CLARESHOLM, Alta. — When Mike Parsons goes home from his 12-hour shift every night, he smells like popcorn.
It is the delicious odour that is produced at Western Soybean Co., the crushing plant where he is the operations manager.
Parsons said any pleasure associated with the popcorn smell has long since faded, but he enjoys his work as he takes delivery of soybeans, manages quality control and supervises their passage through the crushing plant and conversion into soy meal.
The plant, located a few miles south of Claresholm with easy access from busy Highway 2, has numerous bins for incoming and outgoing product. Elevation legs extend up to 160 feet.
Parsons climbs those regularly to check on their operation, but he avoids it during the region’s relatively frequent 80 km-h winds.
“Your legs are like rubber once you do that,” he said of the climb.
“But when you’re up there, you see everything.”
Joel Tschetter, one of the owners of the plant along with other members of the Granum Hutterite Colony, said there has been much to learn since they set up what he believes is the largest soybean crushing plant in the province. It began operating last June.
“Because we’re new, everything is a learning curve,” said Tschetter.
The plant is hazard analysis critical control point approved, so maintaining cleanliness and biosecurity is part of the job. Visitors must be restricted, despite their curiosity about the plant.
In a walk-through of the operation, Parsons points out the pit where soybeans enter and the seed cleaning plant that removes everything that isn’t a soybean.
A bin of small stones extracted from soybean loads, and another bin of canola seed, sit in the plant ready for sale so that nothing coming in is wasted.
Parsons said abrasion from soybeans has already worn out some of the auger flighting, and the owners are considering material with ceramic lining to reduce wear.
In processing, cleaned soybeans are subjected to high heat and forced through a series of worm gears to emerge as oil and meal.
After cooling, the meal goes through a hammer mill and is then stored until it is purchased.
Electronic weigh scales ensure accurate loads of feed for chickens, pigs and cattle.
“Any kind of livestock, some feedlots,” said Parsons about the soy meal destinations.
“We’re overbooked for the year.”
Buyers can purchase either full fat or meal types of feed, depending on their protein and feed energy requirements.
The plant runs 24 hours a day with four employees plus Tschetter. The constant operation is more efficient and economical than shutting down every day.
“It takes a full hour to heat them up and in that hour, any meal that goes through is kind of a waste,” said Tschetter.
Meal sitting in the system can also harden almost like concrete if there is a sudden shutdown, as Parsons said he has learned to his chagrin.
“If something breaks down, it makes a mess. I’ve never shoveled so many soybeans in my life until I came here.”
Tschetter and Parsons said the goal now is to get the plant running smoothly. With considerable stock on hand, they think there will be time to do that.
And they will smell popcorn oil while they do it.
“This smell won’t come out of your clothes when you wash them,” said Parsons.
“It doesn’t matter what you do to wash it, the smell is still there. It’s because of the oil in the air.”