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Hamilton Economic Development

Agribusiness is big business

Touring the grain handling facilites at Port of Hamilton was an eye-opening experience for Dan Inksetter of Ancaster.Somewhere between the fields of his family’s Ancaster hobby farm and the shelves of his local grocery store, Dan Inksetter lost sight of what happens to the corn and soybeans they grow.

What happens, it turns out, is their grain becomes part of a multibillion dollar value chain connecting businesses across the country and around the world — with Hamilton as a key link.

Inksetter was part of a group of 30 young members of Grain Farmers of Ontario who toured grain handling facilities at the Port of Hamilton recently as part of a leadership development program.

During the three-day program they visited grain processing and handling facilities across the province, including the Richardson International grain terminal in Hamilton.

The recently expanded Richardson plant is a trans-shipment point for grain moving along the chain. Every day trucks rumble into the Eastport Drive terminal loaded with grain from Ontario farms which is dumped into a pit and then elevated onto a ship for movement to anywhere in the world.

“Where it goes from the grain elevator is really interesting,” Inksetter said. “It’s eye opening.”

Getting more eyes open to how food moves from the farm gate to their dinner plate has become a priority for Canada’s agricultural sector — only about 2 per cent of the country’s population is actively involved in growing the country’s food supply.

McKenna Roth, communications co-ordinator of Grain Farmers of Ontario, said even within the industry there’s a growing need to connect segments of the business with each other.

“So much of what we do now is specialty that people aren’t connected to other aspects of the business,” she said.

Just within Ontario, Roth said, grain production occupies 28,000 farmers working 5 million acres creating $9 billion of economic activity that stretches from farms to fuel refineries, to bakeries, flour mills, cattle and chicken farms, and many other activities.

In what used to be known as The Steel City, agriculture is big business and it’s getting bigger — Hamilton farmers brought in gross receipts of $224.8 million in 2008 according to a sector profile prepared by the city.

In a piece written for The Spectator’s Hamilton Business Magazine in July, economic development director Neil Everson put that value at $1.3 billion and accounts for about 4 per cent of the city’s employment, the bulk of it, 6,000 employees, in manufacturing and distribution.

Grain, wheat, corn, soy beans, rye and other crops feed 50 food processing plants in the city including companies such as Bunge (edible oils), Canada Bread (North America’s largest commercial bakery), Cadbury and Karma Candy and Oak Run Farm Bakeries. Also, considering most of the grain grown here actually goes for animal feed, it’s important to the work of Salerno Dairies and Maple Leaf Foods’ 500,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art meat-processing facility building built on the east Mountain.

On the transportation side there are also companies like Parrish and Heimbecker, Richardson International, Sylvite Agri Services and Westway Terminal and Feed Products.

That’s only a slice of the 190 companies employing more than 8,700 people in the city’s agribusiness cluster.

Richardson, which the Grain Farmers of Ontario group toured, has been one of the sector’s leaders in recent years. In 2008 and 2011 the company invested millions of dollars to expand its Hamilton capacity by more than 50 per cent.

Grain transportation is also becoming an important business for the Hamilton Port Authority as it moves through an aggressive drive to attract $500 million in new investment by 2020. The drive, started in 2010, was conceived as a way of weaning the port from its reliance on steel industry traffic.

Steel and steel-related cargo remains the port’s largest single sector of business, but it’s not a growing segment. Grain shipments, however, have grown more than 35 per cent since 2008. Non-steel cargo now accounts for a third of the port’s tonnage. The initiative is already more than half way to its goal.

Investments by Richardson and the grain handling firm of Parrish and Heimbecker have been important parts of that growth. Parrish and Heimbecker spent more than $30 million to inflate two storage bubbles at the foot of Wentworth Street to hold 56,000 tonnes of grain.

The Port of Hamilton handles about 1.5 million tonnes of grain a year.

Article courtesy of Steve Arnold , The Hamilton Spectator.

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