The sale of Brandon’s iconic McKenzie Seeds building to Brandon Fresh Farms has been finalized, clearing the way for the site to be redeveloped as a state-of-the-art controlled-environment agricultural operation.
BFF bought the property from a numbered company, 5883882 Manitoba Limited, for more than $3 million, BFF president Adam Morand told the Sun.
“We have done the paperwork on the building, and the historic McKenzie Seeds building now belongs to Brandon Fresh Farms,” Morand said. “This purchase is just the beginning, as we chart a course for a substantial financial commitment of $30 million.”
Morand said the company plans a multi-faceted approach to funding the project, tapping various capital sources, grants, low-interest loans from government agencies like Farm Credit Canada and Business Development Bank of Canada, and private investments. The cornerstone of their financial strategy, he said, is an $18-million convertible debenture, drawing investors with a 15 per cent annual return.
On the structural transformation of the building, he explained that the key plan involves a phased renovation, adding that BFF is also consulting with various experts about what they think would be best.
“We’ve got a number of our ideas on what we want to do there,” Morand said. While the main building will remain intact, “the restructuring will entail the demolition of an older wood building, deemed beyond repair, making way for a new structure,” he said.
“Building number six, the northernmost one, we believe takes a very small amount of work for us to get that ready to start growing.” The aim is to commence operations by the summer of 2024, facilitated by Horizon Builders as general contractor.
Morand said the project will be a catalyst for economic growth and community development. “There’s going to be a great number of growth technicians. There’ll be dozens of those positions,” he said.
BFF plans to create between 20 and 37 full-time jobs and an additional 25 to 80 part-time jobs. To fill those positions, Morand expressed confidence in Brandon’s labour pool.
BFF, he said, intends to avoid competing with locally produced goods, focusing instead on producing items that are typically imported.
“The broader significance of our venture, number one, is just truly appreciating the amount of import,” he said. “Most people don’t think of Brandon as a very large community. But Brandon is a good size. You’re talking almost 60,000 people in just Brandon proper and almost 200,000 in the Brandon region.”
Morand expressed concern about the quality and wastage of transported food, describing some of such foods as “dead” because they have been in nitrogen coolers or long transport.
“Almost half the food that’s travelling around the world is being wasted,” he said. “All of that is margin. From a production standpoint, if we can make that high-quality food here, without waste, we just doubled the margin and that is better for the environment, economy and better for the ocean.”
By aiming to meet local demand for specific produce and combat the dependence on imported goods, he said, BFF’s initiative could potentially redefine the region’s agricultural landscape, as it aligns with global trends in controlled-environment agriculture, addressing concerns about food security and sustainability.
The Brandon Chamber of Commerce said BFF’s acquisition of the McKenzie Seeds building is expected to have a great impact on the city’s economy, describing the move as a catalyst for innovation and adaptability.
“It holds significant potential for the local business landscape, especially within the agricultural sector,” the chamber’s general manager, Connor Ketchen, told the Sun. “This move aligns well with our city’s economic development goals, as it showcases a commitment to fostering growth in agriculture, a key sector in our region’s economy.”
To support Brandon Fresh Farm’s integration and growth within the community, Ketchen said the chamber proposed various forms of assistance. These includes integrating into the local business community, fostering growth within the community, facilitating connections, providing educational resources, and leveraging communication channels for increased visibility and market access.
“This will foster agricultural industry growth, attract further investment, and contribute to a thriving and dynamic business community in Brandon,” he said.
Brandon Mayor Jeff Fawcett told the Sun that BFF’s team is dedicated to the project and are working hard to make it work.
“The project aligns with the city’s downtown revitalization vision,” Fawcett said. “It is very revitalizing, should they be able to get this going, just by adding people that can work down there, by adding an active building, and just helping us move forward with a lot of other projects. The project is agricultural-based, and we are an agricultural community. I’m very optimistic that as a private-sector group, they can get this going, and I appreciate the effort they’re putting in.”
Regarding the city’s support for the development, Fawcett said the city’s economic development officers must have discussed several incentives with the BFF team, including the Tax Increment Financing program.
TIF is a form of government subsidy intended to stimulate development, as it allows business owners to avoid paying increased taxes up to a set amount when they build a project that is worth significantly more than the previous structure on the site.
Fawcett acknowledged the potential employment, economic, and social benefits the BFF project could bring to Brandon.
“We already have plans to try to get more people living downtown to aid their access to job opportunities that will be created by BFF and other organizations,” he said.
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