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Westlock Seed Cleaning Co-op planning new facility

Plans will be unveiled at Nov. 9 AGM
WES - Westlock Aerial DSC_1379
This photo from the south-west shows the plant and producer-owned bins in May 2014. Since that time, the property has increased in size to accommodate many more bins, and ongoing upgrades to the plant have been made. The proposed new plant will be built on the property partially shown in the lower left corner of the photo.

The Westlock Seed Cleaning Co-op Ltd. is in the planning stages for construction of a whole new facility.

Plant manager Wayne Walker said the concept of a new plant has been in the works for the past year and a half as they’ve “been gathering information and doing our due diligence.”

“We’ve purchased a piece of land to the west of us (from the current location). It will be a big undertaking. We’re to the point now where we need to engage and let our shareholders know what we’re thinking and why we’re thinking it,” he said.

Currently, the plant is already cleaning grain for next year’s crop and running around the clock; barely able to keep up. And the future looks to be even busier than today.

“We’re a ways away from it (construction) yet,” he added. The original thinking was to add to the current plant, “But we’d have to shut down for six to eight months and that’s just not feasible.”

He added the age of the current facility also factors into the “new build” consideration. The original part of the structure was built 45 years ago and was built for single-axle trucks.

“We have adapted and changed and modified as much as we possibly can, and we are maxed out now, and having to run 24 hours a day to get things done.”

He said five or six years ago, the board and management did a strategic plan and started talking about what the future, including building a new plant, and a succession plan for himself and plant assistant manager Neil Greenfield.

Walker has been with the plant for 38 years and feels it is nearing time to retire. The plans began with the purchase of two parcels of land to the west in recent years to accommodate more producer-owned bins (currently 130) and also where a new facility could be built without interrupting the work of the current plant.

“We’ve hired Serecon to do a business assessment for us, and a business plan,” Walker said. “It’s going to be a huge project to set this place up to forward for the next 40 years, so we wanted to make sure we were on the right page and financially we could support it. By all indications, by what they’ve given back to the board, it looks like we can definitely do this.”

In the past dozen years, the plant has increased the amount of grain they have cleaned from just a little over a million bushels each year to almost two million bushels currently.  And he sees those increases continuing.

“The new plant would be twice the throughput of this one,” he said. “Basically, we’re shooting for about a1,000 bushel an hour plant with almost double the storage capacity of this one.”

He indicated the storage capacity would be about 90,000 bushels, while the current is just over 50,000.

He said the new plant will be as fully automated as much as possible. Rough drawings have already been made, and an engineer and general contractor have been hired and are working with the board and management. “We’re quite certain we’ll have some plans to show at the annual meeting to show shareholders.”

Cost-wise, he estimates the new facility would be in the $10 million range.

“If everything goes good, we can start doing some work in the fall of 2022, and anticipate using the new plant in the fall of 2024.”

Currently, there are about 1,150 shareholders in the co-op, but some are inactive at this point.

The annual meeting is planned for Nov. 9, starting at 6 p.m. at the Westlock Community Hall. Due to COVID-19, seating is limited to one third capacity, and there will be no meal as has been the custom in the past. Shareholders interested in attending need to contact the co-op no later than Nov. 8 at 780-349-3944.

Started in 1942 and originally known at Pembina Farmers’ Seed Cleaning Association, the first plant was built on the north side and adjacent to the railway siding in Westlock and opened Nov. 3, 1949. That plant was destroyed by a fire on March 8, 1975. The current plant, located in Westlock’s industrial park on the west side of town at an original cost of $450,000 and opened in March 1976, with Art Legg, who had managed the old plant for 22 years, as manager. The name change to Westlock Seed Cleaning Co-op Ltd. was made official Jan. 24, 1990.

Les Dunford, TownandCountryToday.com