contact was made with the Missouri Agriculture Small Business Development Authority (MASBDA). The authority's New Generations Coop System tax grants provided the final piece to the puzzle.

Construction started on Sept. 15, 2009. Troyer Construction, of Mt. Vernon, was the general contractor. Herman and Jeff Hillhouse did the dirtwork, and Drew Meier installed the electrical system. Adams Fertilizer, of DeWitt, Ark., installed the in-bound and out-bond system.

"I've not seen a facility better than this," said Nolan Kleiboeker, chairman of the Freistatt Farmers Exchange board. "It will be here a long time. It will keep the exchange in business. Without this, there was not much of a shot at keeping the store open."

Investors in the Agronomy Center have leased the new facility to the Freistatt Farmers Exchange. For the first year, the exchange board will oversee the Agronomy Center. Plans call for establishing a second board with separate elections after that.

History of the project was reviewed by board members during the dedication ceremony. Jim Moennig, the last of the original exchange board members, was recognized and applauded for helping to organize the cooperative in 1966.

Don Ruzicka, 132nd District state representative, presented a resolution from the Missouri House commending the opening of the agronomy center.

"Here is a new business, creating jobs," Ruzicka said.

Tony Stafford, from MASBDA, said the Freistatt project was one of the smoother ones he had helped complete. Ruzicka commended MASBDA participation as a prime example of how to help the ag industry.

The agronomy center will be a sales outlet for fertilizer. The building contains six large bins that will hold around 2,000 tons of product. Custom blends are available. Knaust said the exchange will concentrate on providing the best service in the area. The exchange store, located across the street from the Freistatt Post Office, will continue operations as usual.

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held for the Agronomy Center following the speeches. The facility was open for public tours. A lunch was held at the Lions Club building for those attending after the event. The Freistatt Farmers Exchange held its annual meeting that afternoon.

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