HUNTINGBURG — Farbest Foods is planning to invest $21.7 million to modernize part of its plant on County Road 400 West in Huntingburg.
The investment will help the company stay competitive in the turkey industry, Farbest President Ted Seger said Monday.
“The project is all about switching from what I would call tremendous growth over the last 10, 20 years, to one of proactive renovation,” Seger told the Dubois County Commissioners. “It’s going to be a modernization of a little bit of building and a lot of new equipment.”
A big portion of the project is a new, controlled atmosphere stun system, which Seger said renders the bird as unconscious before it goes through the processing. Although the current system in the plant is only 9 years old, Seger said the upgrade is needed for the company to be proactive.
“We need to remain competitive with the rest of the industry,” Seger said.
The $21.7 million investment will include $13.5 million for building renovations, $5.5 million in equipment and $2.7 million in transportation equipment.
The Huntingburg plant is in the County Road 400 West Economic Development Area, which includes about 40 acres of city property and 30 acres of county property. Farbest is asking the city’s redevelopment commission to issue bonds to apply to a portion of the costs of the improvements, Huntingburg City Attorney Phil Schneider said. The commission will consider new bonds to generate $6 million that would be used to help purchase equipment.
When the economic development area was created in 2006, the county assigned jurisdiction for the county property to the Huntingburg Redevelopment Commission since the county does not have a redevelopment commission, County Attorney Art Nordhoff explained. So the county has no authority to approve or disapprove the request. But city officials wanted to let the county know about the project, Schneider said. The proposed upgrades will be done on the county property in the economic development area.
Since the creation of the economic development area, Farbest and its growers have invested $270 million in new capital expenditures, Seger said.
Adding the second shift at the processing plant soon after the district was formed added $20 million; with that, the company added 50 new growers and each of those invested about $1 million in their farm, Seger said. A $15 million feed mill was built in Dubois. The company has invested about $30 million in nine other facilities in southern Indiana and Kentucky.
More recently, the company has built a new processing plant and feed mill in Knox County and added another 50 growers. That investment was more than $150 million in new investment.
In the last 10 years, Farbest has added 1,100 new employees, Seger said.
The Huntingburg plant was built in 1969 and has been renovated over the years. With the renovations, “we’re trying to match the automation that we’ve put into our Knox County plant over in Vincennes,” Seger said. “We see that the automation in the Vincennes plant works. So what we’re trying to do is invest in our older facility, bringing it up to ensure that we are competitive longer term in this industry.”
Through this automation, most of our jobs will become a lot easier and safer, Seger said.
Mayor Denny Spinner said the city’s redevelopment commission, plan commission and common council will review the proposal next month.
“We see this as an opportunity,” Spinner said. “They are making an investment that is not necessary for Farbest. This is a way to assist a company that has assisted our community.”
Farbest is currently the fourth largest turkey company in the country, Seger said. The company employs 1,300 employees. Of that, about 1,200 are in Indiana, a lot of them in Dubois County, he said. The company has 225 farm families as contract turkey growers.