A tough harvest meant plenty of demand for used grain dryers in Manitoba this fall, but A.R.K. New-Tech Ltd. wasn’t selling.
At least, it wasn’t selling in Manitoba.
Adrien Caillier, president of the Manitou company, says they have stepped back from selling used grain dryers in their home province, although they are more than happy to sell those same machines farther west or into eastern Ontario, where regulations are easier to navigate.
Why it matters: Critics argue that Manitoba is one of the most unfriendly provinces when it comes to used grain dryers, and the issue has come to a head this year as producers scramble for storage solutions with tough grain.
The story illustrates what has become a common perception for Manitoba farmers; particularly those with their own used grain dryer stories. It is often difficult to get a used grain dryer past inspection without prohibitive cost, those critics argue, and now some of them are pushing for change.
The regulations themselves are not the problem, according to Caillier and, in fact, he argues there is very little difference between regulations in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Both provinces use the Canadian Standards Association guidelines and dryers are expected to meet the CSA 3.8 standard, officials from both provinces have confirmed.
Instead, Caillier blames the interpretation of those regulations, as well as what he describes as a lack of collaboration between the farm level and inspectors in the leadup to the inspection.
“We don’t get a clearcut plan on what we have to do to it to meet their interpretation of what this final product should look like,” Caillier said. “In Saskatchewan or Alberta or any of the other ones, we sit down with their inspector and say, ‘This is what we’ve got. This is the layout. This is the wiring diagram and everything else. What do we need to do to get this thing to pass?’ and then they give us a recommendation, we do it, and then the unit is passed. In Manitoba, we have no clue what this end result will be until after the inspection.”
The result, Caillier argues, is cost, delay and often frustration from the farmer, who has gone through the effort to set up the dryer, only to suddenly have to backtrack.
Post-inspection changes may double, or over double, the dryer’s price tag, Caillier added, a challenge for those buying used equipment because it is all they can afford.
Scott Rempel says he became more than familiar with Caillier’s described communication breakdown in 2009, when he bought a used grain dryer and attempted to fit it for natural gas.
Rempel, who farms in the RM of Hanover, says he contacted the Office of the Fire Commissioner prior to hooking up the dryer and set up his equipment to mimic one of his neighbours, who operated the same model. Also a journeyman electrician, he was surprised when the inspector arrived with a long list of changes to bring the dryer up to code, despite consulting with both his equipment dealer and the Office of the Fire Commissioner beforehand.
“Within 30 seconds, I knew my dryer wasn’t going to get certified,” he said, recalling the strained interaction.
“That Office of the Fire Commissioner has so much power, they don’t need a real reason to shut you down. That’s the scary part,” he later added.
In the end, it cost Rempel an extra $5,000 and a month and a half delay to start up his dryer, although he had started the process in summer and so didn’t lose any drying time.
Things may have changed since then, Rempel later admitted, describing his farm as one of the first guinea pigs in a regulatory crackdown from the OFC.
Rempel replaced his dryer again in 2015, this time to a new system, and faced far fewer issues.
“I can see where guys are upset about buying used dryers in this province,” he said. “Even my dryer right now, if I were to sell it to the neighbour half a mile away, he would have to get it all reinspected, which should not be a big deal because it has gone through the inspection process, but if you’ve got an older dryer prior to 2013 or even 2000, you’re going to drag that thing home; you’re in for a world of hurt because there is no such thing as just plug and play.”
The Office of the Fire Commissioner did not provide an inspector for an interview, despite multiple requests.
“We recognize there have been some challenges getting grain dryers up and running, and the Office of the Fire Commissioner is working to help address the situation in an urgent manner,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “Staff are working to keep up with demand so that producers can put their equipment into use as soon as possible, and the priority remains ensuring the safe operation of equipment.”
Blaine Pedersen, minister of growth, enterprise and trade (and the provincial minister responsible for the Office of the Fire Commissioner), later echoed the statement.
“Our goal is to strike a healthy balance in the application of governing codes and standards, while increasing effectiveness and eliminating unnecessary obstacles for our clients,” an emailed statement said. “We will continue to work with and learn from our clients, manufacturers, installers, and other authorities to review best practice and continuously improve our processes.”
The Office of the Fire Commissioner was slated to meet with the Propane Technical Committee Nov. 1 and “is currently in contact with authorities in other provinces to review application of code and standards in their jurisdictions,” the statement went on.
Across the line
Like Manitoba, Saskatchewan requires field approval for a dryer without CSA 3.8 certification. Without that certification mark, SaskPower requires a drawing review of the equipment and its assembly, as well as a site visit from an inspector.
“The field approval process is repeated each time a non-certified grain dryer is relocated, whether or not it changes ownership or province,” SaskPower gas inspector Brent Desroches said, adding that there is an added fee for the field approval process.
It’s much the same in Manitoba.
Both Saskatchewan and Manitoba have added requirements if the dryer is being converted to a different fuel.
In Manitoba, the Office of the Fire Commissioner warns that a CSA 3.8 label might not hold if the dryer has been significantly altered or converted without a certified manufacturer’s kit, and the dryer may need to be recertified.
Likewise, SaskPower requires a field approval if a dryer is switching fuels, and Desroches says that timeline may vary if the valve train needs to be changed.
The Office of the Fire Commissioner estimates that it will take two weeks to install a CSA 3.8 certified dryer and four weeks if a dryer is uncertified.
Setting up a used grain dryer is a “fairly simple task” in Saskatchewan, assuming it is in good condition and is not being converted to a new fuel source, Desroches said.
“Periodically some controls and safeties fail either from wear due to age and weather, due to rodent or other physical damage, or due to the rigours of transportation,” he said. “Depending upon the age of the equipment, these parts can typically be sourced from the vendor in a timely manner.”
Farmer seeks change
Andrew Dalgarno of Newdale had a far more recent run-in with the regulations than Rempel.
Dalgarno was one of many farmers hit with harvest delays this year after an abrupt cold front moved into the province in September. As of October, the farmer reported only 15 per cent of his crop was in the bin.
Dalgarno had hoped that a used Vertec dryer would be the solution for his tough grain, but eventually soured on the sale. A call to his local gas fitter revealed that the cost of setting up the used equipment would be as much or more expensive than a new dryer, he said, and that certifying the old machine would cross a line of hurdles, such as factory stands that, since they were not available for the old machine, would have to be custom designed by an engineer.
The frustrated Dalgarno wrote to the province, pushing for changes to grandfather in old grain dryer systems and streamline existing regulations, as well as recognize a difference in safety standard between grain dryers and other industrial furnaces.
The Office of the Fire Commissioner has since reached out, he said, although he has not found time to return the message.
He has also got an email reiterating the regulatory requirements in Manitoba and linking to the online grain dryer guide, he said.
“They really haven’t done anything yet and that’s the biggest problem,” he said. “I still don’t see why the dryers can’t be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. That seemed to be perfectly sufficient 10 years ago, 20 years ago. The dryers themselves haven’t changed any.”