POCATELLO — As its global footprint expands, J.R. Simplot will again become one of the most cost-effective phosphate producers in the nation, the company’s top official said Wednesday.
“I’m really excited to announce that we will be among one of the cheapest producers in the United States once we have the new ammonia plant up and going in Rock Springs, Wyoming,” Bill Whitacre, Simplot’s CEO told an audience of approximately 70 business professionals at the Pocatello-Chubbuck Chamber of Commerce CEO breakfast series hosted at the Juniper Hills Country Club.
“We’re in a global market and this plant competes globally.”
In addition to lauding the much-anticipated Rock Springs plant, Whitacre said the Don Plant in Pocatello will remain a critical anchor for the success of the company well into the future.
One of the largest privately held food and agribusiness companies in the nation with major operations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and China, marketing products in more than 40 countries worldwide, Whitacre said the Don Plant in Pocatello and the plant in Rock Springs represent about half of the company.
“We have built systems so that the Don Plant has a really long shelf life,” Whitacre said. “It’s exciting to know that when I’m 80 years old I can drive by this plant and remember a day like today when I said that I’ll be able to visit this plant decades from now and know that I was part of it.”
Simplot is in a pretty unique position isolated from competitors because of its location in the intermountain region, Whitacre said. But at the same time, he said the company knows it must reinvest into its facilities.
“We continue to reinvest constantly,” Whitacre said. “And not just in short-term opportunities, we’re reinvesting in long-term, sustainable plays over time.”
Aside from phosphate fertilizer, Whitacre said the other half of Simplot’s company is the food industry, and he credited recent successes to efforts focused on farming Idaho potatoes internationally in countries around the world.
Because export costs fluctuate, the most effective approach to provide potato products to countries like China, India and Argentina is to build processing plants in those countries that seamlessly intertwine with existing production farms to avoid hauling product around, Whitacre said.
“As we see other economies develop we know they want more branded products,” Whitacre said. “They are eating more hamburgers and more French fries and that’s really where the demand is going.”
What’s more, Whitacre said international and domestic growth will continue while Simplot spends millions of dollars to ensure it meets environmental emission and pollutant regulations.
Last September, Simplot’s Don Plant [Idaho] and the DEQ signed an agreement stated the company will reduce fluoride and particulate emissions by more than 50 percent in the coming years. In addition, a 2008 agreement signed by Simplot to reduce phosphates from leaking into the Portneuf River by lining the gypsum stacks near the plant is bringing a steep drop in phosphate levels in the groundwater that seeps into the river.
“We are in a finite world,” Whitacre said. “There is no doubt about it, we are consuming our world. And while we would really like to prioritize some capital, I don’t know if we’ve ever really prioritized capital away from our responsibility to the world we live in and our responsibility in consuming that world.”
Whitacre also spoke about the difficulties of shuttering processing plants in Caldwell, Nampa and Aberdeen.
“I saw tears come to the eyes of Simplot family members and those tears were about the people who worked inside those plants,” Whitacre said. “I’m not suggesting that we did it exactly right, but we did it to the best of our ability.”
By closing the plants and after constructing a new, state-of-the-art potato processing plant in Caldwell, Whitacre said the company corrected its cost position which allowed for the international expansion.
“We’re the best Simplot company we’ve ever been,” Whitacre said. “And we’re going to be a better Simplot company next year, five years and 10 years from now.”