Brandon feed mill going strong after 50 years


Brandon Sun, The

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Where other feed mills have shuttered operations in recent years, including the downtown Brandon Cargill site, the Masterfeeds facility in the city has persevered.

Under the Feed-Rite banner until approximately five years ago, the feed mill's employees past and present celebrated 50 years together during a barbecue on Thursday.

That's a half-century of helping feed area livestock via locally produced grain mixed with proteins, vitamins and minerals.

Those who work at the feed mill have tended to stick around for the long haul, creating a homey environment during Thursday's celebration.

Operations manager Dale Vreeman has worked at the site for approximately 20 years, during which he has made his way up through the ranks from his initial job as a bagger, upgrading his education along the way.

His father, Herman Vreeman, served as plant manager -- both generations of the family becoming engineers.

Herman still stops by the site from time to time to maintain the boilers.

Recently retired salesman Franz Wachs attended Thursday's barbecue in solidarity with those he'd worked alongside for the past 44 years.

He found employment at the feed mill straight out of university, where he studied agriculture, and remained there until he retired.

Getting to know customers on a personal level and helping them overcome whatever problems they might have was engaging enough to keep him coming back, Wachs said, adding that the job has been a lifelong learning experience.

Much has changed at the feed mill during its 50 years.

Where it was once state of the art, it has required some renovations in recent years to keep it up to date, including a $2.4-million renovation in 2012.

They've added warehousing and built offices that separate them from the main plant building, but Masterfeeds Western Canada general manager Phil Klopak said the main change they have seen has been with the industry itself.

More and more larger-scale operations, such as the Maple Leaf Foods and HyLife Foods facilities in Westman, now have their own on-site feed mills, and the industry has taken to consolidating operations in order to make ends meet.

Brandon's feed mill has persevered, in part as a result of its location at the heart of Westman.

Serving a broad area that extends throughout the southwestern area of the province and into southeastern Saskatchewan, there's a significant client base to serve, Vreeman said, adding that it "saved us from those mergers."

During his congratulatory remarks, Mayor Rick Chrest commended the company with bringing a wide swath of Westman into the Wheat City, noting that Masterfeeds' customer base isn't exactly urban.

While the Masterfeeds feed mill site employs approximately 25 people directly, its operations also carry offshoot economic impacts by using local material wherever possible.

"It comes down to people and service, so I think we've done a good job of serving our customers," Vreeman said. "That goes a long way."

» tclarke@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB

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