HULL â Hull Co-op’s new fertilizer plant aims to make production faster and more efficient.
The $ 4.25 million plant, located south of the company’s Cenex station on Highway 18, was completed earlier this year and became operational in late April.
The 7.6 acre site includes a dry fertilizer tower and storage building as well as a liquid fertilizer tank. The facility is accessed through a southern extension of Elm Street which has been paved for the project.
Evan Wielenga, deputy director and director of the agronomic division of Hull Co-op, said the idea for the plant emerged about five years ago as a solution to replace the old fertilizer plant located in the east of the company’s main office north of the freeway.
The cooperative opened the plant last July while planning for the facility began in 2019.
The previous plant was built in 1974 and saw an addition built on it in the 1990s.
âFor all intents and purposes it’s worn out and it had grown too big,â Wielenga said. âCorn and bean yields continue to increase. The more grains you produce, the more you need to replace these nutrients. As yields increased demand increased and this facility really grew out of it all. “
The new plant is capable of producing around 5,000 tonnes of dry fertilizer per year and 4,000 tonnes of liquid fertilizer per year. Wielenga said it operates on a seasonal basis, about three weeks in the spring and six weeks in the fall.
Being able to produce the latter type of fertilizer is one of the advantages of the new plant, as Hull Co-op previously had to obtain the liquid product from Cooperative Farmers Elevator in Doon. However, most of the co-op’s clientele are in and around Hull, which means having liquid capacities on site will reduce transportation time.
On the dry fertilizer supply side, the cooperative also relied on a facility in Alton to help meet customer demand, as its old dry plant was only about a third the size of the new one.
“The time it takes to get a truck down to Alton and back is at least an hour or an hour and a half, and when you are working with a nine or 10 day window, that was very important on the logistics plan, âWielenga said. .
Another benefit offered by the new plant is an automated computer process capable of maximizing efficiency and enabling faster and more precise ingredient blends.
âA lot of the mundane tasks of measuring and weighing all of these fertilizers were previously done manually. It was done with a loader going into a scale hopper with a bucket and watching a scale go up, and now it’s all done with computer automation, âWielenga said.
âSo not only is this employee more efficient, but he also performs more complex tasks. We move away from some of the mundane chores of just watching a ladder head go up. It removes the human error aspect. The computer is just a lot more precise than us.
The dry fertilizer tower can do 3 ton batches at a time, although Wielenga noted that the cooperative also makes many smaller fertilizer batches for customers. The automated nature of the tower means that the co-op can make such batches with pinpoint accuracy.
He recalled an order for a customer earlier this summer who needed 400 pounds of dry fertilizer made up of four ingredients. When the tower mixed the products, the resulting mix was only a few pounds for each of the ingredients.
âThe computer is learning. He said, “Well, this one asked for 400 pounds and I opened it up during that time and it was 105 pounds.” Next time I’m going to shorten it a bit, âWielenga said. “It’s getting better and better and better.”
He said the cooperative was lucky that prices for the plant’s construction project were frozen before the cost of building materials began to skyrocket due to the coronavirus pandemic. If that hadn’t been the case, the price of the factory would be several hundred thousand dollars more.
The fertilizer plant is the cooperative’s first major expansion project south of Highway 18. Wielenga expects the facility to have a lifespan of 30 years.
âI can’t stop thinking what it will be like 30 years from now here and what will this community be like? ” he said. âWhat are the needs of our farmers and our cooperative? What will it look like? “