Marcus Weidler hopes there aren’t any more late spring panic situations forcing a scramble to produce treated canola seed to replant two million frosted acres, but he says Bayer CropScience’s newly expanded canola seed processing plant will be better prepared if there is.
The southern Alberta plant near Lethbridge with a recently completed $15.6 million expansion was put to the test earlier this year when parts of Western Canada were hit with a late May frost forcing farmers from Alberta to Manitoba to replant nearly two million acres of canola.
“The frost damage occurred on a Saturday and immediately the word was out that farmers would need more seed,” says Weidler, head of seeds for Bayer CropScience. “We had already completed our production for the season, a lot of our seasonal workers had gone home, so it was a real challenge. But our people were great. We had some just showing up Sunday morning saying, “I hear you can use some help.”
Weidler says while any delay that time of year isn’t good, they did their best to have seed moving as much as 1,500 to 1,800 km to western Canadian retailers and distributors within five days.
“If we hadn’t had the new facility the situation would have been much worse,” says Weidler. “But it gave us the capacity to move as much seed as we could in a short time — we were working round the clock. Hopefully we don’t run into that situation again, but since that event we have decided to hold a certain amount of stock and not touch it, just in case there is some emergency, which should help to reduce processing and delivery time by a couple days.” To put it in some perspective, he says the Lethbridge plant processed as much seed in those six days as European plants processes in a year.
Grand opening delayed
The emergency seed processing also forced the company to cancel the originally schedule early-June grand opening of the upgraded Lethbridge plant. That job was finally done, with suitable fanfare, in early October.
The expansion and upgrade to the canola seed processing plant, originally built in 2006, doubles processing capacity and increases flexibility, says Weidler. The 43,000 square foot facility, with 53 full-time and seasonal workers, is now able to process up to 36,000 metric tonnes of canola seed, along with an additional five acres of storage bins and conveyances. Seed processing for the 2016 seeding season is well underway.
“And it also increases our flexibility to have a wider range of InVigor canola processed and ready with different treatments depending on customer needs,” he says. “So it should mean faster access to a wider product line.”
While the plant produces a given amount of seed based on reasonable demand estimates, it also responds to a large volume of more specific product orders coming in from its network of line-company and independent retailers and distributors. “It is a balancing act to have as much product ready for quick delivery to customers, but at the same time we don’t want a large volume of treated seed left over at the end of the season,” says Weidler.
The increased capacity of the plant also means increased demand for certified seed from farmer suppliers, he says. The company has a well-established network of growers producing seed for Bayer, but will be looking for more production. “Of course the big factor with seed is to have it produced with the proper isolation from other canola crops,” says Weidler. “Southern Alberta is an excellent area for seed production as the canola seed crops can be produced in areas were there are also specialty crops such as potatoes, providing buffer zones and isolation. We also have some seed produced in Saskatchewan and in parts of the United States. In the future, because of isolation requirements, we will be looking outside of southern Alberta to increase our seed production.”
Along with increasing overall plant capacity, one other feature in the upgrade involved building a small-scale version of the processing line. Rather than test any new processing measures in the full plant, the small-scale line can answer the questions.
“This scaled-down version generally involves the canola seed cleaning process,” says Weidler. “If we want to try new equipment or a new process we can test it on this smaller scale equipment. We’ve even had people in the community suggest an idea or two for improved processing that we have tried and incorporated in our operation.
“The people and the city of Lethbridge have been particularly helpful and supportive of our operations here, which now since the expansion, is the largest dedicated canola seed processing and seed storage facility in the Bayer network,” he says.