Bunge announced Tuesday the suspension of the crush operations at the soybean-processing plant in Emporia, temporarily laying off about a third of the employees effective May 1. Crush operations are expected to resume with the fall harvest, the company said.
“The U.S. soybean supplies are tight due to the drought, particularly in the Kansas region, and so the processing industry has excess crush capacity and it is also because of a strong export demand in Asia that depleted supplies,” said Heather Rueschhoff, communications manager/external relations for Bunge, concerning the layoffs.
The remaining employees at the plant will work a reduced work week, conducting regularly scheduled maintenance and other projects, Rueschhoff said.
“We recognize that this decision is going to have an impact on employees, so we are taking steps to make the transition as smooth as possible for anybody that is affected,” she said.
The laid-off employees will still receive health insurance, but Rueschhoff said she does not know to what capacity. The employees will get that answer from their human resource management representative.
City Manager Matt Zimmerman recounted a phone conversation (within a Tuesday email to the Emporia City Commission) that he had with Tom Schmidt, regional manager for Bunge, concerning the layoffs.
“They are closing the plant until the new crop comes in this fall, probably somewhere around Sept. 1," said Zimmerman in the email. "They will be laying off their operations employees, approximately 21 out of 60 employees. They will continue to provide health insurance as long as employees pay the employee share. They anticipate many employees will return when the hiring commences.
“Of interest, he said this is the first factory where they are closing operations temporarily and it is due to a lack of crop in Kansas because of the drought. If the drought continues and there is a much smaller crop than anticipated, they may not reopen the plant in the fall. Let’s all hope and pray for rain.”
The plant has 66 or so full-time employees, Rueschhoff said. Bunge has owned the Emporia facility since 1978.