BrettYoung reinvests in automated turf seed processing

The BrettYoung facility in Winnipeg, MB. (BrettYoung photos)
The BrettYoung facility in Winnipeg, MB. (BrettYoung photos)

For more information, see the Second Quarter issue of Seed Today.

Written by Chris Lusvardi, Seed Today Editor

Winnipeg, MB (May 14, 2024) - One of Erik Dyck’s goals as he assumed leadership of BrettYoung was to reinvest in the business.

Dyck, who was BrettYoung’s director, business development, became CEO in September 2023, as part of a senior leadership change. At the same time, Erik Dyck’s father, Lloyd Dyck, stepped down as chairman of the board to take a seat on the board of directors, and Calvin Sonntag stepped down as CEO to take on the role of executive chairman.

“I’m quite passionate about this business,” Erik Dyck says. “It’s something I certainly believe in. We serve a lot of different markets through various sales channels, and we see room for growth in some of those areas.”

Part of Dyck’s plan for the largest independent seed company in Canada is to focus on increasing its operational capacities. After several years of planning, design, and construction, the NorthCore turf seed processing facility on the north end of the company’s 30-acre property in Winnipeg, MB is now open and fully functional. 

BrettYoung officials provided Seed Today a tour of the new facility in March. 

NorthCore, a $20 million project making it the largest single investment in the company’s history, is a 60,000-sq.-ft. facility equipped with the latest technologies for cleaning, blending, and packaging turf seed.

Company History

Director of Marketing Eric Gregory explains BrettYoung’s roots date back to 1934 when Bill Brett joined forces with Reg Young to start Brett-Young Seeds Limited, originally a woodworking operation building step ladders for the T. Eaton Company. They later pivoted operations to become a seed trading company.

Dyck’s grandfather, Peter Dyck, who had been working for the company since 1947, purchased shares in 1971, starting the family’s ownership of the business that they hope will continue for generations to come.

The company has been operating at its current site on the south side of Winnipeg since 1977. In addition to the Winnipeg site, BrettYoung operates three processing and distribution facilities in Canada, including Rycroft, AB; Calmar, AB; and Clifford, ON.

The company serves three distinct markets: agricultural seed and crop inputs, wholesale forage and turf, and professional turf and reclamation.

Expanding Footprint

The NorthCore expansion is the latest of six projects that have more than doubled the footprint of the Winnipeg property in the past decade. 

According to COO Cory Baseraba, BrettYoung has been trying to keep up with demand from its customers.

“It’s essential that we grow and provide great service for our customers,” Baseraba says. “As our customers grow, they want us to provide more products and an array of services to meet their needs.”

Baseraba explains they’ve been limited by what they can provide mainly by how much they can grow and process. At some of the busiest times of year, processing was becoming bottlenecked, he points out. 

Baseraba says several initiatives are underway to increase seed production in Western Canada. With those initiatives underway, Baseraba explains BrettYoung needed to increase their processing capabilities to serve their seed grower and wholesale customers.

“And to do that with the same high level of service we want to provide is what drove the decision to invest in NorthCore,” he adds. “We can now take on more business.”

Most of the company’s turf seed is now processed through the NorthCore facility, providing them with abilities they didn’t previously have in the legacy parts of the plant, Baseraba says.

“Turf seed is our highest volume product and NorthCore is designed for autonomous bulk handling improving our efficiency,” Baseraba states.

Turf products that are processed, stored, and packaged at the facility supply both domestic sales in Canada and are exported to customers around the globe, including the United States.

Facility Features

According to Baseraba, NorthCore was built to achieve a new level in capacity while maintaining BrettYoung’s high standards of efficiency and quality. 

He says the goal is to keep the facilities outfitted with modern processing and handling equipment and systems. 

Baseraba points out NorthCore features one cleaning line right now, with space for three more lines as production grows. The new processing line is all run digitally through centralized monitoring and control systems.

Pneumatic conveying system. The facility’s new features include a pneumatic conveying system with a network of pipelines to transfer seed with air around the facility. 

Baseraba says the conveying system is easy to clean out, making changeovers between products quicker.

“It’s an innovative system,” Baseraba says. “We’ve had suppliers comment that they have not seen the complexity or magnitude of a system of this type.”

Baseraba says a series of traffic switches, or gates, direct seeds to different areas of the plant. In total, the system has 38 gates to control the flow of seed. 

Baseraba notes BrettYoung uses 25 forklifts to move bins of products around in the older parts of the processing plant. Although a few forklifts are required in NorthCore, he says they gained efficiency by needing fewer to operate that part of the plant.

Blending and packaging. Baseraba says the blending and packaging lines process seed three times more quickly than the legacy equipment.

The packaging process fills bags using a highly accurate scale and automated compression palletizer and shrink wrapper to build and to transport stackable 50-lb. bags. Operators can control the entire system from a touch screen.

Quality control. Multiple indent cylinders, precision cleaners, and brush and disc machines separate weed seed and inert material from the viable seed product. 

A trash conveyor at the bottom of the cleaners in the facility helps to efficiently push out and separate unwanted materials from the seed.

Baseraba says the precision cleaners and improved quality control capabilities result in a lot of time saved. He adds they’ve seen more high-quality, high-purity products in the first pass than they were previously capable of on their legacy production lines. 

In turn, Dyck says the improved process is a benefit to growers as they’re able to capture more of the crops with less waste.

“It helps with quality when weeds are present,” he says. “We capture more viable seed with less waste, which in the end means more money for growers.”

Baseraba says BrettYoung has 33 bins in the new building to store seed, with the capacity to add more bins as part of future facility expansions.

“NorthCore was designed to focus on turf seed,” Baseraba says. “With a focus on those products, it reduces the number of changeouts, downtime, and cleaning time. Our other lines also perform better as they are now more geared to forage seed cleaning. This also allows our employees, and the equipment to be more specialized, making the entire system more efficient.”

Seed Testing Lab

Another of BrettYoung’s recent facility changes was to move and expand their seed testing lab. 

The lab previously did not have enough space, as some of the seed germinators were located in the lunchroom. Now with the new lab location, Lab Manager Angela Pouteau, an accredited seed analyst in the United States and Canada, says the nine seed analysts are able to work more efficiently with sufficient space and equipment to perform tests and grow samples in a temperature-controlled environment.

With the lab on-site, Baseraba notes samples of products can be pulled from the production line to be quickly tested. 

Dyck says having an in-house lab is a unique service the company provides as others will often outsource that type of work.

The CFIA accredited seed lab.
The CFIA accredited seed lab.
Packaging bins on load cells for dispensing precise weights.
Packaging bins on load cells for dispensing precise weights.
Tracker belt feed to palletizing and wrapping.
Tracker belt feed to palletizing and wrapping.
Seed bags being wrapped on the packaging line.
Seed bags being wrapped on the packaging line.
The coated seed bagging area.
The coated seed bagging area.