HUNTINGTON COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) — Farmers in Huntington and Wells Counties lost millions of dollars due to the failure of local grain mills in 2020. Now those farmers are speaking out, warning another grain failure is on the horizon if things don’t change.

“It’s like, who do you trust?” Farmer Deb Ruble said. “You have a bank out there, you have the Grain Buyers and Licensing Agency down in Indianapolis where you think no errors would be made. I know we are human but these errors kept happening. This should have been caught.”

WANE 15 sat down with farmers impact by the closures, many are still frustrated, hurting, and looking for a change.

Background

Salamonie Mills and Agland Grain are a grain mill company that supplies a wide range of agriculturally-related products including livestock feed and grain bin storage in both Huntington and Wells County.

In March, the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and the Indiana Grain Buyers and Warehouse Licensing Agency (IGBWLA) temporarily suspended the mill’s licenses. According to court documents, owners of the mills had defaulted on two separate loans of more than $8 million to First Farmers Bank & Trust.

Then in April owners voluntarily surrendered their licenses at all locations, effectively closing the mills for the foreseeable future. First Farmers Bank & Trust foreclosed on Salamonie Mills properties and in late July all locations were sold at a public auction for a total of $633,700. Agland Grain properties remain closed and its licenses inactive at this time.

When the mills’ surrendered their licenses, the Indiana Grain Buyers and Warehouse Licensing Agency collected and reviewed company records to identify farmers who may have been impacting by the closure. In July and August, the state held informational meetings for producers impacted by the closure of Agland Grain.

In December, the Indiana Grain Indemnity Corp, distributed millions to farmers of Salamonie Mills and Agland Grain.

Farmers Look for Change and Answers from State

More than 200 farmers and/or groups were impacted by the grain elevator companies’ closures, losing more than $9.2 million dollars. Monday night a dozen of those farmers sat down with WANE 15.

Several of the farmers say they were shocked and blindsided by the original temporarily suspended the mill’s licenses. Many believed that the suspension was temporary. But it wasn’t until owners voluntarily surrendered their licenses that it sunk in.

“That’s life-changing to my family, to my grandkids, I mean that affects generations when you lost $450,000 dollars,” Farmer Gary Kratzer said. “And if you think about I lost more than that because it cost me about $350,000 dollars to plant the crop in the first place.”

For many, farming has been passed down through the generations. With the failure of the mill, many are worried about their family’s futures. But could the grain mills’ failures be avoided? Some farmers believe so.

Back in September 2019, at least three farmers had bounced checks from Salamonie Mills. Those checks were paid in October after the mills’ owner received a second loan from the bank.

Ned Ruble and his wife Deb were some of the farmers to receive a bounced check. At the time they did not go to the Indiana Grain Buyers and Licensing Agency, they instead went to the mills’ owner. However, it wasn’t until the grain mills failed and the state sent them paperwork that they say Ned’s signature on a delayed price agreement document was forged.

The top of the picture (right) shows the signature the state says was signed by Ned in December of 2019. However, he denies signing the document. Below is what he says his signature from a 2018 price agreement.

“It’s not my signature,” Ned Ruble said. “I’m really aggravated about that. A few weeks ago we received the document and it’s got a forged signature on there. They took it upon themselves to write up a contract and sign my signature and date it. I didn’t even know this existed.”

Others claim that the IGBWLA broke several laws and were never held accountable.

“This was all caused by the agency not doing their jobs,” Kratzer said. “We can’t see bank financials statements. We can’t Salamonie Mills’ financial statement. We can’t see what their inventory is. So we have to count on this agency to do their job and they didn’t.”

According to state lawmakers Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Marke), Rep. Dan Leonard (R-Huntington), and Matt Lehman (R-Berne), financial documents show the grain mill owner had a deficit worth for years prior to the failure. Reports show the company had a negative net worth in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

During the farmers’ conversations with WANE 15, many did not understand why that wasn’t caught before a second loan was issued to the bank in 2019. Part of the reason they believe this should have been caught is that the IGBWLA is supposed to audit grain mills every year.

“What do I want to see happen? Make some changes somewhere,” Farmer Jennifer Freds said. “Make those people be accountable for what they are supposed to be doing to protect us. We shouldn’t have to be fighting that agency to get our money.”

Farmers from multiple counties, not just Huntington and Wells where the mills were located, were impacted. The reimbursement payments range from a few dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Indiana Grain Indemnity Fund is set up by farmers, with farmers’ money to help those impacted when grain mills fail. Much like insurance, when a failure occurs the fund pays farmers for their losses. However, nearly a year after the failure and many have yet to receive their funds.

“How would you like to work 12 months out of the year and at the end of that year, want a paycheck and be told sorry there’s no money to pay you,” Freds said. “That’s how it is for us.”

Bills authored in the wake of the failures of Salamonie Mills and Agland Grain in Huntington and Wells counties are currently waiting for hearing in the State House and Senate.

Farmers ask lawmakers to back  House Bill 1483, and Senate Bill 364, and if they oppose the bills to come talk with them. Many farmers believe that if change doesn’t happen soon more farmers across the state will soon face the same fate.