The Plant Upgrade of the Century for the Town of Three Hills

by | Sep 22, 2022 | Seed Plant

The Three Hills and District Seed Cleaning Plant has operated since the ‘50s, with a new upgrade on the horizon.

Having been in operation since the 1990s, a major plant upgrade to the Three Hills and District Seed Cleaning Plant is overdue. The original plant, located in Three Hills, Alta. was built back in the ‘50s, with a rebuild in 1990, making today’s plant 32 years old.

“The original plant was a little wooden clap built back in the ‘50s. Very, very small. It was adequate at the time, but then as everything gets bigger and out of date, it made it tough to get the bigger trucks in that were starting to show up,” says Greg Andrews, manager of Three Hills and District Seed Cleaning Plant, in a phone interview with the Alberta Seed Guide (ASG).

Greg Andrews, manager of Three Hills and District Seed Cleaning Plant

With the loss of the local elevator over 20 years ago, Three Hills has some of the bigger terminals in the area, but the seed plant provides farmers with a great drop in spot for coffee and information sharing.

The plant offers seed cleaning, dockage removals, export work and seed treating and packaging. Three Hills Seed Plant has always helped facilitate the beginning of the seed cleaning process by sending samples to testing labs to be examined for the the quality of the seed.

“I think the biggest success is that we’re one of the top handling plants in our association in Alberta. It’s always been something to be proud of and work towards for sure,” Andrews says.

Andrews and his team are no strangers to hard work, as their plant runs from harvest time on, 24 hours, five days a week. During the busiest times of the season, the team will work six days a week to ensure the quality and efficiency of the plant. Three Hills Seed Plant cleans 1.5 million to two million bushels of seed annually, depending on the type of season and year. Andrews and his five employees — Stuart Parlane, Mitch McRea, Kyle Painter, Zach Painter, and office manager Amanda Richards — make up the mighty team, all of them locals.

Mitch McRea, Three Hills and District Seed Cleaning Plant employee

“I always say born and raised, and I’m going to die here. I farm southeast of town. I grew up on the family farm. I’ve been here for 35 years, so it’s just always been my life,” says Andrews.

While Three Hills Seed Plant has shown great success in the community, all plants face obstacles that managers must overcome.

“One of the biggest challenges are all of the rules and regulations. Things are always getting more regulated as we go through the years, so just keeping up with that is a full-time job,” Andrews explains.

The Upgrade

Over the years, the plant has made some updates to its chemical storage room, seed treater and has added a colour sorter. Despite the smaller improvements, Andrews and the board of Three Hills Seed Plant realized it was time for a larger-scale upgrade.

The upgrade will be done within the current building, with all the cleaning machines replaced, doubling the handling capacity of the existing system.

Andrews’ core mission is “to offer the most efficient service, to get things done and have everybody ready for springtime.” The new upgrade aligns well with his goals, as he believes the age of the plant and some of its internal workings could use a revamp.

“We’re doing this upgrade to be higher capacity and more efficient. Hopefully, that will make things a little smoother as we go ahead. Farming gets bigger and the size of the job gets bigger, so being to put seed through in a more efficient manner,” he explains.

With the upgrade, Andrews expects the plant will be able to process 1,000 bushels, or 27 metric tons, an hour.

It Takes a Village

A large-scale upgrade requires support from the board, which was offered full heartedly, according to James Christie, chairman of the board.

Christie’s passion for the agriculture industry began at a very young age. He grew up on his family farm, Arns Brae Farms, located in Trochu, Alta. His family grows canola, wheat, barley, peas and flax on their 4,500 acres.

Christie joined the board for Three Hills Seed Plant close to 12 years ago, and now acts as the chairman. He chose to work with Three Hills not only because of its close proximity to his family farm, but also because of its great reputation in the area.

“We have a strong cooperative. It’s a strong cooperative seed plant versus some other that are a little bit further away. Three Hills has a really good reputation of being proactive,” explains Christie in a phone interview with ASG.

While there are other plants in the area that he could have joined the boards of, he believes Three Hills Seed Plant’s willingness to reinvest sets them apart.

His main goal as the chairman of the board is “to keep dialogue open for our board members. We have a really young, progressive board. And with Greg, we have a strong general manager. So, we don’t actively manage day to day by any means, but we can provide vision, strategic planning and some governance structure.”

The current Three Hills and District Seed Cleaning Plant in Three Hill, Alta. was built in 1990. Photo: Three Hills and District Seed Cleaning Plant

Christie shares the same belief as Andrews that the current plant was adequate, but it needed something that was easier for them to offer greater services to their shareholders. The upgrade is not a new idea and is one the board has been considering for quite some time.

“It’s been on the burner for about three years. We sat down about a year ago now and did some strategic planning,” says Christie. “We looked at where our fiscal position was with the current world affairs. It’s never been cheaper to do it tomorrow. We’d been planning to do some upgrading and had a board that was aligned on where we wanted to go.”

The board is funding the project through long-term savings.

“Before, our plant was running 24-7, 300 days a year. Now, we’re hoping to shorten those days a little bit. Also, on some of the turnout, we’re going to be able to unload trucks twice as fast. Just valuing the time of our shareholders more than anything. We should be able to deal with things in a bit more timely fashion and we should be able to value their time a bit better,” Christie explains.

The upgrade is a two-phase project.

“Phase one was to double the capacity. During phase two, we’re going to add some more storage to allow for larger lot sizes. This will mitigate some risks in dealing with larger pedigree lot sizes,” he says.

The plant has always been a consistent employer for the community, and the upgrade will solidify its role even more, believes Christie.

“No matter what kind of economic reality either ag or the world is going through, we’re very consistent and steady,” he concludes.

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