One of the last small capacity grain elevators in west-central Saskatchewan is closing, ending one town’s grain-handling era.
Turtleford’s Richardson Pioneer elevator stopped taking grain as of December 31, 2012. It was the only small elevator on the defunct North Battleford-Turtleford CNR line that survived after railway service halted in 2000.
The elevator’s grain buyer says flagging demand wasn’t the problem.
Each year elevator staff dump and ship about one million bushels, including canola and bin butts. They also source 1.8 million bushels for farm pickup.
“Now our business is three times what it was, but we can’t keep up to the safety codes,” says Roland Olson, grain buyer.
The elevator’s office needs a $50,000 investment to take care of mold and other issues. The rest of the facility needs a further $250,000 or so of work.
Elevator staff will be selling crop inputs out of the elevator this spring. In July 2013, the elevator will close completely.
“But we’re still going to do that. I’m just going to work out of my house now, with a laptop and a truck,” says Olson.
With a capacity of just over 3,000 metric tonnes, the Turtleford elevator is one of the few small elevators left in the region. Other small elevators run in Shellbrook, Cutknife, and Rabbit Lake, though Olson says the Rabbit Lake elevator is set to close as well.
Longer drives for farmers
The elevator’s closure will mean a longer driver for the Turtleford farmers, along with farmers from St. Walburg and north. Large grain terminals at North Battleford and Lloydminster are both nearly 90 kilometres from Turtleford. The shut-down will also affect farmers with partial loads.
“There’s one guy in Rapid View, he hauls about two, three ton loads a year. Just, again, what doesn’t fit in the semis. So now he’ll have to say to heck with it, or go to Battleford,” says Olson.
Jay Millard farms near Livelong, which is about 20 kilometres east of Turtleford. Millard hauls 75 to 100 loads of his own grain each year. He also runs a trucking business, hauling grain for other farmers.
Millard says he usually hauls to the terminals in Lloydminster or the Battlefords. He says farmers from as far north as Pierceland haul their grain to North Battleford, which is about 150 kilometres each way.
Some farmers say having fewer terminals is less efficient. “It just creates so much congestion on the other end because you get so much funneled into such few spots. Line ups and waits,” says Millard.
Part of a trend
Millard wasn’t surprised when he heard Turtleford’s elevator was closing. “It was in the making for a long time.”
Olson says the trend of centralizing grain terminals to larger centres started in the mid-90s.
“None of the smaller elevators were making money and basically the whole business was geared towards large car spots,” says Olson.
The Richardson Pioneer elevator was built in 1981. A Saskatchewan Wheat Pool elevator was built in 1992, Olson says. But the Sask. Wheat Pool elevator didn’t survive when CNR stopped service 13 years ago.
“Ninety-five per cent of the elevators closed when that happened. We were lucky. We were an hour from each terminal and the company wanted a presence in the community. We had a good business so they let us stay,” says Olson.
But Millard credits Olson for persuading Richardson Pioneer to keep the elevator open.
“He raised his family there. That was home. He didn’t want to go anywhere else. He was happy there and he stayed as long as he could.”
Olson has been working at the elevator for 37 years. He is only the fourth grain buyer to run the elevator since the early 1920’s.Olson says the low turnover rate is almost unheard of. “That’s because of the community. Everybody likes it here,” says Olson. †
Lisa Guenther is a field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask.