CLARESHOLM, Alta. — It stands in plain sight along Highway 2 south of Claresholm, but the existence of Western Soybean Co. does not seem well known among Alberta farmers.
Owned by the Granum Hutterite Colony, the facility has been buying soybeans, crushing them and selling the meal since June 2015.
Joel Tschetter, a part owner of the plant along with his Hutterian brethren, is the point man for inquiries. He said building the plant in 2015 proved to be good timing, when the Canadian dollar was high and U.S. goods needed to build the operation were cheaper.
“Since our dollar has gone lower, it’s getting tougher for sure,” he said.
“But we can’t complain. Business has been really good, as good as we expected.”
Alberta grows few soybeans. There were about 6,000 acres last year, but that is small compared to Manitoba, the soybean heavyweight in Western Canada.
In fact, most of the soybeans crushed at Western Soybean come from Manitoba, with some from Saskatchewan and very few from Alberta.
Tschetter said the Granum colony has always used soy for its chicken and hog feed, as do other farms in the region. A few years ago, colony members started pondering their own soybean venture.
“At the time, the big thing was crushing canola,” he said.
“Everybody you talked to was going in and crushing canola. And we got to thinking, we ourselves, we have chickens. We have pigs. And instead of growing canola, why don’t we try something else? And because we ourselves use a lot of soy and neighbouring farmers use a lot of soy, we decided, why don’t we? But we did a year and a half of research before we decided.”
Patrick Fabian of Tilley, Alta., applauded the colony for building the plant. He operates Fabian Seed Farms and has promoted expansion of Alberta soybean acres for years.
“These guys can see the potential that Alberta has with the crop, and consequently, to make that kind of investment, anticipating the expected growth, I think is nothing short of visionary.”
Western Soybean is likely the largest soybean crushing plant in the province, but it is not alone. Apex Nutri-Solutions near Edberg, Alta., also crushes them.
Fabian said he hopes the existence of a southern Alberta plant as another buyer, combined with new varieties, will encourage farmers to plant more soybeans.
“Our challenge right now, as it always has been, (is) right now the area of adaptation is in irrigation and the difficulty with that is having to compete with high value crops like potatoes, sugar beets, seed canola, alfalfa seed and that kind of a thing,” said Fabian.
“It really restricts the amount of involvement that there is with soybean production.”
However, there are now maturity group “triple zero” short season varieties that better suit Canada’s climate. As well, Monsanto has recently released Xtend soybeans that are tolerant to glyphosate and dicamba, which Fabian said dramatically improves weed control options.
These latest developments could allow soybeans to be grown successfully north of the Trans-Canada Highway on dry land acres in a shorter growing season.
“We are going to be trialing several 10 and 20 acre plots throughout the whole entire province to see the areas of adaptability for soybeans using this new triple zero platform,” said Fabian.
“We could see up to a quarter million acres within four years in Alberta (if the project is successful),” he said.
“We’re guardedly optimistic that these triple zeros will usher in a new era for soybean production.”
Tschetter said more Alberta soybeans would work out well for Western Soybean. Buying in Alberta would reduce freight costs and lower the price of meal.
He said the colony finds soybeans in rotation reduces fertilizer costs.
“The meal, of course, goes into the feed. Both meal and oil go into the feed market, and this meal in the poultry and dairy, it just shines. It shines because of the high energy in it,” said Tschetter.
The crushing plant can process eight tons per hour and run 24 hours a day. It is estimated the plant would need 54,000 acres of soybeans to meet that capacity.
Marketplace Commodities of Lethbridge is managing the marketing for Western Soybean, said Tschetter.