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Bankruptcy court allows VeraSun to buy corn, pay employees

Agriculture.com Staff 11/04/2008 @ 8:19am

VeraSun Energy Corporation won approval to keep paying bills in a hearing Monday in a federal bankruptcy court in Delaware.

The Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based company, which owns 14 plants that produce nearly 14% of the nation's ethanol output filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy late Friday. It has $3.5 billion in total assets, $1.9 billion in debts, and more than 1,700 creditors, potential creditors and business relationships. VeraSun operates in eight states.

After working over the weekend to secure loans to continue operating under Chapter 11, VeraSun announced late Monday that it has commitments for up to $215 million, including credit from groups of Lenders led by AgStar Financial Services, a Minnesota-based member of the Farm Credit System.

On Monday, Judge Brendan L. Shannon of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware in Wilmington granted VeraSun's emergency request to pay outstanding employee checks, to pay suppliers for postpetition goods and services and up to $20 million for goods delivered on or after October 11, 2008. It also approved tapping up to $40 million from the credit commitment VeraSun has obtained from its lenders.

The Bankruptcy Court is expected to conduct a hearing today to rule on the remaining relief requested by VeraSun in its "first day" motions.

"The financing package...allows VeraSun to maintain operations and continue supplying its customers. The relief granted by the Court…will allow us to focus on our operations and, at the same time, provide VeraSun with the liquidity and ability to continue operations, which means producing ethanol and distillers grains, paying suppliers, and satisfying customer needs for product," Don Endres, VeraSun's CEO said in a statement.

The temporary credit and approval to pay bills was a key hurdle.

In papers filed with the bankruptcy court, VeraSun's Chief Financial Officer, Danny C. Herron, requested approval to pay for goods and services, including farmers' grain, that were delivered to VeraSun and its ethanol plants within 20 days of filing for bankruptcy.

"The debtors estimate that approximately $30.7 million in respect of such 20-Day Goods will become due and payable during the next sixty…days," Herron wrote.

"Many Vendors may not be sophisticated in the complexities of chapter 11 cases and may require additional confirmation that payment for Goods and Services provided will occur in a timely manner," Herron continued. "Should one of these Vendors decide not to deliver Goods during the course of these Chapter 11 Cases out of fear that it will not be paid, I believe the Debtors may have to shut down, or reduce production at one or more of their manufacturing plants."

That hasn't happened. Most of VeraSun's plants were reportedly running this week and analysts believe lenders will do all they can to keep financially stressed ethanol plants going.

In Iowa, farmers who have already delivered to VeraSun plants are also protected by the state's grain indemnity fund, Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey told Agriculture Online Monday. The fund, which currently has more than $8 million, will pay farmers 90% of any losses, up to $150,000.

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