Prairie Malt plans layoffs as “major customer” exits

Facing a substantial cut in demand for its product, a major Saskatchewan supplier of malt to the domestic and international beer industries plans to lay off about half its staff by the end of this year.

Prairie Malt Ltd., operating at Biggar, Sask., about 90 km west of Saskatoon, announced in a release Thursday that a supply agreement with “a major customer” is to end on Dec. 31.

“Unfortunately, this circumstance has necessitated a very difficult business decision for us right now,” company president Doug Eden said in the release, not naming the customer.

“To ensure the competitiveness of Prairie Malt Ltd., we are aligning production at the plant with current demand,” he said, which will mean layoffs for “approximately 35” of the company’s 70-odd employees.

“We are very sorry to lay off employees and are grateful for the high-quality work they have performed at the facility,” he said in the release issued by agrifood firm Cargill, which owns the plant in a joint venture with grain company Viterra.

“While we manage some operational changes in the coming months, we are appropriately staffed to meet the needs of our customers,” plant manager Jerome Woynarski said in the same release. “We will continue to serve our growers and customers, and we expect no disruptions to our business.”

The plant, which has a current capacity of about 220,000 tonnes per year, was built in 1977 and operated by the provincial government until 1989, when Grant Devine’s Tory government sold it to a joint venture of Schreier Malting Co. and Saskatchewan Wheat Pool.

Cargill, through its malting barley processing division Cargill Malt, bought Schreier’s stake in the company in 1998, making it one of 10 Cargill Malt plants worldwide. SaskPool’s stake in the company came to Viterra when it was formed in 2007 through the merger of the Pool and Agricore United.

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