Gov. Terry Branstad

Gov. Terry Branstad

Governor Terry Branstad says there are “thousands” working at the Iowa Fertilizer Plant construction site in southeast Iowa, despite recent financial squabbles. Contractors are suing the company that’s building the plant for tens of millions of dollars in unpaid bills.

“I’m sure it’s going to open,” Branstad says. “It’s a huge investment. It’s a big project and you’ve got two of them. You’ve got that one and you’ve got CF Industries and actually they’re in the process of merging and I’ve visited both sites and you’ve got thousands of construction workers on site.”

CF Industries is expanding its northwest Iowa plant and the announced last year it planned to acquire Orascom, the overseas company that began construction of a $1.9 billion fertilizer plant in Wever in 2013. Branstad says he “does not know the details” of the financial disputes Orascom has had with its subcontractors.

“But it’s a big project and there’s thousands of people working there…and it’s really brought the unemployment rate down in Lee County dramatically,” Branstad says. “When I ran for governor (in 2010) it was like 11 percent and now it’s below six.”

Branstad says the “biggest” benefit from these two projects, though, is the cost of nitrogen fertilizer is on the decline in Iowa.

“That’s one of the biggest costs to raising corn and right now we have the price of corn below the cost of production, so the more we can bring the cost of nitrogen, the better it is to restore profitability to farming,” Branstad says. “And so I think that’s a good thing.”

CF Industries is based in Deerfield, Illinois, and is tripling fertilizer production at its Port Neal facility which sits along the Missouri River, about 15 miles south of Sioux City. After CF Industries acquires Orascom, it will become a subsidiary of a holding company based in Britain. The combined company will be the world’s largest publicly-traded nitrogen fertilizer producer.

Democratic legislators have complained about the half a billion dollars in local, state and federal incentives that were provided to lure Orascom to build in southeast Iowa. Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington, last week called the company “Orascam” for the way it was dealing with contractors.