Diversification helps Wool Growers weather 100 years
By Tom Van Dusen
July 10, 2018 OntarioFarmer.com
Carleton Place – When Canadian Cooperative Wool Growers General Manager Eric Bjergso is asked how business today compares to what it was 100 years ago, he has no trouble answering.
That was the heyday of the Canadian raw wool industry. By the mid-70s when Bjergso came on board, wool collection, grading and processing had dropped to about 1.5 million pounds. In recent years, with changes in consumer tastes and more attractive prices, that number has rebounded to close to three million pounds.
But the really impressive figures are at the retail end. From that early shepherd’s supplies line item, retailing has climbed to $7 million on total annual revenues of just over $10 million. It’s all about diversification, Bjergso explains.
The CCWG complex is a study in contrasts. In one large section, large sacks of raw wool are stacked in gloomy surroundings which would fit comfort- ably into Dickens England. Other sections contain a wool store and livestock equipment retailing as bright and inviting as any you’re likely to see. In between is a warren of administration offices.
Celebrating its 100th anniversary mostly during its annual meeting and banquet to be held at nearby Almonte Oct. 18-20, the coop was founded as a mechanism for paying all members the same price for their raw product no matter size of the wool clip, the time of year received, or distance travelled to the Carleton Place facility acquired in 1940.
‘’The place was a mess, ‘’ Bjergso observed. ‘’Tracks, turntable,
steel wheels… anything and everything needed for train repair could
be found in the building.’’ On the positive side, scrap iron was
much in demand at the beginning of WWII and what might have been a
liability was turned into an asset.
On the CPR mainline, Carleton Place was ideally located to handle wool from the west and ship it via Montreal to points in Europe as well as across Canada. Originally with warehouses in Weston and offices in Toronto, by 1972 the entire CCWG operation had been moved to Carleton Place. Coop administration is housed a section of the building which once served as storage and boiler room for the CPR.
Raw wool is graded according to fibre diameter and length, amount of grease and foreign matter. After grading as fine, medium and coarse, wool is shipped out in compact bales, with 90 per cent exported out of Canada. China is a major buyer.
Together with livestock supplies sold in Carleton Place and at
outlets in Lethbridge, St. Jacob’s, Cookstown and Saint-Hyacinthe,
retailing now makes up about 60 per cent of CCWG annual sales.
‘’With the drop in wool processing in the ‘70s, we knew we had to
diversify and we’ve done a pretty good job of it,’’ Bjergso
There’s much to celebrate and as part of the festivities, CCWG is developing a 100th banner. In addition, the milestone was recognized at the Lambs Down Park Festival June 16, an annual family day held on the coop grounds, and will be acknowledged again July 7-8 during A Stitch in Time demonstrations and displays at Dunvegan, Glengarry County.
Eric Bjergso inside the cavernous raw wool receiving area.
Celebrating 100 years of outstanding service and valuable contribution to the Carleton Place Business Community.
Congratulations on celebrating 100 years of outstanding service and valuable contribution to the Carleton Place Business Community.
Presented by the Carleton Place & District Chamber of Commerce on July 20, 2018.
This week our chair Jamie Law of Law & Orders and our General Manager Jackie Kavanagh were honoured to present the Canadian Co-operative Wool Growers Limited (CCWG Livestock Supplies & Equestrian Centre and the Real Wool Shop) with a special certificate in appreciation to their 100 years of outstanding service and valuable contribution to the Carleton Place Business Community.
Left to right:
Jamie Law, Eric Bjergso, Erin Pretty, Lee-Anne Durant-McIntyre, Andrew Brydges, Jackie Kavanagh
The North American Lamb Company
Canada Gold Beef Ltd, owners of the Innisfail Alberta based SunGold Specialty Meats Ltd. (SunGold) and the Canada Gold Lamb Lot near Iron Springs Alberta, wish to announce the merger of their lamb operations with that of Fresh Canada Meats Ltd, the majority shareholder of Manitoba based Canada Sheep and Lamb Farms Ltd. Fresh Canada Meats is a wholly owned Canadian subsidiary of Integrated Foods Ltd, an integrated lamb producer and processor in New Zealand.
The newly merged entity, North American Lamb Company Ltd (NALC), will control lamb production and marketing for the group encompassing genetics, breeding, finishing, processing and sales. This merger is designed to form a truly Canadian integrated lamb supply chain to provide premium lamb products to domestic and international markets with year-round consistent supply and specification.
Inconsistency has plagued the Canadian sheep industry for as long as it has existed. Growing the lamb product demand in a diverse and growing market such as North America requires a consistent and reliable supply of sufficient scale to allow solid programs to be built with retail and food service partners. NALC is all about bringing together a disciplined, significant and resilient supply chain to benefit such retail and food service customers and ultimately the consumer through recognized branded product lines.
Canada Sheep and Lamb Farms is one of the largest sheep farming operations in North America producing lambs year-round from a breeding flock currently exceeding 35,000 ewes and ewe lambs and soon growing to some 50,000 plus head. This farming system is designed to produce significant numbers of lambs for finishing to market specification at the Canada Gold Lamb Lot.
The Canada Gold Lamb Lot is a state of the art, one of a kind lamb feeding operation in the heart of Southern Alberta cattle feeding country with a licenced one-time capacity of 50,000 lambs. This lamb feeding facility has scope to finish some 200,000 market lambs per year.
SunGold is Canada’s largest federal lamb processing plant. Significant investments have been completed across many areas making it one of the premier lamb processing plants in North America. The plant utilizes many of the latest technologies in processing and value-added production and ships products domestically and around the world to a diverse set of customers.
