While a major medium density fibreboard (MDF) plant won’t be built next to the Town of Stettler after all, president of the company spearheading the plant says the mill is going ahead in 2021 in this region.
Great Plains MDF president and chairman of the board Brian McLeod said in an interview with the ECA Review the Stettler location, immediately south of town next to the airport, wasn’t ideal after all.
“There’s a lot of straw that has to come into this plant every day,” said McLeod by phone from his Edmonton office Jan. 15.
McLeod stated after more research was done on the tentative location Great Plains unfortunately realized the massive amount of truck traffic, up to 110 18-wheeled trucks per day, that the mill required could end up going down Stettler’s Main Street, which obviously wasn’t going to work.
He stated it didn’t seem to matter where Great Plains looked with the Stettler site, the traffic problem was there.
He noted Great Plains continues to look for a site that enjoys a large supply of wheat straw, MDF’s primary ingredient, in the farmland south of Stettler and further to the west, in Kneehill County.
The president stated an MDF mill has a number of requirements, including natural gas, power, a rail line to bring in resin necessary for MDF manufacture and the same line to ship out finished product.
The president noted, overall, progress with the project is excellent, as Great Plains has signed a memorandum of understanding with PCL Construction to build the mill, an engineer has been engaged for design work and Great Plains is in talks with a major American lender to finance the project, estimated at roughly $800 million.
McLeod noted he and a number of other people with experience in the MDF industry saw increasing demand in North America for this product used in office furniture and other products but an ever-dwindling supply of wood.
Enter the humble stalk of wheat. McLeod stated research proved wheat straw could replace wood in MDF manufacture, and more research showed the farmland south of Stettler has wheat straw. Lots of it.
McLeod stated Great Plains is an Alberta company that wants to work with Alberta producers.
“It’s critically important that we have farmers willing to sell us the wheat straw we need,” he said.
Although this region is known for wheat straw, McLeod said the company wanted to get something more concrete in place before construction of the mill started, and was planning plenty of open house meetings to get to know producers through the face-to-face way Alberta farmers are known for.
COVID-19 threw a monkey wrench in those plans.
The president stated Great Plains has instead placed a survey on its website to gather input from wheat straw producers who are interested in working with Great Plains MDF.
The survey isn’t a commitment but rather a way for Great Plains to get a feel for the local farm community.
McLeod stated Great Plains has serious plans to get started in 2021.
He stated due diligence with the lenders should be done by the end of January followed by the documenting of agreements which could take a month followed by the first draw of funding, meaning by March Great Plains could be ready to go.
The president said once a site is selected it could take a few months for the mill to be designed and he estimated construction could start by July.
McLeod said plenty of information is available on Great Plains’ website, https://greatplainsmdf.com, including the producer survey.
He said Great Plains is very interested in hearing from producers.
“They’re key to our success,” he added.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter