As the administration office is framed, bins arrive to be placed in the load-out area at the Brandon fertilizer terminal. The three bins shown are part of a group of six blend bins containing raw fertilizer product that feed into the blending equipment.

Federated Co-operatives Ltd. (FCL) has finished building two state-of-the-art fertilizer terminals in Hanley, Sask., and Brandon, Man. Nearly three years in the making, these terminals are designed to warehouse, blend and distribute a wide variety of crop nutrition products throughout the Co-operative Retailing System (CRS), which includes over 190 independent retail co-operative associations.

From the Ground Up

Tom Kishchuk, vice-president of operational support at FCL, says the planning process began in early 2015, and involved reviewing the market to determine if there was sufficient volume within the CRS to move ahead with a centralized distribution model. Following this, the detailed engineering work for the facilities was underway and was completed in December 2015.

When it came to the design of the terminals, FCL went through a rigorous process of requesting designs and estimates of the cost of construction. Outside consultants were also contracted to provide input on the functionality and design of the terminals, and after a rigorous feasibility analysis and approval process, the two terminals were approved in January 2016.

EMW Industrial, a Saskatchewan-based industrial construction company, was awarded the contract for general contractor of both terminals. They were involved in all areas of the project, ranging from design and planning to the procurement and execution phases. The company subcontracted Team Power Solutions for the terminal’s control and automation systems, and Norseman for the fabric and storage structures used at the two terminals.

Construction crews were mobilized to the site in early May 2016, with both sites being built simultaneously, beginning and finishing within a week of one another. The terminal walls and floors are made of concrete, including its storage bins, which are topped with a fabric structure, according to Kishchuk.

Once the earthworks began, the crews started to build the roads and prepare the areas where the storage facilities and the in-load and out-load facilities would be built. Since both terminals can receive fertilizer products by rail and road, Kishchuk says a substantial amount of work was done to connect the Brandon terminal to the CP line and the Hanley terminal to the CN line, giving rail cars direct access to the sites. The rail lines also provide the terminals with access to world pricing of fertilizer products, since they can bring in rail cars from numerous locations.

(The facilities) are constructed so the hopper bottoms on either a truck or rail car can be opened and offloaded directly onto a conveyor system. Tom Kishchuk

“The in-load parts of the facility are constructed so that the hopper bottoms on either a truck or a rail car can be opened and offloaded directly onto a conveyor system, which moves the product into storage areas within the facility,” says Kishchuk, adding that the Brandon terminal has a storage capacity of 27,500 metric tonnes, while the Hanley location can store up to 45,000 metric tonnes.

The terminals can receive 400 metric tonnes of product an hour by truck or by rail, ship out 400 metric tonnes of straight product an hour, and load a super B trailer of blended fertilizer in 10 minutes – allowing them to ship out six super B’s an hour.

The concrete storage shed slab and perimeter walls provide the base for the steel frame and fabric structure of the Brandon fertilizer terminal. From above, walls indicate the storage areas for monoammonium phosphate (MAP), sulphur, potash and urea.

Designing Efficiency

Once the storage building construction phase was complete, the crew began working on the mechanical elements of the terminals.

According to Daniel Mulder, director of fertilizer at FCL, they wanted the ability to ship blended products out of the terminals in addition to shipping straight products. The terminal’s blending systems are designed as a complete system, which includes integrated mechanical and advanced controls and automation systems.

After the fertilizer product is moved from storage, it moves to a staging area that then feeds the high-speed blender, which has been installed at both locations. Once it flows through the blender, there are a number of bins and bucket-and-belt conveyor systems that move the product from one area of the facility to the other, and then ultimately into the load-out area.

“It’s a computerized operation where the operators are able to dial in the blend, and the systems go to work to get the product ready for loading into the trucks,” says Kishchuk. “Then those trucks are loaded from above. It’s a gravity-fed system that moves the material down through the bottom of the bin into the truck compartments quickly and efficiently.”

The terminals can blend the four major nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur – and Mulder says they will be offering nitrogen inhibitors, granular and liquid micro-nutrients and dust-control products as well.

Mulder says this system fits in nicely with the trend for more direct fertilizer shipment in place on the farm, prior to the spring season. The terminal’s blending system is called a “continuous flow, declining weight blending system,” which is highly accurate and is “lightning fast,” he says. “The capabilities of these terminals are 100 per cent dedicated to the membership.”

The Future of Fertilizer

Mulder says the idea for these terminals was formed over three years ago when FCL general managers pushed the concept forward.

This prompted the creation of a fertilizer committee that was made up of FCL general managers from across the Prairies, FCL operational staff, senior staff and some outside consultants. According to Mulder, the committee was formed to conduct a review of where fertilizer was currently at, what it was going to look like in the future and what kind of trends were happening in the fertilizer industry at the time.

After 18 months of thorough review, Mulder says the committee recommended that FCL enter the fertilizer business with a central procurement model and a hub and spoke distribution system, with the hubs being the terminals.

The trend in the fertilizer industry is that more and more fertilizer is getting onto the farmyard prior to spring. So, that means there are a lot of truckloads coming directly from the supply source right to the farm – maybe not even getting to a retail. Daniel Mulder

“The trend in the fertilizer industry is that more and more fertilizer is getting onto the farmyard prior to spring. So, that means there are a lot of truckloads coming directly from the supply source right to the farm – maybe not even getting to a retail,” he says. “The hub and spoke system had to be one that was going to have the ability to receive loads quickly – by rail car or truck – and then be able to ship out of those terminals very quickly.”

For co-ops who are entering the fertilizer business or are refurbishing or rebuilding their facilities, this hub and spoke system will also help reduce the retailer’s capital expenses at their facility. Retailers will be able to quickly replenish their supplies from the terminals, and won’t require as much storage space as they would have needed otherwise.

Around the end of March 2017, Mulder says both terminals were in the commissioning stage. But by mid-April, the terminals were functioning and receiving product from rail and truck, with a number of blend and straight product loads being shipped out. He says the terminals have performed well with spring shipments, which were three times higher than what was budgeted.

“These are just really state-of-the-art terminals – they’re as modern as you can get.”

Construction crews continue work on the load-out tower at the Brandon fertilizer terminal. The tower contains the equipment to handle and blend raw fertilizer product to be loaded for distribution.

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