Bunge turns sod on expansion

Greg Vandermeulen

ALTONA - A special invitation only crowd of Bunge officials, politicians, and growers gathered under the big tent at Bunge in Altona on July 19, to celebrate the sod turning for the construction set to more than double production.

The large expansion, north of the existing facility will allow the Altona operation to increase their capacity from 1,100 metric tons per day to a projected 2,500.

Bunge will not release the cost of the upgrade, but said they would see the addition of nine employees once it is completed.

Bunge chairman and CEO Alberto Weisser said the world demand is increasing. In fact he said over the next 40 years, the world will need another 1.7 billion tons of grain. They produce 2.5 billion tons right now. However, the land used for farming will only be able to expand by 10 per cent.

Bunge was founded in 1818, and has 32,000 employees in 30 countries.

Altona is a good place to expand, according to Weisser. "From a logistics point of view, this is an excellent location."

Weisser told the special guests that global demand for canola oil is up 85 per cent. He also gave credit to local producers. "There are few regions where agriculture is as vibrant as it is here," he said.

At the same time, he said this expansion is just the tip of the iceberg. "Altona is just the first step that will touch all four western plants," he said.

Bunge North America CEO Soren Schroder said this is the first of four crushing plants in western Canada to be overhauled.

"Our history here has been very good," he said. "We're in an area where farmers like to grow the crop. This is a perfect location for feeding the U.S. market."

Although the canola oil is used to feed people across North America, the meal is also in use as cattle feed by dairy farmers in Wisconsin.

Schroder said the Altona location was the logical place to start such an expansion. "We've got a very good work ethic and safety record," he said. "The history here has been very good."

When the crushing operation moves north to the new facility, the current plant will be used as a grain handling operation.

"We set very high standards for ourselves," Schroder said. "(Altona) has earned the right to grow, the right to expand."

Portage-Lisgar MP Candice Hoeppner said residents had their municipal officials to thank for pushing the paving of 14th Ave, a project that didn't quite fit into the infrastructure funding guidelines announced by the federal government. The money was found, which ultimately allowed Bunge to expand. "Your community leaders did not give up," she said. "I just want to thank you for the tenacity."

Minister of Agriculture, Stan Struthers said the project demonstrated how everyone can accomplish things when they work together. "I'm really proud of the way our two governments and the local governments worked together," he said.

Mayor Mel Klassen recognized the importance of having a strong agricultural sector. "Our town relies heavily on the success of our farmers," he said.