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Thursday, November 28, 2013

A tour of the Pincher Creek Seed Cleaning Plant

Pincher Creek Seed Cleaning Plant

Chris Davis, Pincher Creek Voice


  • New color sorter in the works


Pincher Creek Seed Cleaning Co-op (PCSCC) Chairman Leonard McGlynn recently took me on a tour of the seed cleaning plant, which is located at Pincher Station. It was opened February 2, 1989 and currently serves "65 big users and 197 members" according to McGlynn.

Pincher Creek Seed Cleaning Co-op Chairman Leonard McGlynn

"The seed plant cleans grain for the farmers to put it to standard to put in the ground free of weeds and contaminants," McGlynn explained.  Seed plant employee Bud van Kommer demonstrated the apparatus for me, including the air screening machine, which separates out rocks, dust, weeds, wild oats, ergot, and smaller seeds that are less likely to produce well, leaving behind the good seed which is then returned to the farmers for sowing. The plant is open 5 days a week for about 10 hours a day.

The first thing I noticed on entering the plant was how clean it is.  Every surface gleams.

Plastic containers with before and after sorting samples are kept for two years for the customers and for insurance reasons.

Screener
McGlynn explained it is particularly important to eliminate ergot from the mix, as it is a poisonous fungal spore which in even small quantities can be deadly to some small animals and is also quite unhealthy for humans and livestock.  "A kernel of ergot will kill a chicken," McGlynn said.

sorter
Ergotism is the technical term for poisoning by this spore, but it is perhaps better known as "St. Anthony's Fire", a name it picked up from its association with the Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony, according to Wikipedia.

The Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony, an order of monks established in 1095, specialized in treating ergotism victims[10] with balms containing tranquilizing and circulation-stimulating plant extracts. The common name for ergotism is "St. Anthony's Fire",[10] in reference to this order of monks and the severe burning sensations in the limbs which was one of the symptoms. [11] These are caused by effects of ergot alkaloids on the vascular system due to vasoconstriction, sometimes leading to gangrene and loss of limbs due to severely restricted blood circulation. ~ Wikipedia

Nasty stuff, ergot.

"It comes from the grasses in the headlands," McGlynn explained  "It sets in the blooms of grain."  The spores can be up to twice the size of the bloom, and it flourishes during wet years.

PCSCC is planning to add a color sorter to their operation in the near future.  To that end McGlynn acted as a delegation to the council for the MD of Pincher Creek No. 9 on October 8 of this year for funding assistance.  At their November 26 meeting council approved a $6431.43 contribution toward the colour sorter purchase.  PCSCC is now looking at various options, weighing the cost of various machines against projected maintenance and repair costs, which can be seriously affected by the distance a repair person has to travel.  The colour sorter is expected to cost somewhere between $130,000 and $381,000.  To install it PCSCC will have to construct an insulated building within their existing structure.

"The color sorter takes out different varieties of diseases with different colors," explained McGlynn. "One big purpose is to take ergot out of wheat and barley and it will also take barley out of wheat or wheat out of barley. We have been talking about getting one of these sorters for a few years and we will fund it by asking the farmer's to put in a dollar an acre or their seeded acres.  The seed plant has some reserves and we are going to go to the MD and ask them if they would give us some funding for capital purchase. At that time, if we don't have enough money we will go out and borrow."

We had the above discussion a day before MD council approved the aforementioned funding.

uncleaned seed
Pincher Creek Seed Cleaning Co-op held their Annual General Meeting on November 12, which was much better attended than in other recent years.  "This year Eileen (Eileen McGlynn, Leonard's wife) phoned everybody that cleaned grain in the past year and we  got about 25 people at our annual AGM which is a big step-up from the last 2 years when they only had the board there.   We serve 65 ranchers and farmer's around here.   A lot of that land has been amalgamated with other farms has been rented out,  so some of the original shareholders are deceased or not farming anymore."

"There used to be a small plant in Cowley which burned down and was run by Roy Smyth for years.   Then there was a scalper in the elevator in Brocket that took the rocks and straws out. It wouldn't take oats out or small grain."

collection of differently spaced sorting screens
"The problem with small grain is that it's not as viable, it doesn't germinate as good as the big stuff," explained plant manager Kevin Schmaltz.  "When you get wet weather it just doesn't have enough meat in the kernel. It like a human being, if you're skinny and scrawny you get sick easier. If there are rocks in the grain, it's hard on the machine.  There are no rocks that come out of this equipment. If there is anything big that goes into the machine it's out before it comes out of the machine.  You would be surprised at how big some of the rocks are that come in here."

According to McGlynn the seed cleaning plant clears about 400 to 500 bushels an hour, "up to 600 if it's not too bad".  There's room to hold 5000 bushels of cleaned seed and 4500 bushels of uncleaned seed.

weigh scale
There's a large weigh scale on the west side of the seed cleaning plant which can accommodate Super-B trucks.  Nearby business McCrae Holdings Fertilizer paid half the expense of that installation and the two entities share the use of it.

A major benefit of the seed cleaning plant to the wider community is the amount of weeds it removes from the ecosystem.

McGlynn expressed the hope that younger farmers will step up to become PCSCC board members in the future.

employee Bud van Kommer

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