Wilbur-Ellis facility

Risen from the ashes

June 27, 2024

Risen from the ashes

Wilbur-Ellis hosts open house at fertilizer facility rebuilt and operating just 16 months after a devastating fire. 

AURORA, Colorado (June 27, 2024) — Oct. 23, 2022, the Wilbur-Ellis fertilizer facility in Moses Lake, Washington, caught fire and was completely destroyed. Just 16 short months later, the team was serving customers from a newly rebuilt and upgraded facility. To celebrate this amazing achievement, an open house and tour of the facility was held June 18 with nearly 50 local growers and guests attending. 

“We are very proud of the incredible team effort it took to continue to serve and support local row crop and specialty crop farmers while rebuilding the fertilizer handling, storage and blending facility,” said Dave Byrne, process engineering manager with Wilbur-Ellis.  

The new facility includes state-of-the-art blending and mixing capabilities paired with significant storage and rail access. The Moses Lake plant is an efficient, high-throughput fertilizer facility for local growers.  

Building up and reopening  

Servicing the area’s growers while the damaged facility was inoperable, and rebuilding at the same time was no small feat. The Wilbur-Ellis team focused on reconstruction while also ensuring customers had prompt access to crop nutrition products.  

Following cleanup from the fire, the facility needed to be rebuilt from the ground up, from concrete to electrical to mechanical equipment. With safety and getting back to serving customers as top priorities, the team eagerly began the task.  

“We partnered with contractors and equipment manufacturers willing to work on an aggressive timeline,” says Byrne. “With long lead times on materials and strained supply chains coming out of COVID, it was a challenge. Thankfully, we found a team of partners willing to work cooperatively, prioritize our needs and do whatever they could to get us back up and running in a facility with even greater capabilities. 

“Rebuilding allowed us to incorporate new blending technologies, increase mixing capacity and add several liquid micronutrient impregnating stations,” Byrne added. “We were able to make safety modifications as well.” 

GrayMar Environmental, Stueve Construction, Easy Automation and Sackett-Waconia were pivotal partners in the rebuild, along with other contractors and manufacturers. 

Keeping fertilizer moving during rebuild  

Supplying customers without equipment and infrastructure called for creative solutions. Plus, what was once a highly automated process in a modern facility temporarily became very manual.  

“In spite of not having a building for storage, we used other locations and managed the logistics to get the needed fertilizer supply to our customers,” says Anita Paulsson, distribution manager at Wilbur-Ellis who led the internal team. “Much of the fertilizer was trucked directly to fields from railcars. We also routed some of the supply through our Basin West facility in Quincy and through our Pasco plant.” 

The Basin West facility, relied upon temporarily, was previously a dry fertilizer warehouse with capacity only a fraction of that held by the fire-damaged facility. This greatly reduced capacity meant a sizeable, yet temporary shift in blending and throughput.  

To overcome that challenge the Wilbur-Ellis team brought in a pair of small batch blending systems and didn’t miss a beat. The team worked diligently to keep the pace and output of the original facility.  

“The tenacity of the operations team was key to keeping our customers supplied with fertilizer,” says Byrne. “Their work ethic and dedication were what made the difference.” 

Making it happen  

With everyone pulling together, the reconstruction goal was met. On March 7, 2024, one year and four months after the fire, the facility reopened in time to support customers for the 2024 growing season.  

Despite the challenges, the Wilbur-Ellis team kept its commitment to customers, providing the fertilizer needed for a successful crop, all while rebuilding the new facility to ensure they could serve customers well into the future.