“Anybody I’ve talked to is very upset (about the prospect of losing the elevator). In fact, the words are as harsh as ‘it’s criminal.’”
– BILL URUSKI
Scott Sigvaldason isn’t prepared to let Arborg’s grain elevator be destroyed without a fight.
The Arborg-area grain farmer and president of Wedge Farms Nutrition, an oat-processing firm, says he and others are prepared to blockade the elevator owned by Viterra, built in 1983 by Manitoba Pool Elevators.
“We’ll take tractors and combines and put them around the elevator just to get the media attention, if nothing else,” Sigvaldason said in an interview March 23.
A number of individuals and firms want to buy the elevator to store grain, including Sigvaldason, who said he would pay $100,000 for it. But Viterra refuses to sell, even though the elevator no longer has rail service and hasn’t been used by Viterra for years.
Sigvaldason said he’s taking the fight public in hopes of shaming Viterra into doing the right thing.
“I told my kids you’ve got to stand up for what you believe in,” he said. “Farmers have not done enough in the past to save their infrastructure.”
In 1999 there were 1,004 elevators across Western Canada in 685 communities; now there are a third as many elevators in 276 communities.
Puratone has leased the Arborg elevator to store grain for its feed mill in there, but Viterra won’t renew the lease, said Fisher Branch farmer and a former provincial agriculture minister, Bill Uruski.
“Anybody I’ve talked to is very upset (about the prospect of losing the elevator),” Uruski said in an interview March 27. “In fact, the words are as harsh as ‘it’s criminal.’”
Uruski said he supports Sigvaldason’s efforts to try to save the elevator, which could be used by several local businesses, including a nearby biodiesel maker.
“I can tell you if something moves (towards demolition) in the next little while there may be a blockade,” Uruski said.
Meantime, Interlake MLA Tom Nevakshonoff said it doesn’t appear there’s any federal or provincial legislation to force Viterra to sell the elevator instead of razing it.
In an interview March 27, Nevakshonoff said Agriculture Minister Rosann Wowchuk’s office had been looking into the matter. Under the Canada Grain Act elevators are considered to be assets providing benefit to Canada. But Nevakshonoff said the legislation allows elevator owners to do what they want with them.
Both Uruski and Sigvaldason said Viterra’s dog-in-a-manger approach isn’t ingratiating Canada’s largest grain company to farmers.
“There is a lot of talk about boycotting Viterra’s operations over this,” Sigvaldason said.
It’s not that the community wants the elevator for free. By selling the facility, which includes three, 30,000-tonne steel bins, two legs and a scale, Viterra will save $70,000 in demolition costs.
“It just does not make economic and environmental sense to wreck something that is absolutely solid and probably has more than half of its life left and there’s a value to the community,” Uruski said.
Moreover, it was the loyal farmer members of Manitoba Pool Elevators that built the elevator in the first place, noted Sigvaldason.
“We certainly don’t need less ag infrastructure, we need more,” he added.
“It’s just absolutely disgusting that they are willing to destroy local infrastructure they inherited – stolen goods from a former company (Manitoba Pool).”
In an e-mail, a Viterra official said the company no longer leases or sells closed elevators “due to rising costs, safety risks and environmental liability.
“Viterra continues to carry environmental liability even after the facilities have been leased or sold.”
Uruski doesn’t buy it. There must be a way to transfer liability to a new owner, he said.
Sigvaldason said he wants to buy the elevator, but his main goal is to save it so someone can use it. Since there’s no rail service in Arborg now Viterra needn’t fear a new owner will become a competitor, he said.