By Tim Leeds
United Agri Products, which sells agricultural products like seeds, fertilizers and pest killers, is closing most of its stores and plants in Montana.
The company will close 13 stores and plants in the state by this summer, including stores in Havre and Big Sandy. Retail stores in Sidney and Belgrade and wholesale operations in Lockwood and Great Falls are the only stores and plants that will remain open, company representatives said Wednesday.
Company spokesman Kent McDaniel said today that the closures are part of a refocusing of the company's efforts in a new business model. UAP will continue to offer products through the remaining stores and representatives it has in the state, he said.
"We will continue to be a leader in the wholesale market," he said.
McDaniel said the drought in Montana, which has lasted four or five years in some parts of the state and has lowered demand for ag products, is one factor in the decision to close the stores. But it is just one of many, he added.
"All kinds of factors have led to this business decision," McDaniel said.
Ryan Lammers, agronomy manager for Milk River Cooperative in Havre, said the co-op will be able to provide the same products and services that the Havre UAP store offers to local ag producers.
"But there will be one less player in town," Lammers said.
Cal Hankins, agronomy manager for Mountain View Co-op in Fort Benton, said UAP closed its store there a few years ago. The company has a representative to sell products in the community.
Hankins said he hates to hear about the rest of the stores and plants closing.
"It's quite a surprise, but that's the ag industry for you," he said.
Mountain View Co-op has picked up the business from the closed store, and is doing all right, but it's not easy because of the drought and the condition of the ag economy, Hankins said.
"Our business probably fell off by 40 percent of normal, but we're hanging on. It's tough," he said.
Lammers said the main concern most producers will probably have is the loss of competition. Because Milk River is a cooperative, the company tries to offer reasonable prices, he said.
"We are there to help out the customers because if our customers aren't making money we won't still be around," he said.
Hankins said his main concern is about the employees of the stores and plants being closed.
"The people that work for UAP, they're losing their jobs," he said. "It's a bad thing, I don't like it."
That leads to a loss of money in the local economy, and puts pressure on the local governments, Hankins said.
UAP estimates about 100 employees will be affected by the closures. McDaniel said the company will be offering a severance benefits package to the employees who lose their jobs.
UAP area manager Allan Holiday said Wednesday that the company is hoping the employees of the stores or others will buy out the operations the company is closing.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.