WESTLOCK – The Westlock Seed Cleaning Co-op is moving forward with its new $12-million facility and are expected to begin construction this fall.
Westlock and District Chamber of Commerce members heard details about future plans for the co-op, including the new facility, at their June 21 monthly meeting.
“It’s about a million pounds of steel in total and about 1,300 meters of concrete will go into the building as well,” said co-op board member Steven Meinczinger. “It’s going to be state of the art.”
The new, 110-foot-tall plant will be located west of the existing 93rd Ave location in Westlock and will take about two years to build. The current plant will remain operational during the construction phase in order to maintain service and continue cleaning seed, noted Meinczinger, adding that it will also have double cleaning capacity at 1,000 bushels per hour, and about 93,000 bushels of storage in the building, which is also more than double of the current storage capacity at the plant.
Meinczinger, a multi-generational farmer in Busby, shared a bit of the co-op’s history, impact and details about its operations and the new facility.
While the co-op formed in 1942, the first seed cleaning plant was built in 1949 and after a fire destroyed it, it was replaced with a new one in the current location in 1975.
“At that time it started out cleaning 400,000 bushels of seed a year, which is quite a bit and seems like quite a good start for a new plant like that,” said Meinczinger. “Every year farmers need clean seed — a seed cleaning plant is a huge part of the quality of what you see in the fields every year. They take out all the contaminants,” he added, noting they also treat seeds to protect them from weather issues or pests to help seeds germinate well.
Meinczinger said they service 20 different seed growers in the area, noting there are about 60 to 70 plants in Alberta with Westlock being one of the largest.
“We handle the most volume out of all the seed plants in Alberta. A lot of it has to do with our location as gateway to the north,” explained Meinczinger.
Today, the plant cleans roughly 500 bushels per hour and they handle cleaning for over two million bushels of seed a year — about one million bushels is pedigree seed and the other million is common seed from local farmers.
“The only way we can accomplish that, cleaning 500 bushels an hour is (operating) 24 hours a day so we are running from October to April, 24-hour shifts to clean seed,” he said. “It’s quite an undertaking to be able to get it all through.”
Over the years, they have made upgrades to the plant in 1995, 2003 and 2012 to accommodate changes in technology and improve capacity limits.
In 2018, Vision 2030 was created, a strategic plan that was put in place to accommodate future growth, noted Meinczinger.
“We’ve acquired new land — from the original site there’s two lots directly to the west that were purchased in the last five years,” he said. “That was part of the plan to gain more space, to have a place to put a new facility or expand a facility.”
In 2021 they hired an agriculture specialist to conduct a feasibility study, create a business plan and complete a report on the possibilities for the new plant. In the process they looked at three options — expand the existing building, adding another facility (doubling the capacity for cleaning seed) and the final option to build a big new facility.
“They looked at how we operate, personnel, customers, market share we have now and maybe future market possibilities. The potential for future growth for us is very positive if we can stay current,” said Meinczinger. “Ultimately, financially, it made the most sense to go with a new facility. It may mean more money, but I think more bang for our dollar in the long run.”