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Buckwheat Growers closed during investigation over payments

The Buckwheat Growers Association is currently closed during an active investigation over a bond claim. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal1 / 2
Union Creek Organic and Buckwheat Growers Association are currently closed after having their license revoked by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. An investigation has started into claims of no payment for grains delivered. Michael Denny/Wadena Pioneer Journal2 / 2

MDA advises farmers with ties to Buckwheat Growers Association to file claims

Buckwheat Growers Association of Wadena was issued a cease and desist order to discontinue service during an active investigation connected to an unpaid customer of the business. The business is to remain closed during the investigation and the license to operate has been revoked, according to Nick Milanowski, section manager of fruit, vegetable and grain program with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Staff with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) were at the location Monday, June 10 and again, Thursday, June 13, conducting an audit of the facility to determine the extent of those that have gone unpaid for grain delivered.

Milanowski explained that the intent of examining the elevator is to determine if grain can be redelivered or if grain on hand can be sold in order to pay what's owed to a customer or customers.

As of Thursday the investigation was continuing as staff went through business records.

"We are still in a fact finding mode," Milanowski explained. "We have not been able to validate any claims yet."

Several board members were also on site Thursday and shared that there was little that could be shared during the active investigation. Board chairman Glen Boergerding said the closure of the cooperative could last two weeks or two months, that was not clear at this point.

The MDA has jurisdiction over certain grains, but not all grains on site, so they may be able to continue operation with those few grains including buckwheat or vetch.

"Right now the department of ag has basically taken control and when they are done with their report, then we'll have to figure out where we go from there," Boergerding said.

Boergerding said someone filed a claim on the bond, which put the department into action.

The MDA is issuing an advisory to farmers who have conducted business with the Buckwheat Growers Association of Wadena, also known as Union Creek Organic or Union Creek Feed and Seed. The MDA is encouraging anyone who has not received payment for grain or who had grain stored at the Buckwheat Growers Association facility to submit a bond claim with the Department.

The facility, in accordance with the law, held a $50,000 bond with the department to help grain sellers and depositors mitigate any losses. To submit a claim, a farmer will need to take the following steps:

• Complete a Grain Bond Proof of Claim Form. This can be found at mda.state.mn.us/grain.

• Include supporting evidence. This is including but not limited to scale tickets, purchase agreements, purchase receipts, non-sufficient funds checks, contracts, warehouse receipts, assembly sheets, etc.

• Send in the form and supporting evidence by email to maderMinnesota Department of Agriculture, Fruit Vegetable & Grain Unit, 625 North Robert St., St Paul, MN 55155

Farmers should submit a claim as soon as possible. The deadline for claims is dependent on the date of non-payment.

Milanowski said a public notice will be published as to when customers need have their claims filed.

The MDA will review all submitted claims, associated paperwork, internal documents, and records from inspector visits to determine which claims are valid. In the case of multiple valid claims, a pro-rated share is calculated and dispersed.

Questions on this process can be directed to Christine Mader at 651-201-6620 or christine.mader@state.mn.us, or Nick Milanowski at 651-201-6076 or nicholas.milanowski@state.mn.us.

Milanowski said there is no timeline in place at this time, but the main focus is that producers are paid what they are owed.

The following statement was posted to the Union Creek Organic Facebook page stating that the business remains closed for the duration.

"Waiting to see what the MN Dept of AG's audit results will be. Until we know what is going on with that we have a cease and desist order. So nothing can come in or leave our premises. Sorry for the inconvenience. If anyone needs Organic Chicken Feed Mile Four is an online company, you are welcome to check them out online."

The agricultural cooperative in Wadena offered cleaning and bagging of grains, mixing and bagging of feed, feed for livestock, seed and supplies, grain cleaning and grain storage. The business is certified organic with Minnesota Crop Improvement Association. What started out as a group looking to clean and market buckwheat in 1997 at the elevator on Aldrich Ave., has grown to also include the Union Creek Organic location west of town on Ash Ave. That expansion took place in late 2018 with the remodeled building, and bagging equipment as major highlights.

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