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Published: Thursday, 6/18/2009

$9.3M lien on Indiana farm involves 2 area firms

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Dirk Jan Visser came to the United States from The Netherlands in hopes of making a living in the dairy industry.

But work on his farm in northwest Indiana was suspended last fall when money ran out nearly two years after construction began, according to an official in Benton County, Indiana. To make ends meet, Mr. Jan Visser and his son took jobs on dairy farms in the area and his wife works in a drug store in the hamlet of Ambia, Ind.

Recent action in Lucas County Common Pleas Court clouds the family's future even further.

Fifth Third Bank filed a lien last month for $9.3 million against the family company, Treslong Dairy Leasing LLC, for unpaid loans. Also liable is a Fulton County-based development company that recruits Dutch dairy farmers to come to the Midwest and handles details of farm construction for them.

"We're very committed to the Jan Vissers," said Cecilia Conway, a spokesman for Vreba-Hoff Holdings LLC, of Wauseon. Also named in the lien is an affiliated property-holding company, Midwest Dairy Investments LLC, of Toledo.

"We are working cooperatively with the bank," Ms. Conway said.

"We want the Jan Vissers to be successful and will get this resolved." She was unable to explain why the loans went unpaid, but said that Vreba-Hoff has a financial stake in the project.

She said the lien does not endanger Vreba-Hoff, which since 1999 has used the promise of less expensive land in the Midwest to recruit dairy farmers from the Netherlands.

"These are hard economic times for the dairy industry," Ms. Conway added. "But we're still operating and have no plans to file bankruptcy."

The industry has been plagued for months by low milk prices and high feed costs.

Jack Steele, who is county surveyor in Benton County, Indiana, is a personal friend of the Jan Vissers. "They sold their farm in The Netherlands and gave the money to Vreba-Hoff," he said. "Nothing's been done on the farm since last October. I can't point my finger at anybody. But these are really nice people. This is a sad situation."

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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