Parrish and Heimbecker’s Hamilton Terminal is a unique operation with a mill and a grain terminal nestled within the city’s port.
As the autumn soybean harvest hits its stride, there is an elegant logistical dance of vessels and trucks moving through the site and the simultaneous production of raw flour.
“The plant was designed and built for today’s standards and energy efficiency,” said Bruce MacIntyre, president and chief operating officer.
“This mill’s cost per tonne of flour production is about half of our very best next mill.”
Why it matters: P&H’s Hamilton mill is the most cost-efficient in the company’s operations.
Farmtario visited the plant during a Farm and Food Care tour in late September. The facility uses digital technology for logistics and state-of-the-art machinery to lower labour costs and increase output and quality.
Centrally located for highway and vessel traffic, P&H positioned the Hamilton terminal to take advantage of vessels, or “salties” seeking backhauls, and it accesses a wealth of grain producers for shipping and flour production.
“It’s the lowest cost per landed wheat because it’s the least amount of transportation,” said MacIntyre. “You’re bringing in 35,000 tonnes in one drop, whereas a truck delivering wheat to the mill would be 40 tonnes at most.”
P&H expanded the Hamilton site in 2017 with the addition of a new mill, the first to be built in Ontario in 75 years. It boosted internal capacity by 25 per cent.
The company doubled capacity in 2019 with phase two of the expansion, and the mill runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except on Christmas and maintenance periods.
“As in any business today, it’s hard to get good help,” noted MacIntyre. “Actually, it’s hard to get any help at all sometimes.”
It takes 46 employees to run the operation, over half of them truck drivers.
“It’s a really tight margin business, so you need to be as lean as possible. And (the site) is pretty efficient,” MacIntyre added.
The facility boasts advantages in health and safety, food safety, workforce and energy efficiencies.
Fed through a gravity and pneumatic system, which includes visual inspection, multi-break grinder, sifter and separator, the wheat flows through a repetitive cycle until the raw flour output is a uniform size and consistency.
“(The Sortex) has 140 digital cameras in it,” said MacIntyre. “The machine takes a picture of the little kernels of wheat, and if it’s not the right colour or the right size, little blasts of air will shoot it out.”
The Sortex can process 20 tonnes of material per hour, after which the grain moves through two rows of double-high rolling machines that grind the kernels.
“Some will go through the first break and will be flour – a small percent of it,” said MacIntyre. “Some will have to pass through eight passes, just back up and down, back up and down.”
The system employs metal detectors throughout, and a fine cotton-weave sieve ensures no foreign material is present before the product is shipped.
“Ninety-five per cent of the flour goes 100 miles from here, mostly to Toronto,” said MacIntyre.
P&H location manager Jay Fretz said logistics are crucial for smooth offloading of Western Red Spring wheat for flour production, and for shipping soybeans, corn and flour.
One vessel requires more than 500 truckloads, and with harvest in full swing, he anticipates loading 20 to 25 salties before Christmas.
“Most of our export is corn and soybean straight across the ocean into Europe,” said Fretz. “A lot of soybeans will go into Rotterdam, Netherlands, but, almost exclusively, all our corn goes to Ireland or the UK.”
Load rates reflect truck flow (more than 250 to 300 a day at peak harvest), what’s in storage and weather, said Fretz.
“This is probably the best truck facility in North America in terms of the throughput. There’s not many places that can outperform that.”
In 2010, the Hamilton Terminal lacked data efficiencies and only had one scale and probe with no cover against the weather. Fretz said the facility now boasts inbound and outbound scales and a fully digitized data traceability program that increases truck flow efficiency.
“We try to have the truck being very self-sufficient coming through the site,” he said. “I have a kiosk at the scale, the probe, the pit for unloading and the outbound scale that prints a ticket.”
The system isn’t limited to land transport. For example, using an iPad, Fretz can initiate vessel offloading and monitor issues at the terminal or from his home near Cambridge. It also ensures incoming grain is sent to the appropriate storage with no cross-commodity contamination.