The western Canadian Prairie is one of the top wheat producing regions in the world, with varieties such as Red Spring Wheat, Red Winter Wheat, Hard White Spring Wheat and Soft White Spring Wheat. This ideal crop-growing climate is also home to tens of thousands of canola and barley farms throughout Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. For decades, the Canadian Wheat Board controlled all the buying and selling of wheat in western Canada, until legislation ended the monopoly in 2012. Today, growers have the opportunity to do business with companies from all over the globe, like GrainsConnect Canada — the newest and most significant player to enter the grain handling and marketing scene in Saskatchewan since the Canadian Wheat Board’s deregulation.
GrainsConnect Canada is a 50/50 joint venture formed in December 2015 by Sydney, Australia-based GrainCorp and Zen-Noh Grain Corp., headquartered in Convent, LA. GrainsConnect Canada is headquartered in Calgary, AB. What sets GrainsConnect apart from other grain buyers in western Canada is its highly efficient supply chain, designed to deliver Canadian grain growers more choice, competition and value for their products by leveraging the owners’ existing networks. Its Australian parent, GrainCorp, provides customers with unparalleled access to Canadian, American and global markets with more than 100 active buyers in more than 30 countries. GrainCorp is a top five global commercial maltster including Canada Malting, and operates 300,000 million tons of oilseed refining capacity.
Meanwhile, Zen-Noh Grain Corp. operates in a global marketplace with one of the largest grain export facilities in the world in Convent, LA, and trading offices in Portland, OR, and Hong Kong. Their joint venture in Canada is comprised of four identical state-ofthe-art grain handling and shuttle loading facilities, each featuring a 134-car rail loop for fast and efficient loading of unit trains. The first site, located in Maymont, SK, came online in October 2017. The second, located in Reford, SK, was completed in April 2018. The other two sites — located in Huxley, AB and Vegreville, AB — will be completed by the end of 2019. “With good road and rail access as well as our partnership with the Canadian National Railway, we have all the main factors needed [for success],” says Warren Stow, president, GrainsConnect Canada.
“Those areas along the CN mainlines have good wheat, canola and barley production and limited competition, so we want to make it very easy for [the growers] to do business with us.”
GrainsConnect Canada selected the contractor/engineering firm Todd & Sargent, Inc., of Ames, IA, to design and build the four identical shuttle loading facilities. The similar landscape at each location made it possible to design a single layout and replicate it exactly down to the last piece of equipment. Scott Watson, general manager, Maymont terminal, says all the processes and equipment were selected with speed and efficiency in mind.
“One of our goals is to make sure the customer experience is highly efficient for them, not just efficient for us, when it comes to receiving and shipping, so they see the value in hauling to us versus our competitors,” Watson says. Each site has 35 million metric tons, or 1.3 million bushels, of grain storage all in upright slip-formed concrete, consisting of 22 bins total with nine on 12 slickcoat hoppers. There are also four aerated wet bins and four interstice and overhead concrete bins for overs, fines, and off-spec fractions from cleaning. The truck receiving and top distribution systems are rated at 625 metric tons/hour or 23,000 bushels/hour.
At receiving, trucks enter a single driveway and head over the 10-foot-wide by 110-foot-long aspirated “dump-thru” truck scale, which has a 6-foot-wide by 54-foot-long dump grate. The facility’s logistics and administration coordinator keeps the receiving operation running smoothly each day. This role serves as the liaison between the merchants on site and the producers regarding deliveries. Bobby MacCuish, general manager, Reford terminal, explains that producers are given load numbers each week depending on when they are scheduled to haul, the size of the truck being used to deliver their loads and how many trucks are hauling against their contract.
“The coordinator schedules up to six trucks to arrive per hour,” MacCuish explains. “The producers or custom truckers then have 30 minutes leeway on either side of their time slot to deliver their grain.”
Each producer is assigned a load number, which is transmitted onto the screen in the control room via the operating system once the producer or custom trucker enters their information into the kiosk under the probe. “Then the operations staff completes the inspection of the sample and proceeds the truck onto the scale,” says MacCuish.
“Once the truck is finished dumping, the driver exits the scale and stops at the second kiosk to get his primary elevator receipt printed. The theory behind the process is the producer/custom trucker does not have to leave their vehicle, saving them time.” From receiving, the elevator distribution system takes the grain to the storage or cleaning portion of the facility, using a receiving leg, or the flex leg, both rated at 23,000 bushels/hour, and transitions to a double distributor and two top-fill drags rated at 23,000 bushels/hour. The truck loadout and weigh over spout is rated at 23,000 bushels/hour.
