Blue Hills Processors Ltd.

Feeding the world with Saskatchewan pulse exports
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Dana MerkWynne

Canada has developed a multibillion-dollar pulse industry which has increased year-over-year in the last decade. Saskatchewan is at the heart of this industry, home to the majority of pulse production. In Avonlea, Saskatchewan, Blue Hills Processors Ltd. (BHPL) is one of Canada’s largest and most innovative special crops processing facilities, focusing on sourcing and processing lentils, field peas and flax.

Since January 2003, when BHPL opened its doors, the processing, cleaning and shipping facility has established a reputation for outstanding service and reliability in sourcing and processing products for its export partners. BHPL is built on the foundation of three fundamental values:

  • Quality in the product it ships
  • Integrity in its dealings with customers
  • Service that exceeds expectations

Carrie Nestman, assistant manager and financial controller of BHPL, has been with the company since spring 2006. “We are essentially a third-party pea and lentil processor, specializing in sourcing, cleaning and shipping pulses to overseas export markets,” she explains.

Industry-leading experience

Today, BHPL employs 18 staff members in Avonlea. Alongside Nestman in BHPL’s upper management are Ray Briggs, general manager; Joe Petruic, merchandising manager; Leah Daniel, grain buyer; Scott Ridgway, in receiving and dispatch; Wanda Zubko, logistics coordinator; Shawn Nestman, maintenance manager and Tammy Brown, inventory and settlements.

BHPL’s management team and board of directors have extensive experience in the special crops industry in the areas of crop production, processing and merchandising. With a quality team in place, the company has grown significantly since 2003. “Over the course of our history we have had numerous expansions to our facilities,” adds Nestman. “This has allowed us to expand our capabilities.”

Quantity without sacrificing quality

In the diverse pulse industry, some companies pinpoint certain areas, but Nestman says BHPL has the capacity to do more than just one type of product. “We’re a high-capacity company,” she says. “We can flow a lot of product through in a short amount of time, meanwhile the quality is still there. There are certain markets overseas where a specific quality is needed and we can meet that demand.”

BHPL sources from the healthy regional pulse market and area growers in Saskatchewan, stores product and also cleans and processes to prepare pulses for shipment. “Most of our products go out from Vancouver or Montreal to markets overseas, but some ship to Mexico as well,” details Nestman.

The company supplies a range of Canadian-grown pulses and special crops, sold in bulk and bagged according to customer specifications. BHPL supplies Canadian Red whole lentils, Laird lentils, Richlea lentils and Eston lenils, as well as yellow and green whole peas and other commodities such as faba beans and flaxseed.

“The most recent addition to our lineup is flaxseed,” says Nestman. “BHPL incorporated it into its lineup in September 2013 and we’ve since increased the capacity to about 8,900 tons last year and now, 10,000 tons. The market is strictly to export customers in China.”

Another avenue that could lead to growth for BHPL is value-added products. “We’re already processing peas, so pea flour and other value-added items are a possibility in the future,” predicts Nestman. “Some exporters are demanding non-cleaned products so there could be value in doing an expansion to ship dirty product and it would free up our cleaning lines. It’s about looking ahead and seeing ways to diversify; that’s how you grow.”

In 2014, BHPL also added 3,000 tons of “dirty” or uncleansed product storage. “We’ve had many expansions over the years, this being one of them,” adds Nestman.

Labor and logistics

As the company ramps up capacity, Nestman says one of the biggest obstacles BHPL faces is finding quality labor. “We’re in a small town, rural area, so finding labor can be a challenge,” she says. “We are fortunate to have a great customer base, with many longstanding relationships and that’s what keeps us going year-round, but we need a strong team in place to keep growing.”

With more products coming in and more going out the doors, output logistics also present a challenge for BHPL. “We need rail transport to support the amount we’re producing,” says Nestman. “We have the capacity to grow and do more, but the limiting factor is output logistics.”

Nestman says BHPL takes great pride in helping exporters feed the world. “As long as we can continue shipping quality products and keep exporters happy, I don’t see us going anywhere for a long, long time,” she assures.

Since 2003, Blue Hills Processors Ltd. has been a trusted vehicle for sourcing, processing and exporting pulse crops to global consumers, upholding a reputation for service and reliability.

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