The Whispers Blog

Arkansas' breaking business news blog, with news and commentary from the Arkansas Business staff.
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Report: FBI Investigating Turner Grain

Sources say they expect Turner Grain Merchandising Inc. of Brinkley to file for bankruptcy.

The Central Delta Argus-Sun newspaper in Brinkley is reporting that the FBI is investigating Turner Grain Merchandising Inc., the grain buyer that two groups of farmers have sued over defaults on payments.

The Argus-Sun report, available via subscription on its website, says the local police chief turned files related to Turner Grain and a bounced check to a farmer over to the FBI. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had also requested those files.

In a lawsuit filed Aug. 22, a lawyers for a group of Lonoke County farmers had noted that the USDA, acting through its Grain Warehouse Division, has, "at least temporarily, suspended the grain warehouse license" of one the many companies related to Turner Grain, Agribusiness Properties LLC.

Congressional Request

Meawhile, Arkansas' congressional delegation sent a joint letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday requesting an extension on USDA loans for Arkansas farmers affected by the fallout at Turner Grain.

The letter, sent by U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin, Steve Womack and Tom Cotton, requested the USDA's Farm Service Agency extend the repayment date by at least 180 days.

"Dozens, if not hundreds of Arkansas farmers stand to lose everything as a direct result of Turner Grain's apparent mismanagement," the letter said. "At a time when the average age of a row crop is 58, this business failure could deal a devastating long-term blow to Arkansas' agricultural community and have a chilling effect on young farmers now positioned to replace our aging agricultural producer base."

More: Read the entire letter here (PDF).

The Arkansas delegation also asked for a review after 90 days to see if additional time would be needed past 180 days.

It's the second time this week Vilsack has been called upon to give some sort of relief to Arkansas farmers, as Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Butch Calhoun on Tuesday requested an extension for farmers delivering their Commodity Credit Corp. grain under a CCC-681-1 to Turner Grain. 

Calhoun also asked the USDA make low-interest emergency loans available to affected farmers.

Student Entrepreneur's Doughnut Holes Available Soon at Spokes

Sydney Brazil's gourmet doughnut holes will soon be available at Spokes in downtown Little Rock.

Those darn kids are at it again. 

Sydney Brazil, a junior at eStem High in downtown Little Rock and a member of the Noble Impact student entrepreneurship program, has expanded her gourmet doughnut hole business. 

Downtown workers can get their doughnut hole fix beginning Friday, Sept. 5, at Spokes' coffee and smoothie shop inside Orbea's North American headquarters in the 100 block of Main in Little Rock. Spokes is a retail outlet for Orbea, and it recently opened a coffee/smoothie shop inside the high-end bicycle showroom. 

Brazil launched The Hole Thing, a gourmet "donut holery," last year and currently creates her goodies in the kitchen at the Copper Grill, the downtown restaurant located at Third and Cumberland streets. Her holes appear on Copper's dessert menu, and Brazil continues to fill catering orders. 

Hole Thing concoctions now will appear each morning beginning Sept. 5 at Spokes, which will buy "holesale" from Brazil and then sell the holes in packages of three for $3. Brazil's first order from Spokes: three dozen holes for that first Friday morning and another three dozen for the following Saturday.

Brazil tells us she will "circulate" her ever-growing variety of flavors through the Spokes menu (which include chocolate chip, birthday cake, apple fritter, even Mexican hot chocolate). 

There's more. Brazil co-founded The Hole Thing with fellow Noble Impact/eStem student Jase Burton. Burton moved on to form his own startup business, the Burton Agency, which just signed Spokes as its first official client. Burton says he'll help Spokes "extend its brand and build relationships in the community" through social media marketing.

"Our goal is to engage businesses with their target market within the community and build relationships between business owners and local consumers to make the community stronger and generate more leads to help businesses remain healthy and grow," he said.

And to think some of us used to waste away after school in front of "Gilligan's Island" reruns. 

Video: Turner Grain Paid Farmer for Wheat But Not Corn

Arkansas Business news partner THV 11 News takes a look at the still-unfolding Turner Grain Merchandising situation, noting state Agriculture Department Secretary Butch Calhoun's assistance request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

THV 11 also talks to a farmer, Dewayne Chappell, who's owed money by Turner for corn the company purchased.

"I had corn booked, upwards of $5 and now it is $3.60 delivered 20 miles away," Chappell tells THV 11's Alyssa Raymond. "It is quite a bit of difference in price."

Chappell says he also sold wheat to Turner and received payment.

You can watch Raymond's report below:

This Week in Tyson: EPA Investigates; Hillshire Deal Delayed Again

The Associated Press reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has started an investigation into Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale.

This, after a May 16 discharge of a food supplement that allegedly led to ammonia entering a Missouri creek and killing 100,000 fish. The publicly traded meat processor revealed the investigation earlier this month in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

"We're cooperating with the Environmental Protection Agency in its investigation, as we have with state and local agencies regarding this incident," spokesman Worth Sparkman told the AP.

KSPR, an ABC affiliate in Springfield, has more on the investigation and the spill here.

In other news, Tyson has for the second time extended the tender offer for its purchase of Hillshire Brands as the U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division continues its review of the $8.5 billion deal.

Tyson announced last week that it had extended its tender offer for the Chicago firm as the DOJ sought more details of the deal. At the time, Tyson said the request related "only to a very small portion of the combined Tyson/Hillshire Brands business," and that it still expects the deal, reached in July, to go through.

Tyson announced the second extension of the tender offer in a news release on Tuesday. The offer has now been extended to Tuesday.

Jerry Jones' Dallas Cowboys Top $3B in Value

Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys.

Weird photo scandals notwithstanding, Jerry Jones is having a decent month.

His Dallas Cowboys are once again ranked as the top U.S. sports franchise, topping $3 billion value, according to Forbes magazine. That puts the NFL team second only to Spain's soccer, er, futbol, powerhouse Real Madrid, as the most valuable team in the world. Forbes says Real is worth $3.4 billion.

This is the eighth straight year the Cowboy's have topped the list in the U.S. According to The Associated Press:

Dallas posted the NFL's highest revenue, $560 million, and operating income, $246 million. That was far ahead of second-place New England, worth $2.6 billion and with $428 million in revenues, $147 million in operating income.

But the Patriots had the biggest increase since last year, up 44 percent in value. Dallas was up 39 percent.

The average NFL franchise value for 2014 is $1.43 billion, the highest in the 17 years the business magazine has tracked professional football. That shows a 23 percent increase, the largest in one year since 1999.