FULL OF BEANS – September 20, 2016

I sure got an eye-opener on a recent fact-finding mission from Eastern Ontario to Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show at Woodstock.

My eyes weren’t opened at the outdoor show that I bussed to with members of the Ottawa Valley Seed Growers Association which operates the Ottawa Valley Farm Show.

Just as expected, the outdoor show was informative and entertaining, with excellent displays and demonstrations. The day we were there, my pal Doug Wagner, who runs the event, was enjoying the sunny skies.

It was during a side trip to Hensall District Co-Op where my eyes were opened wide. Residing and working in the east, I hadn’t devoted too much attention to the co-operative, knowing not much more than it existed.

But then the Seed Growers decided to shift reserves accumulated over many years from farm show revenues, take them out of the security of low interest bank accounts and place them in a much higher interest agriculture-based company where, admittedly, there’s always a risk.

After some deliberation, we settled on HDC. Our choice was made easier by the fact that Hensall, for the first time, took a booth at this year’s Ottawa show, indicating an interest in doing business in the eastern reaches.

Since we were in the neighbourhood during the bus tour, why not stop by and see first-hand our investment at work?

I had figured HDC was probably an active, mid-sized operation. Then the co-op sold a surplus mill at Sebringville to Eastern Ontario’s Homestead Organics and I wondered what it had left.

As it turns out, plenty! As we learned during a briefing over Subway sandwiches in the well-appointed Hensall meeting room, there are some 25 locations spread across the west end of the province, involved in everything from edible bean marketing to retail gas sales.  There’s also an edible bean origination facility at Rignold, Manitoba, purchased in 2015 after being leased for 17 years.

We were welcomed by CEO Earl Wagner who’s been at Hensall for 50 years… 50 years! While that tour of duty suggests stability, we were to discover it in no way reflects complacency.

Wagner told us global edible bean and soybean customers have been providing HDC’s growth momentum. They’ve embraced the brand, service and product quality, allowing HDC to reinvest and expand. In recent years, co-op food grade processing capacity has grown by 100 per cent from 40 to 80 metric tonnes per hour in year-round operation.

If it felt like we’d become supporters of the largest co-op style operation in Canada, it’s because we have. Average annual sales in recent years are $600 million; profits last year were more than $11 million; also last year, more than $20 million was invested in infrastructure upgrades; and the co-op has more than 5,000 members.

And how about this tidbit: On the international front, Hensall fills half of England’s white bean demand… and the English are big bean eaters.

After a sit-down briefing, we walked the Hensall facilities which reflect constant evolution and modernization. Many recent multi-million dollar improvement projects have been completed at Hensall headquarters, including:

An 110,000 square-foot shipping warehouse for edible beans and soybeans; a packaging, palletizing and warehousing system; 20 metric tonne-per-hour food grade bean processing plant; automated guided forklifts which we saw in action; four 50 x 150-foot concrete silos; 10 additional 150 metric-tonne seed bins for a total of 50; coloured bean receiving and storage; 6,000 bushel-per-hour white bean receiving pit; installation of a third 90-foot scale; 3.5-acre truck staging area and parking lot; and 500 kw solar panel project.

New capital projects have also been completed or are underway at other sites, including a state-of-the-art propane terminal in Brussels, 28 per cent liquid fertilizer tanks in Greenway, and acquisition of Fleming Feed Mill… to name a few.

And let’s not forget HDC “sideline” Hensall Global Logistics providing freight transportation and related services to a variety of companies across six continents. All HGL shipping numbers were up last year and the highway tractor fleet was increased to 35, container chassis to 34 sets, and bulk agricultural trailers to 22.

We liked what we saw and heard… we might just put a few more bucks into HDC!

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