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VALDERS - Located down a rural road outside of the small village of Valders are three businesses making a major economic impact in northeast Wisconsin.

Located beside and across the street from one another, CP Feeds, Quality Roasting Inc. and Country Visions Cooperative have a combined annual sales of $420 million, serve more than 14,000 customers and employ more than 400 employees.

This year the companies served as hosts along with the Wisconsin Agri-business Association (WABA) for the annual agribusiness tour that invites local lawmakers to tour their facilities to get an up close look and understanding of how each impacts the communities they serve.

"This is our opportunity to help you understand what agribusiness is all about," WABA lobbyist Shawn Pfaff told state lawmakers, county and local officials. "Typically our tours feature one business but today you will see three different companies that perform multiple functions from grain, agronomy, soybean processing, feed mill, fertilizer and more."

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Together the three companies service 500,000 acres and make feed for over 700,000 cows. Their close proximity to one another is not only a big advantage for them, but their customers as well.

"Being located so close together and using each other as customers realizes a savings in cost from transporting products - all they have do to is drive down the road a ways," said Randy Bonde, a board member of Country Visions Cooperative. "This whole corner here in Valders does everything."

Steve Zutz, President and CEO of Country Visions Cooperative in Valders says the history of the company can be traced back to 1923. Over the years the cooperative has grown and merged with other cooperatives to become a business that serves over 15 counties with locations in 19 communities.

"Farms have changed significantly in the past 10-15 years, even the last 5 years. They're larger, regulations are changing and we have to keep up with these ever-changing farmers," Zutz said. "In fact, right now we're constructing a new site in the Plymouth Industrial Park that  will open in 2018, and we're replacing two older plants in Random Lake and Sheboygan Falls. We're always growing and expanding."

One of Country Visions Cooperative's joint ventures is CP Feeds in which they are a part owner. Conveniently located across the road, CP Feeds is the largest single production facility in the state, according to Operations Manager Keary Getter.

"We ship out over 1,500 tons or 65 truckloads of feed each day," Getter said. "Most of our customers are within a 100-mile radius of here but we do have some as far away as Minnesota and Tennessee."

Owner Jim Loefer says drivers put on over 1.1 million miles a year delivering over 420,000 tons of feed.

"We serve 18 counties with our average herd being around 275 head," Loefer said. "Those numbers are increasing all the time. In fact, we have over 50 herds that buy over $1 million in feed each year."

Quality Roasting Inc., was established in 1991 to meet the need and high demand for high quality soybean products. The original facility was built was 4,000 bushels of storage space. Today the company has grown to over 2 million bushels of storage space, said one of the founders and nutritionist Dr. Lynn Davis.

In addition, Quality Roasting Inc also custom processes soybeans for farmers as well as offering competitive marketing for local producers.

In 1998, the company began processing expelled soybean meal with high bypass protein and more highly digestible. In compressing the soybean, crude soybean oil is produced, in fact, 45 million pounds of it per year.

The company currently has plans to break ground for a soybean oil refinery plant.

"We used to ship all of the oil out of state and have it refined and brought back in state," General Manager Scott Rabe. "If we can refine it here and save on the transportation costs, it not only adds value to our product but passes some savings on to the consumer as well."

Rabe says after naturally deodorizing and removing impurities, the soybean oil will be food grade and sold for frying oils, dressings, margarine, baked goods and more. 

Manitowoc County Executive Robert Ziegelbauer says he was impressed with the scope of the businesses and said most citizens in the surrounding areas have no real understanding or appreciation of the economic impact ag has on the area.

"We usually think of agriculture as having the second or third of conglomeration of businesses in our county, but I think it's trending more towards the top," Ziegelbauer said. "I don't believe it's appreciated by enough of us really."

Although Manitowoc County is not in his legislative district, Rep. Gordon Hintze has toured several agribusinesses over the years, saying the Oct. 6 tour only adds "another layer of understanding of everything that goes into food production and why agriculture is such an important part of Wisconsin's economy".

"One encouraging thing I learned today is how much everyone cooperatively partners together," Hintze said. "Today was just as much a profile of how cooperatives work."

By having the opportunity to visit with owners and employees vested in these agribusiness ventures, and in talking with farmers in his district, Hintze says he's become more sensitive to the plight of Wisconsin farmers.

"I don't think people always understand the risk that's involved in farming. There are so many things that can disrupt this business like weather and demand, and so much of it is about adapting and waiting for a better market" he said. "I'm certainly more understanding of the risk involved and just how cutthroat this industry is, especially for small producers."

WABA Executive Director Tom Bressner also thanked lawmakers for their efforts over the past  year.

"We want to thank you for passing a state budget that is very beneficial to agribusinesses across the state," Bressner said, pointing to provisions passed in the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection budget. "You saved our farmers, our customers, nearly $3.25 million per year by reducing fertilizer tonnage fees and eliminating the pesticide surcharge just to name a few."

Bressner says there's still work to be done in finding a long-term solution to transportation funding in the state.

"As the largest segment of the Wisconsin economy (ag contribute $88 billion annually), transportation for agriculture begins on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere. And if the milk truck, grain truck, feed truck or fertilizer spreader can't cross that first bridge, we have effectively taken the efficiency out of the entire food chain."

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