An Iowa pork producer of antibiotic-free hogs has bid $13 million to buy a bankrupt slaughterhouse in Windom, Minn., but the company will not keep any of the plant's 1,000-plus employees.
Premium Iowa Pork, based in Hospers, Iowa, offered in an auction completed this week to buy the struggling plant that is the largest employer — including hundreds of immigrant workers — in the small, southwestern Minnesota town. The plant is slated to close today.
However, the sale was put on hold Friday morning in bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Del., as an attorney for plant's owner, HyLife Foods, told a federal judge the deal was still being inked.
"We are still finalizing the documentation," said Michael E. Comerford, an attorney for HyLife.
Stacey Ashley, a HyLife spokeswoman, confirmed the bankruptcy sale in an email Friday.
"We have a successful buyer for our facility in Windom, subject to court approval," said a HyLife statement shared by Ashley. "This means our operations at the plant have come to an end as of June 2, 2023."
The company statement further noted that Premium Iowa Pork will not "retain" employees at the Windom plant.
Ashley confirmed the company will be transporting H-2B visa workers to their home countries.
"This has been a trying journey for all involved," the company's statement said.
Court documents reveal 450 of the plant's workers were brought to Windom from foreign countries on contract. A large percentage of those are from Guanajuato, Mexico, workers told the Star Tribune during recent interviews.
The buyer offered no details in the court filings on what it plans to do with the plant.
Also Friday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Horan approved HyLife's purchase agreement to sell about 20,000 finisher hogs to a South Dakota company. AgriSwine Alliance of Aberdeen, S.D., offered to pay $60 a head for the pigs, amounting to a sale price of $1.3 million.
The South Dakota company is currently raising the hogs and was the only bidder.
The definition of "finisher hog" briefly stumped the federal judge.
"I'm from the Bronx, so you're going to have to explain to me what a finisher hog is," Horan said.
Comerford responded that the South Dakota hogs began as "tiny, little pigs" and are being raised to market maturity. The pigs in this sale — owned by a HyLife subsidiary, Canwin — are currently in AgriSwine barns.
Neither AgriSwine nor Premium Iowa responded to requests for comment.
Tiffany Lamb, director of Windom's Economic Development Authority, said her office had already reached out to the new company to begin building a strong relationship.
"We are excited to see a family-owned business with a Midwest focus purchase the facility," said Lamb. She also extended "deep sympathies" to the impacted employees.
Emily Bentson, a worker at the pork plant, said she was saddened by the news that the plant wouldn't retain her and fellow employees.
"Today is hard," Bentson said. "Very hard."
HyLife's attorney said he anticipated finalizing the slaughterhouse sale details with Premium Iowa Pork by next Wednesday in time for a June 9 hearing.
The current value of the bankrupt hog plant in Windom isn't immediately clear. When the plant was last sold in 2016, the sale price of the former PM Beef plant to Minnesota businessman Glen Taylor and Pemberton farmer Greg Strobe was not disclosed, though the partners said they anticipated spending at least $20 million to convert the facility from beef to pork processing.
Separately, Strobel has filed a motion in court demanding HyLife pay him just shy of $1 million for hogs delivered beginning the day the company filed for bankruptcy.
Taylor, who owns the Star Tribune in a separate business venture, sold his remaining stake in HyLife's Windom operation earlier this year.
According to its website, Premium Iowa Pork is a family-owned hog producer in northwest Iowa, with a venture in Luverne, Minn., called Premium Minnesota Pork. The company raises hogs with Duroc genetics, which can produce a darker, sweeter meat. As of 2018, Windom's ownership — then called Comfrey Farm — was also working toward producing Duroc pork.
The auction, which took place May 26, saw few bids on HyLife's assets. An original bid on the plant came from one of HyLife's creditors, Compeer Financial, the Minnesota-based ag lender, which set the bidding floor at $12 million. Compeer also made top offers on HyLife-owned farmland north of the Windom plant and a duplex in Mountain Lake.