New P.E.I. processing plant pulsing with potential

P.E.I.'s new $8 million pulse processing plant in Slemon Park is attracting lots of attention these days, particularly from Islanders wondering what exactly is happening there.

'I like to say we've changed the skyline at Slemon Park'

Chris Chivilo stands in front of the cleaning line at the new $8 million plant. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

P.E.I.'s new $8 million pulse processing plant in Slemon Park is attracting lots of attention these days, particularly from Islanders wondering what exactly is happening there.

"As they drive by here and they say what's going on there, what are all those shiny bins," said Wayne MacLean, general manager of W.A. Grain and Pulse Solutions, one of Canada's biggest exporters of pulses. 

"I believe the whole Island is interested in what we're doing and what our plans are for the future."

The plant has been in operation since February 1st after a short delay because of equipment problems. 

"In a perfect year, we would have half the crop processed by the end of October or November," said Chris Chivilo president and CEO. 

"So now we're in a mad panic to get everything processed and shipped before the new crop comes off."

The many shiny steel bins catch the eye of motorists driving by Slemon Park. The plant currently employs 12 people. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

The operation has a cleaning line which handles many kinds of pulses including green and yellow peas, black beans, pinto beans, cranberry beans as well other products such as rye and barley.

"We'll find a home for anything if there's a dollar in it," said Chivilo.

The products are then shipped off the Island.

"France, Belgium, Colombia, India and China primarily would be our five biggest areas," Chivilo said. "North Africa next year."

Wayne MacLean checks out the cleaning line at the processing plant. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

More pulses planted

This year, P.E.I. farmers have planted more than 8,000 acres of pulses, up dramatically from 750 acres just two years ago. 

"At first, I think there was some skepticism because we started with very few acres and some research acres," said MacLean. "Now that we've invested significantly in the facility here on P.E.I., they know that we are extremely serious about a long-term commitment."

A truck unloads at the processing plant at Slemon Park. (Ken Linton/CBC)

The number of black beans being grown on P.E.I. has increased from 50 to 1,300 acres this year.

"Growers on P.E.I. seem adventurous and when you bring some new ideas or new possibilities to them, they're very willing to take those on," MacLean said.

Green peas are among the products going through the cleaning lines at the new processing plant. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Chivilo, who grew up on P.E.I., believes Island farmers could be doing even more with pulses by doing more on-farm storage. It's something he's been lobbying the provincial government to support.

"It may take some government incentives, a 20 per cent rebate if you buy a new bin, things like that to promote on-farm storage," Chivilo said. 

Chivilo says on-farm storage could make a big difference, putting marketing back in the hands of the farmer who would then have 12 months to sell the product at the best possible price. 

Untapped potential

Chivilo, who spends summers on the Island, says his wife has even suggested they make P.E.I. their permanent home. 

"I never dreamt really until about six years ago about coming back and building a business here," Chivilo said. "But as we started spending more time here, we started seeing the potential and really it's untapped."

Wayne MacLean likes to say the plant has changed the skyline of Slemon Park. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

The company has received some government funding.

"For the Island economy, we just dumped eight million bucks into it by building the plant and there's more to come as we grow," Chivilo said. "We'll be adding further processing to add value to products as well."

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