Planned expansion and upgrades to Richardson’s canola processing plant in Lethbridge came as welcome news for southern Alberta farmers.
The company announced $120 million worth of upgrades to the plant Aug. 17. The upgrades, which are now underway, are designed to improve seed receiving and in-crease crush capacity.
The plant now processes 450,000 tonnes of canola a year, taking seed from processing and oil refining through to the packaging of oil and margarine. It expects to crush more than 700,000 tonnes a year after the project is completed.
“Increasing the speed of the receiving plant is a top priority for us to better serve our customers, providing them with the ability to deliver their seed quickly and efficiently,” Darwin Sobkow, Richardson executive vice-president of agribusiness and processing operations, said in a news release.
It comes as welcome news to Kevin Serfas, a regional director with the Alberta Canola Producers Commission who farms thousands of acres in southern Alberta.
Serfas said he stopped delivering to Richardson in recent years because the wait times for unloading seed could be long.
“Any upgrades on the receiving side, they could do no wrong,” Serfas said upon hearing news of pending improvements to the plant’s delivery system.
“You’d show up for your delivery window and you’d sit for four hours, even though you had a slotted time,” he said.
“Any upgrade on that side of the operation would be welcome.”
Quicker unloading is indeed one goal of the current project, said Tracy Shelton, director of corporate communications at Richardson. Construction of a seed receiving elevator is already under way at the plant.
“That’s one of the things that our customers look for, is a quick turn around,” said Shelton.
“We’ve all heard about lineups, especially at peak times. That’s one of our top priorities is to ensure that our customers can deliver and get in and out.”
According to the Richardson news release, the expanded plant will be able to receive 800 tonnes of canola per hour. Improvements will be done in time for harvest next year with the rest of the changes slated to be done by 2018.
The plant installed new processing equipment last year that essentially doubled its refining capacity and expects to process more than 2,000 tonnes of canola per day once the upgrades announced last week are complete.
Shelton said the Richardson canola crushing plant in Yorkton, Sask., which opened in 2010, set a standard to be met in Lethbridge.
“We’re really trying to bring the Lethbridge plant up in terms of increased efficiency and upgrades to it,” she said.
“We’re definitely invested in the community of Lethbridge and we want to modernize the facility and increase our capacity to crush canola in Lethbridge as we do in Yorkton.
“It’s a matter of bringing the facility in line with what we’ve created at Yorkton and being able to maximize our efficiency at both plants.”
Alberta farmers planted 5.8 million acres of canola this year, according to Statistics Canada. Lethbridge processing plants draw canola from across the southern part of the province and southern Saskatchewan.