Farmers, dairymen see slight negative impacts in plant closure

By Argen Duncan: PNT Senior Writer

The temporary closure of Abengoa Bioenergy in Portales has resulted in small but unfavorable changes for the Roosevelt County agriculture sector.

The ethanol plant shut down operations for an unspecified period of time, possibly months, in October.

Abengoa used milo, which many county farmers grow, to make ethanol. Some dairy owners used the byproduct “wet cake,” also called distillers’ grains, as part of their cattle’s rations.

“It’s probably hurt the price of milo a little bit,” said Ben Buie, manager of grain trading for J.D. Heiskell Holdings LLC. “It’s hard to put a number on it.”

Heiskell buys and sells grain, as well as processing it for dairy feed.

Buie said many factors are involved in the price of the grain, making the exact drop difficult to pinpoint.

“It’s affected the price because we have to ship the grain farther to find users for it,” he said.

Increased freight costs mean Heiskell makes less profit from the milo, so the company must pay farmers less for their crop.

Elida farmer Gregory Burris said Abengoa’s closure eliminated a local market for milo.

“And any time you shut down another market, it just hurts,” he said.

Burris, who raised about 2,100 acres of milo this year, sent his crop to a grain elevator in Elida. However, he said the closure along with a difficult economy and increased costs for inputs such as fuel decreased the milo price more than 50 percent from its high in the spring and summer.

Alan Anderson, owner of Anderson Dairy northwest of Portales, said he had to substitute other ingredients for Abengoa’s wet cake in his cattle’s rations. The wet cake had provided protein and energy, as well as moisture to keep the dust down and thereby decrease digestive and respiratory problems in the cows.

Anderson said the 1,050 cows he milks had to adjust to the new feed, which meant their milk production dropped, although not a lot, for four or five days.

Also, wet cake was less expensive than the replacements. Besides that, the loss of the distillers’ grains meant one less ingredient in rations that are better when they have more components, Anderson said.