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Columbia Seed Co. Ltd. Celebrates 50 Years (PCN Fall 2014) SEP 25 2014 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

This article appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Pulse Crop News.

As the world has changed over the last half a century, Columbia Seed Co. Ltd. (CSL) of Vauxhall has also made adjustments to keep pace with what its customers want.

“It is persistence and quality that we make our business card,” said Joerg Klempnauer, who has owned CSL for nearly 20 years, along with his wife, Petra. “Our business, like every other, is constantly evolving. For a small company like ours to stay independent, you have to have a sharp pencil and good observation to see what’s going on around you. Keeping on the cutting edge is the biggest challenge we have nowadays.”

Klempnauer said that CSL’s philosophy is to act as mediator between Alberta farmers with high quality products and the buying market anywhere in the world. CSL markets pea seed from Southern Alberta’s irrigated area because he believes it consistently produces the best quality pea.

“We don’t handle common products, but prime, high grade crops,” Klempnauer said.

CSL held a celebration in July to mark its 50th year of providing exceptional service to Alberta’s pulse industry. The plant was established in 1964 with its main purpose being the production of quality seed peas for the United Kingdom, Asia and Europe. In the early years when it was owned by the UK’s Sharpes International Seeds, the company established the green pea export standard with its ‘Radley’ variety.

The business started out being located in Morocco, but political strife encouraged the owner to move the plant to the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, which gave CSL the name it bears today. Shortly thereafter, it made sense to move to Alberta “to get healthier seed production,” Klempnauer explained. At that time, the Vauxhall plant was run as a satellite company to make money for its parent company in the UK.

Klempnauer arrived in Southern Alberta from Germany 33 years ago and began producing pea seed for Columbia. In 1994, he and Petra established their own processing and marketing company called Klempnauer Seeds Ltd. Meanwhile, discussions were underway with Columbia Seed Company’s manager to purchase CSL.

“It was a real tailored deal for both of us,” he recalled. “We’ve come to a situation now where we make money and have reinvested seriously into CSL and our own R&D since we own the company.”

CSL processes specialty legumes and some cover crop seed (vining peas, garden peas) for breeding companies and seed houses, as well as peas, beans, chickpeas and mustard for human consumption. Klempnauer said that about 60 per cent of CSL’s business is marrowfat peas for export to Asia.

“Change is ever there,” he noted. “The markets change or the parameters change for our products. We’ve gone back to producing seed and high quality legumes for export to Morocco, Jordan and Pakistan. We found that we have a valid small niche market that we can service quite well. The other market that we focus on is the domestic market.”

Klempnauer, who is also an advisor with Alberta Pulse Growers, pointed out that he still farms 60 acres and is working on two new green pea varieties and select seeds.

“You have to always look for potential crops,” he said. “They won’t all turn out to be million-dollar babies, but you can’t not try.”

Klempnauer has experienced much success with his Crispeas®, which are a dried green pea product that comes in several flavours. They are marketed as a tasty and healthy snack alternative to chips. These crunchy little morsels earned Klempnauer the Alberta Food Award for “Best Value-Added Snack Food or Confectionary Product Utilizing Alberta Grown/Raised Ingredients” in 2013.

The near future for Klempnauer and his company will include deciding how to proceed with Crispeas® and other value-added products.

“We hope to increase our sales of the Crispea® product,” he said. “But selling $1 million worth of Crispeas® is a big job. We have to see whether it is worthwhile as a company to focus on Crispeas®. Sales don’t come by themselves so we have to look at whether we want to hire sales staff.”

There are fewer employees at CSL now than in the early days, for which Klempnauer credits technology that can do much of the heavy lifting, stacking, container loading and plant control.

“I like to see the past as something to reflect on and learn lessons from,” he said, “but it is more important to focus on the next 25 years.”