The merger does not preclude NALC working with both established and new entrant lamb producers as well as other entities who wish to be involved in a unique lamb supply and value chain that is able to provide sustainable opportunities for those capable of disciplined business relationships.
It is an exciting time for NALC and the Canadian sheep industry. The merger is a natural evolution in the maturity of the Canadian lamb industry that has, in the past, suffered from fragmentation and uncertainty. The industry can now aspire to be one that is truly customer driven and achieve sustainable, long term future growth.
What does this mean for producers?
NALC is committed to create a controlled supply and value chain for North America to meet the disciplines of delivery in full, on time and in specification. This business model creates many opportunities for forward thinking producers to both specialise and scale up their lamb operations to create a sustainable future for themselves.
What does this mean for customers and
NALC is driven by the market need for a Canadian based year-round supply of consistent lamb products. For retail and foodservice customers this means they will be able to work directly with NALC on desired specifications and products including tailored genetics and lamb production programs. For the first time ever, Canadian retailers and foodservice companies will be able to get the volume of Canadian lamb they want, when they need it and at the specifications they require.
For further information please contact:
President & CEO
North American Lamb Company Ltd
Sungold Specialty Meats Ltd
Sheep producers named farm family of the year
Silver Bend Ranch of Miniota has earned the 2018 honour from the Red River Exhibition Association
By Lorraine Stevenson
Reporter for the Manitoba Co-operator
Brian Greaves and Karen Hill and their son Mark are the Red
River Exhibition Association’s 2018 Farm Family of the Year. The
couple also has a daughter, Alison, who is studying veterinary
medicine in New Zealand.
A Miniota-area couple who began to farm “from scratch” in the early 1990s is the 2018 Farm Family of the Year, named by the Red River Exhibition Association (RREA).
Brian Greaves and Karen Hill, who have two children Mark and Alison, were presented with the award during the Hall of Fame banquet in Winnipeg last week.
It’s a great honour, says the couple, who took over the farm on Hill’s family’s side in 1993, naming it Silver Bend Ranch.
A school teacher, Hill met Greaves in New Zealand while visiting
there to do some travelling and teaching.
Greaves brought with him over 20 years’ experience in the sheep sector when he came to Canada.
The two and a quarter sections they began to farm included land Karen’s grandparents had homesteaded, plus land acquired by uncles and her father over time.
Her father bought his parcel with pay from his service in the Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, but pursued a career as an agricultural representative in Dauphin instead of going back to farm.
Hill and Greaves stepped up as farm successors after her bachelor uncles had no immediate family to carry on behind them.
They then became both sheep and cattle farmers and have exemplified adaptation, innovation and environmental stewardship in their farm operation.
Over a relatively short period of time, they made many changes
and improvements to it, the most significant being switching all
its cropland over to perennial pasture.
They re-established hay land, added shelterbelts, enabled rotational grazing, and restored a nearby wetland, fencing it to keep out livestock. They also began to deploy innovative farming practices like no-till seeding, polycropping, and winter bale grazing.
All of this was done to ensure their farm’s long-term sustainability, said Hill.
Theirs is very light and sandy soil, which had eroded and become depleted from earlier conventional practices used there.
“We knew if we were going to be a success on the farm, job one was to restore the health of the soil,” she said.
The wetland restoration was undertaken in a partnership with Upper Assiniboine Conservation District. The area had been drained in the 1950s when Hwy. 83 was constructed, but was never a productive site and they wanted to see its role protecting the watershed resume, said Hill.
“We have wonderful groundwater here and it’s really important to us to maintain that underground water supply.”
They also worked with the Upper Assiniboine Conservation District and Prairie View Municipality to create an easement on 95 acres of land along the Assiniboine River for the development of publicly accessible hiking trails and riparian forest, and Hill was involved with a local committee that had interpretive signage placed on it acknowledging the presence of Aboriginal people once residing in the surrounding Assiniboine River Valley.
Their artifacts dating back 1,000 years have been found in the river valley below their farm, notes Hill.
The couple has 120 head of cattle but are also the first sheep
producers to be honoured with the RREA award.
They currently have 60 breeding ewes and about 140 lambs and Greaves’ experiments with crossbreeding their sheep flock have produced a composite breed featuring maximum carcass growth, increased fertility and significantly higher-quality wool.
They took the view that if you have to shear wool, it should generate income, said Hill. Lower-quality wool can cost more to have it sheared than it’s worth.
“Our sheep now produce 10 to 12 lbs. of wool per sheep and we’re now into the levels of what’s considered finer wool, so we’re looking at $2 to $2.40 per pound for it,” she said.
Greaves has served in numerous leadership roles with groups and boards such as the Canadian Co-operative Wool Growers, Manitoba Sheep Association, served as a mentor to other sheep producers, and as a wool and sheep judge in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Karen’s been a volunteer board member and staff with Agriculture in the Classroom–MB and a 4-H leader while also serving on the executive of local sports and culture groups.
Their devotion to agricultural life has evidently rubbed off on
the next generation too.
Their son Mark has recently signaled his intent and interest to carry on the farm and is now enrolled to study animal science in September. Their daughter Alison is completing her final year of study in veterinary medicine in New Zealand.
The farm family’s name has been added to a distinguished list of 52 other farm families recognized by the RREA since the award’s inception in 1966.
“The Greaves Hill family is deserving of this award because they embody what it means to live in rural Manitoba,” said Eleanor Cassels, chair of the Farm Family committee and president of the Red River Exhibition Association.
“They engage with their community, are exemplary stewards of the environment and have built a farm business that is progressive, diverse and a welcome place to work and visit.”
This article was originally published in the June 28 issue of the Manitoba Co-operator.