By Kelly Daynard for AgInnovation Ontario
When you drive into Hensall, Ontario, just off the shores of Lake Huron, the elevators at Hensall District Co-operative Inc. (HDC) are the first thing you see.
Towering over the small town, they’re an indication of the importance of the business to the rural community – but their significance is much greater than that.
HDC is one of the largest agricultural co-operatives in Ontario and a worldwide leader in the edible dry bean and food grade soybean business.
HDC’s history dates back to 1937 when a group of farmers joined together to form the “South Huron Farmers’ Co-op”.
Today, it has a membership of 5,000 and employs 500 people at 25 locations (24 in Ontario and one in Manitoba). In 2016, its sales are projected to reach $700 million.
Most of the 300,000 acres of beans grown under contract to HDC are Identity Preserved (IP) soybeans and food grade beans with significant testing and documentation done from field to the end user to protect that designation.
HDC has always had a strong commitment to innovation – both in fields and their facilities – ensuring that their farmers have the latest technology available to grow the best crops possible.
A team of 25 Field Marketers (most of them Certified Crop Advisors) are visiting farmers throughout the growing season to answer growers’ questions to make their farming enterprises more profitable.
Most of HDC’s technology uses GPS data to provide a complete reading of what’s happening in a field – including soil characteristics, insect, fungal and weed threats, and environmental pressures.
One example is a fully online field recording system called FieldTrace.
It’s a secure, web-based system that enables member farmers to link their fields to their crops and contracts, log product applications and then access that data from their computer, tablet or smart phone.
Year by year, it provides historical data as well the documentation required for IP contracts.
“Through our services, our team really wants to give our producers all of the knowledge possible about their crop management programs and farming practices to help increase their crop quality and crop yields,” said Steve Redmond, the company’s Precision Ag Specialist. “If we do that, we all come out ahead.”
In 2015, a $39 million expansion saw much of the Hensall facility and its 110,000 square foot warehouse become fully automated.
The packaging plant processes 50 metric tons per hour in totes or 2,100 bags per hour.
When a pallet is loaded, signals are sent to one of five automated guided vehicles (robots) which will pick it up, and take it to the proper warehouse location.
Even the replacement of batteries in the robots is done automatically.
Once cleaned to customer specifications and processed, the beans are shipped around the world – to 65 different countries in 2015.