Ceres Northgate operations carefully ramping up

Traffic is steadily increasing at the Ceres Global Ag Corp’s Northgate Logistics Centre.

Company officials informed the Mercury this past week that weekly grain shipments continue to leave the centre en route to American markets.

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The first grain shipment from the new centre went south in early January after U.S. customs officials arranged to position an office right on site to check the outgoing loads in an efficient manner. 

“The trains are usually 60 to 80 cars on a weekly basis,” said Chantel Pryce, an administrative assistant for the company, who was attending a recent job fair in Estevan in a bid to hire more employees for the busy hub.

Curt Larson, the company’s general manager for the Northgate operations, added that until the company’s 2.2 million bushel grain elevator is constructed, they will have to limit their loading pace. Once it is completed, they will be able to accommodate larger volumes at a quicker pace.

The company has already added a steel storage bin that will add 430,000 bushels to their handling capacity. It will be dedicated to such things as soybeans and canola and, will lift the total capacity to 2.7 million bushels once the elevator is completed next spring.

“It’s mostly grain so far. There are some oilseeds,” said Larson, commenting on the type of product moving directly from Canada to the company’s sister grain handling facility, Riverland Ag. in Minneapolis and from there, to various mills and markets across the United States and abroad.

The bin will be integrated into the design of the high speed grain elevator.

“The expansion will translate into diversifying our grain handling and storage capabilities at Northgate,” said president and CEO Patrick Bracken. “We anticipate the build-out for additional grain and oilseed products could also introduce the potential for margin enhancement within our trading and merchandising operations.”  

The company is served by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway with the rail company having a direct line into the Northgate facility with recently built tracks.

The companies have also completed another parallel track that will eventually handle oil shipments from southeast Saskatchewan directly to American markets via BNSF.

Right now, however, Ceres Global is shipping tanker cars of propane gas from nearby gas plants, to the United States.

Eventually, there will be reciprocal shipments moving south to north, probably carrying fertilizers or oil industry input materials, said Larson.

“We have the steel tank up now to facilitate the grain loading. They’ll begin pouring the elevator’s concrete by the end of May. We have about 50 people on the construction team out here now, and everything is on budget and on schedule,” said Larson, referring to the $90 million project.

The manager said once the dual facility reaches full operational mode, the company should have about 20 people fully employed, about double the current employee base.

“Housing is becoming less of an issue we’re discovering. We’re hiring mostly local people who already have homes in Estevan or Oxbow or nearby. I’m living right in Northgate, on site myself,” said Larson.

Once the company starts loading and shipping oil products, Larson said he expected they’ll keep it simple and safe.

“But the tracks are ready, so we can accommodate both products if we needed to,” he said.

“The oil industry around here may have slowed down a bit, but it certainly didn’t stop and transloading is simple, depending on how you want to ship it, but we’ll be doing it the safe and simple way for sure.”

Larson said the propane shipment contracts are in their infancy, but so far, everything has gone well with the tanker cars going out of the Northgate hub according to plan and on schedule along with the weekly grain shipments.

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