Simplot to supersize Portage la Prairie fry plant

(Dave Bedard photo)

U.S. agrifood giant J.R. Simplot plans to bulk up its potato processing footprint in southern Manitoba with a $460 million plant expansion.

The company and the provincial government on Wednesday announced construction will begin this spring on a 280,000-square foot expansion at its 180,000-square foot french fry processing plant at Portage la Prairie.

The expansion, expected to be complete in fall 2019, is forecast to “more than double the plant’s need for potatoes from regional growers” and create another 87 full-time positions at the plant. Operations are expected to continue during construction.

The Portage processing plant, which opened in 2003, today has capacity to process over 300 million lbs. of potato products per year. Simplot has previously noted it set up the facility to accommodate just such an expansion.

The plant makes frozen french fries and formed potato products for major quick-service restaurant chains and other customers in the eastern, southeastern and midwestern U.S.

“Manitoba delivers in so many ways that will help make this project a success,” Mark McKellar, president of Simplot’s food group, said Wednesday in a provincial release.

“It has access to quality potatoes, a strong grower community, availability of highly skilled employees and distribution routes that continue to expand our footprint.”

The province has pledged an investment package including tax increment financing of up to $6.31 million to go toward “anticipated capital investments and road improvements,” and up to $522,000 toward employee training, based on the number of new positions.

Crown-owned utility Manitoba Hydro, meanwhile, will offer $1 million toward electrical and natural gas efficiency projects at the plant through its PowerSmart program, based on the plant “meeting program guidelines.”

Idaho-based Simplot said it will bring in “industry-leading” energy and water efficiency processes at the Portage plant as part of the expansion. Such systems, it said, are already in place at its plant at Caldwell, Idaho, about 40 km west of Boise.

Manitoba’s Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler, in the same release, said a capacity boost at Simplot’s plant “presents a tremendous opportunity for Manitoba farmers to strengthen their partnership with a reliable local processor and increase potato production in Manitoba.”

Already Canada’s second-largest potato-producing province, Manitoba harvested 62,800 acres of potatoes in 2017, yielding a total of 22.2 million hundredweight, down slightly from 22.4 million cwt off 64,000 acres in 2016.

According to Statistics Canada, Manitoba’s output represented 21 per cent of Canadian potato production in 2017, behind Prince Edward Island (22.3 per cent) and ahead of Alberta (19.4 per cent).

According to the Keystone Potato Producers Association, the processing market takes up about 85 per cent of Manitoba’s total potato production.

The province’s growers supply plants including Simplot and McCain Foods at Portage, McCain at Carberry and J.D. Irving’s Cavendish Farms plant at Jamestown, N.D., about 150 km west of Fargo. –– Network

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