SEEDS OF SUCCESS
ALBERTA SEED PROCESSORS MARKS ITS 65TH ANNIVERSAY
BY LEE HART
Alberta farmers can be grateful for the province’s network of seed cleaning facilities. With funding provided by farmers as well as municipal and provincial governments, for 65 years, seed cleaning plants have played an important role in protecting crops, but in recent years these facilities have also helped support crop diversification and marketing.
Each of the province’s 67 seed cleaning plants is operated as a farmer-owned co-operative. The provincial government, working with municipalities, established 80 of these community seed cleaning plants in the early 1950s with a primary objective to clean weed seeds out of seed batches so farmers could establish cleaner crop stands.
“That is still an important service the seed cleaning plant provides,” said David Bishop. Operating a grain and oilseed farm near the village of Barons, he is also president of Alberta Seed Processors (ASP). “But this network of facilities has grown into so much more. Most facilities have diversified and expanded their role to farmers, to the industry and to their communities.”
Along with cleaning farm-saved seed, most plants across the province have also developed diversified services. Cleaning equipment has been modernized to handle specialty crops such as hemp. And over the past three years, ASP member plants have spent more than $17 million to upgrade and modernize facilities with equipment such as optical sorters and improved legal-for-trade weighing systems.
In 2014, Alberta seed cleaning plants handled about 40 million bushels (more than one million metric tonnes) of seed and grain. Of that, about 32 million bushels were processed for seed, while about eight million bushels of grains, pulses and oilseeds were cleaned to export- or niche-market standards.
“It is not only an important service, it is a unique service,” said Bishop. “Having this network of producer-run facilities is unique in Canada and in North America.”
This collective group of co-operatives is bound together by the ASP. “We are an association of associations,” explained Bishop, who is a member of the Carmangay Seed Cleaning Plant. As such, the role of each co-operative is to manage individual seed cleaning plants.
“We provide support services to our member associations,” said ASP general manager Monica Klaas. These services include employee training on best practices for safety and management as well as professional development. Additional services include the delivery and enhancement of employee and group service benefits, advocating for the collective membership and assisting with market development.
Cleaning plants are handling ever-
increasing volumes of pedigreed seed as farmers and grain buyers develop new markets for various commodities, including organic crops. Many plants also sell crop inputs such as certified seed and fertilizer.
While each seed cleaning plant is managed as a not-for-profit co-operative, plants do need to operate as a business, said Klaas. “The objective may not be to generate dividends for the shareholders, but plants need to be planning and saving toward ongoing maintenance and facility improvements.”
Along with upgrades, several replacement construction projects have taken place. The Strathmore Seed Cleaning Plant opened a new processing plant in 2015, the Enchant Seed Cleaning Plant launched a new facility in 2016, and Lougheed Co-op Seed Cleaning held the official opening of its plant in mid-2017. New facilities are also under construction in Bashaw and Taber.
“We hope farmers agree with our theme for 2018: The Future is Bright,” said Bishop. “I’m optimistic about agriculture in general, and as an association I believe our plants have a great deal of opportunity ahead to diversify and expand their services.”
NEW PLANT AT LOUGHEED
An excellent example of how ASP co-operatives use state-of-the-art technology to increase capacity and diversify their business, the new Lougheed Co-op Seed Cleaning Plant in east-central Alberta opened this past year.
The $6-million plant replaces the original facility built in 1954 at a cost of $65,000, said plant manager Mick Patten, who has been with the co-operative for 32 years.
With an emphasis on increased capacity and efficiency, the plant features 51 overhead bins with a total capacity of 54,000 bushels. Depending on the end-use specifications, the new plant processes grain 40 per cent faster than its predecessor at anywhere from 350 to 900 bushels per hour.
It has been outfitted with some of the latest equipment, including an easy-change indent cylinder machine for sizing crops. Its Oliver 4800 gravity table features a modular deck, making it much easier and faster to change modules for various crops. With two colour sorters, capacity has dramatically increased in the sorting of pulse crops and the cleaning of ergot from grain, for example.
“With greater capacity and new cleaning technology, we hope to draw customers from a larger trading area and be able to offer improved services for people looking to prepare crops for niche markets,” said Patten.