Colour Sorter Saves Alberta Seed Cleaner
By Mary MacArthur, Camrose bureau
August 12, 2010
CLIVE, Alta. — A colour seed sorter has kept the Clive Seed Cleaning Coop in business, says the chair of the co-op’s board.
“We think it’s going to save our operation,” Dave Rainforth said.
“We realized it would shut down if we didn’t look for ways to improve our cash flow.”
The seed cleaning plant in Clive, northeast of Red Deer, is similar to the hundreds of plants that were once as common in small towns as grain elevators. They were built in the 1960s and 1970s as a way to encourage and help farmers clean grain for seed.
However, the amount of seed cleaned at the aging plants stagnated with the introduction of new crop varieties that must be bought new each year.
The Clive plant cleans 150,000 bushels of grain per year, down from a high of almost 300,000 bu. in 1998- 1999.
The addition of the $250,000 colour sorter in March has already increased the amount cleaned and has saved farmers thousands of dollars in dockage.
“It’ll save guys like me $100,000 a year or more,” Rainforth said recently as he unloaded a truck of moisture-damaged wheat.
He expects the computerized colour sorter will improve the grade from feed to No. 2.
Assistant plant manager Kelly Giles said he’s seen a wheat grade increase from feed to No. 1 when the ergot was removed with the help of the new system.
Another farmer, who accidentally dumped canola into a bin that contained fertilizer, was able to use the colour sorter to remove the fertilizer and make the crop acceptable at the elevator after it was initially rejected.
The sorter can remove anything that is a different colour: wheat from barley, barley from canola, ergot from wheat.
“As long as there is a colour change, we can take it out,” Rainforth said.
The board paid for the sorter and other improvements by selling 130 $2,500 shares to local farmers. Each share guarantees farmers the ability to sort and clean 10,000 bu. per year.
The plant expects to clean 800,000 bu. of grain this year because of a bigger than normal ergot problem caused by wet weather.
Rainforth said local support for the project was significant.
The county gave the plant a matching $250,000 grant and the village of Clive gave it a tax break. The plant is the village’s only industry.
Local farmers and community residents volunteered to pour cement and build a climate-controlled room for the machine.
Rainforth said the colour sorter earns farmers money by increasing their grades, while the extra revenue allows the plant to pay for repairs and upgrades as well as hire Giles as a second employee.
“The potential to make shareholder farmers money is huge and it will make us money too,” Rainforth said.
The share sale and volunteer labour have also allowed the plant to increase its elevator storage capacity to 50,000 bu. from 5,000 bu.
Rainforth said farmers will now be able to grow malting barley on wheat stubble and not worry about wheat contamination in the grain.
A camera reads colours as the grain flows down a panel and shoots out blasts of air to remove the off-colour grain.
“I’ve got it set for ergot,” Giles said as he cleaned grain.
“It’ll blast that out and usually a couple of the neighbouring pieces.”
Added Rainforth: “It’s an amazing machine.”