$1 million producer car facility opens doors

Grain growers in northeastern Saskatchewan are now making deliveries to a new farmer-owned producer car loading facility.

The first load of grain to the site near Choiceland was delivered earlier this month.

The $1 million facility, owned by Torch River Rail, has storage capacity of 56,000 bushels, enough to load 16 hopper cars at a time.

It includes four 14,000 bushel steel storage bins, a 30-metre scale and two legs that allow the facility to receive and elevate grain while rail cars are being loaded.

The facility is also designed to receive grain around the clock.

Producers who use the facility are issued a key that allows them to activate the facility at any time of day.

Automated systems take loaded and empty truck weights, keep a record of the grower’s delivery and ensure that the grain is directed to the proper storage bin.

Torch River chair Ron Shymanski said construction of the facility could not have come at a better time.

Growers in the northeast are sitting on a significant amount of contracted grain from the 2013-14 season.

Delivery opportunities last winter were slow because of an extremely cold winter and a lack of available hopper cars.

Shymanski estimated in early July that growers in the facility’s drawing area still had 400 to 500 cars of contracted grain to deliver before this year’s harvest starts.

The new facility will help accommodate those deliveries with in-creased throughput capacity.

Shymanski said Torch River directors have high hopes for the years ahead.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that we could do 1,000 rail cars a year,” he said during a recent grand opening celebration.

“The grain is here.”

Initial projections for grain were set at 150 carloads per year when Torch River Rail was established just a few years ago.

At least 50 percent of the rail cars loaded by Torch River in a typical year carry locally produced oats that are destined for U.S. mills.

Morris Nycholat, a Torch River shareholder and farmer from nearby White Fox, Sask., said the facility will allow growers to load producer cars more quickly and with less effort.

Farmers will also still have the option of loading producer cars with an auger at railway sidings at Garrick, Sask., and White Fox.

Only a handful of delivery points are available to farmers in the Choice-land area.

Bunge in Nipawin, about 30 minutes away, handles canola. Cereals are either loaded onto producer cars or hauled further, often an hour or more away.

“It saves hauling,” said Nycholat, who delivered the facility’s first load of grain July 2.

“Most of the grain in this area would go to Tisdale, Melfort or Nipawin Siding and that’s 50, 60, 70 miles and more for some guys. This will keep a lot of traffic off the roads and it should save some fuel and manpower.”

Torch River Rail is one of 13 short-line railway companies in Saskatchewan.

It operates 45 kilometres of track between Nipawin Sask., and Choiceland.

Local investors acquired the line in late 2007 after Canadian Pacific Railway announced its intention to discontinue operations.

After several failed attempts to negotiate a deal, a group of 46 shareholders comprised of farmers and local governments from Nipawin, Choiceland, White Fox and the Rural Municipality of Torch River raised enough money to buy the line and necessary equipment.

The group bought the rail line for $1.2 million and shipped its first grain train in July 2008.

Shipments have been increasing steadily since then.

TRR’s initial business plan suggested that the company would need to ship 150 to 200 cars per year.

Last year, it shipped nearly 600 cars, delivering locally produced crops to a core of major buyers including Quaker, CWB, Bunge and The Andersons Inc., an American grain merchant based in Ohio.