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Agripac bankruptcy could wipe out millions in equity

The Associated Press

SALEM -- Willamette Valley farmers could lose up to $33 million in equity in their farms due to the bankruptcy of Agripac Inc.

The second-largest agricultural cooperative in the state is seeking bankruptcy protection as part of its planned sale to a New York food-processing company.

But documents Agripac has released show that about 335 Willamette Valley farmers could lose equity ranging from just $8.80 to $807,634.

It's a bummer, it's a killer, but what can I do? said Dennis King, a farmer in Independence who has sold beans to Agripac for more than 15 years.

Agrilink Foods, a subsidiary of Pro-Fac Cooperative based in Rochester, N.Y., is the most likely buyer for Agripac. It operates about 30 processing plants in 10 states.

Agripac hopes to obtain bankruptcy approval by Jan. 29 to sell its frozen food operation. The cooperative also is looking for a buyer for the canned food side of the business.

The losses are especially difficult for retired farmers who planned to use the equity for retirement money.

Ed Giesbrecht, 72, has plans for the $31,000 in equity he may never see.

I'm driving an '84 Buick, said Giesbrecht, who lives in Rickreall. All I would like to do is upgrade it.

He also would like to have money to pay for fertilizer and other farm supplies he needs to continue custom farming small plots of crops every now and then.

At one point, Giesbrecht said he sold some 90 acres of corn to Agripac every year. The cooperative also would retain a portion of the payment to run its business and pay for capital expenses.

But as cooperative officials negotiate the sale of Agripac, they have said farmers could lose all or most of the payments.

For a lot of years, we didn't get paid very good for our corn. But I stuck with Agripac until they got back on their feet, Giesbrecht said.