Working together sets the Carmangay Seed Cleaning Plant apart.
Managers and staff of the Carmangay Seed Cleaning Plant, located about 60 km north of Lethbridge, count themselves lucky – they love their jobs. That may explain why turnover at the plant is rarer than a seed cleaning issue they can’t solve.
Since they opened their doors in 1959, they’ve only had five general managers. The first held the position for two decades, and the current general manager, Rod Blenkin, has been on the job for 23 years. And as he nears retirement, his son Chris is taking the reins as plant manager.
“My dad and I are a good team,” said Chris Blenkin. “He manages operations and employees and I focus on the bookwork as well as future expansion.”
With 15 years of experience at the plant, Chris Blenkin is a relative rookie; but then, he’s only 34 years old, and he likes what he sees so far.
“Our plant is the ‘Alberta advantage’ in action. Other provinces have privately-run seed plants so they charge the customer more. As a co-operative, we are here to benefit the farmer and keep their costs as low as possible.”
That has always been the goal of the Carmangay Seed Cleaning Plant, whether processing 150,000 bushels annually in 1995 or 600,000 in 2016.
Today, the bulk of their business is cleaning cereals and pulses for farmers to re-plant the following year. Most of that business comes from word-of-mouth, thanks to clients who appreciate their knowledge.
“We try and add value to a farm operation wherever we can. Our 40 years of combined experience gives us a unique viewpoint where we can clean just about anything from hemp to rice to safflower,” notes Blenkin. “We even get calls from farmers who aren’t in our area asking us to problem solve for them.”
The Royal Treatment
Not content to rest on their laurels, however, they are rapidly building the seed treatment part of the business.
“It’s a key area of growth. We used to treat 6,000 to 12,000 bushels of grain per year and we now do around 70,000, all in April and May. We wanted to find a way of assisting farmers at seeding time, so we bought a mobile seed treater and went to work. Now we’re exploring ways of boosting those numbers even more,” says Blenkin.
Part of their success stems from a commitment to always having the latest equipment and technology in their plant.
“We’re constantly modernizing to be more efficient and do a better, faster and more affordable job for the farmer. Our new mobile treater is a perfect example as it’s fully automated and provides proper application and amazing coverage at an extremely fast rate,” says Blenkin.
The automation brings error rates down from 10 per cent, which is typical in the industry, to a measly 0.5 per cent. No wonder father and son talk about embracing technology.
A Co-operative in the Truest Sense
Not only do they look ahead, they look around and gather input from many sides.
“We are currently working with our board on five- and 10-year plans and discussing a number of ideas,” notes Blenkin. “We’re also sitting down with farmers to get their opinions on where they’d like the plant to go from here. As much as we’re a seed cleaning plant, we’re really owned by the farmers and here to benefit them.”
While those plans may include a new plant at some point, they’re considering other areas where they could be of service, such as exporting and blending of seed for feed.
Their collaborative approach to planning for the future also extends to dealing with the present.
“I think one of the reasons we’ve had such continuity of staff is our board of directors,” says Blenkin. “They’re very supportive and strike a good balance, giving us the freedom to run the plant and offering plenty of guidance when it’s needed.”
The plant is a co-operative in the truest sense, in that customers have their input as well.
“Our local clients are fantastic. They’re so encouraging and really want the plant to succeed which only gives us more passion to make that happen. We’re truly here to help each other and work together,” adds Blenkin.
Their building may be long in the tooth, but there’s no shortage of youthful enthusiasm inside.
“This operation is filled with energy. We have a young board and a solid foundation backed by the Alberta Seed Processors. Most importantly, we have managers and staff who love what they do: giving farmers the best product and service they can to help them grow their business.”
When it comes to job satisfaction, this is one group that truly found its calling, and its customers are indeed lucky to deal with such a caring and enthusiastic group.