A dusty, out-of-the way, end-of-the-road business is having a big impact on the town of Magnolia and on farmers and landowners across Mississippi and Louisiana by building a new fertilizer plant.
Construction is underway at Agri/AFC, 310 E. Railroad Ave., Magnolia, whose current plant is being replaced with a much bigger and more modern one.
Agri/AFC sells fertilizer, feed, seed and other farm supplies in its store by the railroad tracks, and also mixes and delivers fertilizer to farmers, co-ops and stores throughout the region.
Location manager Heath Hughes said the current 1,575-ton plant has outlived its life span, so the business is building a 2,500-ton plant behind it and will then tear down the old one.
The new plant will be high-tech with high-speed blenders and more efficient loading and unloading areas.
Agri/AFC brings in the basics of fertilizer — nitrogen, potassium and potash — in 2,500-ton bulk loads from factories in Donaldsonville, La., Port Allen, La., Vicksburg and Yazoo City.
It then mixes the ingredients and distributes it across 11 counties in southwest Mississippi and seven parishes in southeast Louisiana.
“We sell a lot of bag fertilizer to the local co-ops and to the individual dealers around — the mom-and-pop,” Hughes said.
Much of that goes on pastures for beef cattle and food plots for hunters.
But the biggest user is row crop farmers.
“There’s still a lot of row crop. It’s just not very visible,” said Hughes.
Agri/AFC custom-mixes fertilizer for individual row-crop farmers.
“We bring it in in bulk and then we blend it in whatever ratio the soil sample calls for,” Hughes said.
“With agriculture today as tight as the margins are, we custom-blend to the soil sample.”
Row-croppers make up his biggest customer base by far.
“It’s your old 90-10 rule — 10% of your customers do 90% of your business. Those are all traditional row crop farmers,” Hughes said.
About half his farming customers do it for a living, the other half part-time, he estimates.
The main row crops in the region are cotton, corn and soybeans.
“Wheat’s made a small uptick this year,” Hughes added. “South Mississippi plants all the ryegrass grown in Oregon, for seed.”
Construction on the new plant started Dec. 3 and could take five to six months.
“They’re still pouring footings for the stem walls,” Hughes said. “We don’t have the slab yet.”
Danny McDaniel of M&A Construction of Haskell, Ark., is the general contractor.
“I went from Arkansas to Georgia looking at fertilizer plants that had been recently built before deciding on a builder,” Hughes said.
Most new plants are pre-engineered, but McDaniel uses the old-fashioned stick-and-mortar method, which Hughes prefers since it’s easier to make changes during construction.
The building will be concrete and wood. All the fertilizer bays will be concrete with heated floors.
“You can’t use metal in a fertilizer plant,” Hughes pointed out. “It’ll eat it up.”
The new project is already having economic benefits for the area as McDaniel is using local subcontractors.
“For the town of Magnolia it’s good to see somebody actually spending money, so it will definitely increase the tax base for Magnolia,” Hughes said.
Agri/AFC employs 23 people, and that likely won’t change, as the new plant will increase efficiency.
“We’re hoping we’ll do more work with the same employees,” Hughes said.
Hughes, who lives in Smithdale, grew up on a multi-generation farm in northeast Louisiana. His grandfather switched from cotton to rice in 1970 and continued to grow rice during Hughes’ upbringing.
Hughes got a degree in agribusiness with a minor in agronomy at University of Louisiana at Monroe.
In 1998 he got a job as a salesman for Agri/AFC in Magnolia under then-location manager Gene Jay. When Jay died in 2016, Hughes became location manager while retaining his salesman duties.
As if that weren’t enough, Hughes continues his family farming tradition by growing corn, soybeans and wheat on the side.