I wouldn’t have guessed that the alfalfa plant belongs to the pea family. As a nitrogen fixing plant (a legume), it has the highest nutrient value of any forage crop. Alfalfa is primarily used as feed for high-producing dairy cows, because of its high protein content and highly digestible fiber. It is also fed to beef cattle, horses, sheep, and goats. Sturgeon County has an estimated 60 percent of 14,000 acres harvested by a Legal company called Alfa Tec, the largest alfalfa feed manufacturer in western Canada.
Alfa Tec is a harvesting and processing plant that produces alfalfa pellets and hay cubes for animal feed. 50 - 60 percent of their product is shipped through British Columbia to the Pacific Rim countries of Japan, Korea and Taiwan while the rest is sold within North America (Texas, Florida, and Atlanta). Ontario and Quebec also have market distribution centres in Eastern Canada.
Guy Blanchette, Administration Manager at the facility, gave me a tour of the facility to see a production run in progress. The process begins at the farm where the alfalfa is cut and baled. The harvest timetable is a fundamental part of pre-production process to obtain the most suitable plant for manufacture of various commercial qualities.
Wilting is the second stage, which consists of natural drying to lower the average humidity level of the alfalfa before dehydration, without altering its nutritional qualities. The product is then delivered to the plant as green chop and artificially dehydrated in a rotary drum dryer. With hot air (between 250° and 600°C in dryer entrance), the moisture is reduced to about 10 -15 percent and then the green chop is crushed. The flour obtained is put into granulation presses where they are compressed through columned holes on a die and discharged as pellets of different sizes. The pellets go through a cooler and are then bagged and stored for shipment.
The markets for processed alfalfa have predominantly been in areas where shortage of land to grow forage crops has led to large quantities of forage imports. Spot markets for alfalfa continue to emerge from time to time; largely to fulfil a specific need (such as weather related feed shortages). Alfa Tec markets about 60,000 – 80,000 tons of products per year. Production has increased by 23 percent within the past five years and business continues to grow steadily for this Sturgeon company.
Alfa Tec is located in Legal, Alberta