It’s good to come in from the cold. A steady buzz of voices greets us. Men and women stand together in comfortable groups, cocktails in their hands, catching up on the latest news after a long busy harvest season. Delicious aromas of roast beef and fried chicken waft through the room. The 10th annual meeting of the Westlock Terminals NGC is an opportunity to visit over a delicious supper, the proceeds of which will to go STARS air ambulance.
It’s easy to celebrate. Last November I wrote about the pride the county and town of Westlock rightly feel in their elevator. This is one of those success stories I love to write about. “It’s beyond our wildest dreams,” Dave Felstad , past president and one of the key founding members, said. The first board dreamed of one day handling 160,000 tonnes of grain per year. Last year the elevator moved 217,000 tonnes of grain, a feat those first members never dreamed possible. The terminal anticipates delivering that or more this coming year.
Part of the success is due to the diligence and hard work of the staff and board members to turn this farmer and community owned elevator from a small business into a multimillion dollar company. They’ve worked hard to build up a thriving feed grain business with the lower mainland of British Columbia. Increasing their capacity to load railcars faster and more efficiently has added to the bottom line. They’re looking to own their own fleet of cars in the near future.
Adding to their success is the demise of the local elevators in the surrounding area, especially to the north of Westlock. There isn’t another elevator for a long ways north, into the Peace Country. I find it interesting that the terminal has made an agreement with the owners of the nearby still operational Dapp Elevator (sold by Agricore United to private farmers) to load trucks and some small rail shipments from there. It’s frustrating to think of how many elevators were levelled to the ground that could still be used in these ways; that farmers fought to get control of and lost to a huge corporation’s politics.
In his report, the plant manager, Cliff Bell, talked of western Canada’s dance with the Canadian Wheat Board. The uncertainty of the CWB’s future is a challenge for businesses like the terminal. They are negotiating with all parties to make sure grain will be moved when it is time.
The terminal has had its challenges too of course. Growth brings its own problems. New storage facilities weren’t ready when the harvest was. Farmers had to be patient, and couldn’t deliver when they wanted, or unloading was cumbersome for awhile. They had to let a major staff member go. There were some lean years with small crops, because of drought.
Cliff Bell tells us they were so successful because “customers and members delivered grain when we needed it.” If no grain comes, there is no business. But if the business is bad, no grain comes. So it is a reciprocal relationship. A very successful one, in this case, so congratulations are due to both farmers and terminal staff.