Spring, always a busy time at Wintermar Farms, was especially hectic this year. The weather certainly played a role, as wet conditions hampered both their own planting schedule and the routines of their customers, eager to get seed out in their own fields. Added in to the juggling act, however, was the need to bring a new seed-treatment facility on stream.
The 8,400-square-foot expansion is the latest addition to the grain and seed-farm operation in Winterbourne. Perched at the top of the building’s 75-foot tower is seed-treating equipment capable of processing 25 tonnes of seeds every hour.
Already doing some treatment of seeds – the addition of coatings that act as insecticides or inoculants, for instance – the company needed more room for this growing segment of the business.
“We simply needed more space. We were limited in what treatments we could offer, said Craig Martin, one of five family members involved with the operation. “This is very much customer driven, allowing us to meet changing customer expectations.”
Most seed treatment products are fungicides or insecticides applied to seed before planting. Fungicides are used to control diseases of seeds and seedlings; insecticides are used to control insect pests. Some seed treatments are used in combination as fungicides and insecticides.
Treatments can be arranged in different recipes depending on farmers’ needs, essentially allowing for specialized batches in smaller quantities, he explained.
It’s certainly not the first market-driven change at Wintermar Farms.
The original operation was the growing and conditioning of crops for seed production, inspected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The crops grown there – then and now – are the seed stock for other farmers for the next year’s growing season. Under the Cribit Seeds brand, the company provides barley and oat seeds and associated mixtures. Most of that seed is sold through a regional network of dealers.
Cribit Seeds also produces, conditions and packages soybean seed for the DEKALB brand. As well, Cribit Seeds currently shares exclusive production and marketing rights to several cereal grain varieties.
Over the last number of years, the company has diversified, enhancing its relationships with area farmers by contracting them to grow cereal crops of barley, oats, wheat and rye under the Wintermar Grains brand. The whole grains are cleaned and conditioned for food and beverage industry. End uses include soups (pearl roasted barleys), beverages (toasted grains) and baking (roasted flake grains).
This foray in to food grains was another catalyst for the new expansion, allowing the company to have greater segregation between grains and the seed portion of the business by providing a separate space for treating seeds.
After concentrating on the grain markets– the last couple of additions – it was time to do something for the original seed operation, said Martin, whose father Keith and uncle Quentin Martin started the business.
“This is the first significant investment in the seed side for quite a number of years. It allows us to meet the new demands.”
And there are always new demands in the seed and grain business. Some are traditional, such as scrambling to deal with the weather at planting time, but more often it’s to do with technological advances that allow farmers to gain higher yields with greater efficiency.
Given the cost of inputs, climate concerns and a growing population, efficiency is increasingly important in food production. Farmers are looking for innovation that helps them meet that need, he said.
With the new facility, Wintermar Farms now has the space and the flexibility to prepare a variety of products, all of which can be shipped according to need: 25-kilogram bags, 1,000 kg totes or bulk loaded into trucks.
There’s also more room for storage, as space is often at a premium at peak times in particular: spring for seeds, harvest time for grains. On the food and beverage side, there’s a steady pace throughout the year to go along with the seasonal rushes that keeps 15 employees hopping much of the time.
Growth has lead Wintermar to handle some 3,000 to 4,000 tonnes of seeds each year, and about 4,000 to 5,000 tonnes of grain, more than a third of which comes from their own sources.
“When we started, we had no idea it was going to go like this,” said Martin, noting that additions are now made with future growth in mind. The new facility is joined to a building added five years ago. And if the past two decades is any indicator, more additions are likely to follow. In fact, on a smaller scale, plans are already underway on a new grain storage bin even as staff works the wrinkles out of the new seed facility.
There’s not much time for rest between planting season and the harvest these days.
“This used to be a quiet time of the year where we could do other projects and maintenance, but now there’s something pretty much all the time,” he laughed.