Alex Kerrigan, project executive, Todd & Sargent, Inc., says one unique aspect of these facilities is the BM&M grain cleaning system complete with aspirators, cylinders, and threshing components by ArrowCorp. Designed specifically for Canadian inland grain elevators, the system can provide single-pass cleaning of wheat at 240 metric tons/hour without shrinkage and canola at 200 metric tons/hour. “It’s a new twist on Prairie grain cleaning using less equipment than conventional cleaning methods,” says Kerrigan. “This is the first time we’ve installed this system flow and it’s highly effective and efficient.”
Watson says in his 20-plus-year career in the grain industry, he’s never worked with such a high capacity or speed cleaning system as the one at GrainsConnect.
“There is a bit of a learning curve for us and we’re not quite at maximum efficiency yet,” he begins. “The setup is different in the sense that we have equipment both on the top of the elevator and also on the receiving scale level. All the staff is being trained on it, so we’ll get better and faster as time goes on, but the capacity alone is a tremendous advantage.”
The Maymont and Reford facilities are strategically located on the CN Railway mainline, giving area wheat growers close-to-home rail access to western Canadian seaports. In addition to GrainsConnect Canada’s 134-car loop track, the main components of the system include a 73,500-bushel/hour reclaim belt conveyor fed by proportioning gates under the elevator and annex. Along with it is a dedicated 1,375-metric-ton/hour shipping leg, a 2,000-metric-ton/hour bulk weigher with 80-metric-ton upper surge capacity, and a rotary crosscut sampler. Its railcar reclaim system is rated at 10,000 bushels/hour.
While shuttle loading facilities have been commonplace in the United States for nearly a decade, Watson estimated the Maymont facility is only the third or fourth such operation built in western Canada, setting it apart from other grain handlers in the region. Maymont started receiving trains in December 2017 and shipped its 10th unit train by the middle of April 2018.
“What makes us different is not only the technology and the capacity in the elevator itself, but in how we load cars on a loop track without having to break the cars apart,” says Watson. “It’s a bit of a new concept in this area and it’s very efficient. We can load out 100 cars in less than 10 hours if the conditions are right.”
The CN Railway provides power for the operation by attaching their locomotives to a 100-car unit train owned by GrainsConnect. A crew of three to four GrainsConnect employees operates the locomotive and turns the unit back to the railway once it’s loaded about 10 to 12 hours later. Stow says the company plans to own and operate fleets of up to 140 cars at each of the four locations in the future. “Owning our own fleet provides two main advantages,” Stow says. “The cars themselves are high capacity and hold more cubic capacity than the standard Canadian grain fleet. It also gives us better control of our logistics because we can monitor the trains and pinpoint our equipment at all times.”
With just two of the total GrainsConnect Canada elevators up and running, the company is already reaping the benefits of having the same design and equipment at all four locations. Todd & Sargent’s Kerrigan says construction goes smoother for each project as the construction crews move from one site to the next.
“The same crew that worked on Maymont last year is working on Vegreville right now and Reford’s will move into the Huxley site in a few months,” Kerrigan says.
For GrainsConnect Canada, another benefit lies in the ability to train operators at any of its four locations.
“We limited the amount of complexity within these elevators because we wanted to make sure the crew at the first elevator could train the staff at the second, third or fourth elevator,” Stow says. “If the general manager and I blindfolded an operator and dropped him into any one of these, he’d be able to operate it because it’s the same as the one they just came from.”
MacCuish adds, “One of the main advantages is that Maymont and Reford are so close (78 miles apart) that if one is short-staffed, we can take any operator from there and have them fill in at Reford or vice versa and nothing will miss a beat. The same concept will apply at the two locations in Alberta, too.”
Spare parts and equipment can also easily be shared between facilities since there are no specialized processes or systems at any one site. With four locations strategically located in western Canada and GrainsConnect’s commitment to delivering value to the growers of Alberta and Saskatchewan, Stow is confident in the new joint venture’s future.
“We’ve worked hard to be easy to do business with, and we’ve been rewarded with excellent support from the local growers in these areas,” Stow says. “We crafted a very easy purchase contract without a lot of legalese, we unload trucks extremely efficiently, and our shuttle loading operation is state-of-the-art. Put it all together and we find it really works.” ❚