When pieces of Viterra’s Arborg elevator started falling on Scott Sigvaldson’s pickup April 27 he knew the contractor hired to demolish the facility wasn’t going to stop.
“Not only did they not stop, they started right over top of me and kept going,” Sigvaldson said. “There was stuff flying everywhere. The excavator bumped into my truck, but refused to stop.”
The Arborg-area grain farmer and president of Wedge Farms Nutrition, an oat-processing firm, vowed he’d blockade the Arborg elevator to prevent, or at least delay, its demolition to protest Viterra’s refusal to sell the 23-year-old structure.
Sigvaldson said several different businesses, including his own, would have purchased the elevator built by now defunct, farmer-owned Manitoba Pool Elevators.
The same day Viterra was destroying local infrastructure it was negotiating a billion-dollar deal to buy an Australian grain company and its infrastructure.
“That, to me, is extremely ironic,” he said.
Sigvaldson has a message for the 10 other communities, including The Pas, where Viterra intends to raze its older, smaller elevators: “You better hurry up and do something or else it will be too late.”
Since Viterra flatly refuses to consider offers to purchase its elevators, opting instead to destroy them, rural municipalities should consider expropriation, said Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Ian Wishart.
“This is just a thought and it just depends on how determined the municipalities are to preserve what they have,” he said.
KAP respects property rights, which are important to its members, but there are times when expropriation is justified for the public benefit, Wishart said.
“We could end up with the really ironic situation with a rail line going through town (The Pas) to an export port and no elevator to load on and probably no siding to do producer cars either,” Wishart said.
Expropriation is controversial, but the R. M. of Kelsey is studying the idea, said Sinclair Harrison of the Hudson Bay Route Association. Harrison attended a meeting May 1 organized by the R. M. of Kelsey to discuss how to save The Pas’
“Viterra is just like any other
– IAN WISHART
elevator, which Viterra closed last fall.
The municipality has informed Viterra that it must obtain a demolition permit from the R. M. before tearing down the elevator, but Viterra hasn’t responded, Harrison said.
A Viterra official declined to comment on efforts by communities to save their elevators, but issued a statement that says in part : “Viterra is no longer offering closed elevators for sale or lease due to rising costs, safety risks and environmental liability. Viterra is concerned about the safety of individuals operating these facilities and may be liable if injuries occur.”
Meanwhile, Sigvaldson is appealing to farmers to boycott Viterra.
“You’ve got companies out there spending millions and millions of dollars to establish a corporate image,” he said. “These guys are spending money to destroy their corporate image.
“I think it’s going to look really good on a ban-ne r:Viterra destroys communities.”
Wishart isn’t sure a boycott will be effective, but agrees farmers need to send a message to Viterra and other companies that there is a price to be paid if they alienate their customers.
Although Viterra’s roots can be traced back to the farmer-owned co-operatives and United Grain Growers, the publicly traded firm now answers to shareholders, not farmers.
“Viterra is just like any other multinational now,” Wishart said.