Being located in the vicinity of their customers’ farming operations makes sense to Jason Wasylyk, who oversees the agricultural equipment manufacturer, Väderstad, based in southeast Saskatchewan.
Farms surround its location about three kilometres north of the Village of Langbank. It was in this part of the province that a need for grain farmers was identified just over thirty years ago.
That need was for equipment that very precisely, consistently places seed and fertilizer. This equipment would seed shallow at a consistent and accurate depth in zero-till conditions, helping to preserve ground moisture, creating efficiencies for producers.
The need for this type of zero-till seeding was identified and Seed Hawk was started in 1992, beginning production in a small shop with a few people.
“If you look at Saskatchewan, and in particular Saskatchewan agricultural manufacturers -- and there are many -- they all started in a very similar way. A farmer had an idea, which they developed into a protoype and from there it blossomed,” said Wasylyk, managing director of Väderstad Industries Inc. in Canada. He is also the director of operations, working at the Langbank facility.
Years later, the ownership of that company was at a farm show in Western Canada. While there, it got the attention of the Swedish manufacturer, Väderstad, who shared Seed Hawk’s appreciation for innovation and efficiency. That chance meeting led to a relationship developing.
In 2006, Väderstad bought a minority stake in Seed Hawk. This agreement allowed Väderstad to enter the North American market and it saw Saskatchewan-made Seed Hawk equipment begin to be sold in Australia, Ukraine, and soon after, Russia. By 2013, the relationship evolved to the point that Väderstad bought Seed Hawk outright.
What has grown from that early start in the early 1990s is a business that today has 240 people employed in research and development, manufacturing, operations, and sales and service with most of those employees working at a 75,000 square foot warehouse just off Highway 9.
Väderstad also maintains an office location in Regina where a cross-functional group of people work to support the business while the sales and service teams work from home in five provinces across Canada to be near to the customer.
Such stories are typical of agricultural manufacturers that start in Saskatchewan and explain why these types of businesses often originate in remote, rural areas.
But Wasylyk explains the reason Väderstad stayed where it all started -- hundreds of kilometres away from Saskatchewan’s largest cities in a province that is home to more than 40 per cent of Canada's cultivated farmland.
“Saskatchewan is central to agricultural in Canada,” said Wasylyk.
“We’re right in the heart of broadacre farming in Canada.”
As a manufacturer producing innovative equipment, it is important to see how it performs in the real world for the people who will purchase it and use it in their operations.
“That ability to take our products and test them immediately is very easy here. That would be much harder to do if we were located on Broad or Albert in Regina.”
Plus, being in rural southeast Saskatchewan means Väderstad is close to its customers, supporting its ability to sell and service the equipment it manufactures. Its main markets are western Canada as well as north central U.S.
That’s not to say Väderstad doesn’t have strong relationships with institutions in Saskatchewan’s largest cities. It is through these relationships that the manufacturer finds employees qualified to help it continue to grow.
“We have good relationships with the universities and Saskatchewan Polytechnic that provide an avenue for us to garner some of our skilled workforce,” said Wasylyk, who appreciates that the post-secondary institutions offer programs that are relevant to industry within Saskatchewan.
‘The University of Regina has an industrial systems engineering program. We typically get Co-op students through that program and 85 per cent of them end up working here so that’s been a very, very successful relationship.
“Certainly, a lot of our mechanical engineering designers come from that program at the University of Saskatchewan,” said Wayslyk who pointed out that some of his engineers had recently returned to the U of S with human resources professionals to attract more employees.
But then there are other employees who were trained at yet another post-secondary institution in the province.
“Saskatchewan Polytechnic has industrial mechanics, welding, and other relevant programs. Saskatchewan is good that way.”
“The human capital is not infinite. We really need to look at innovative ways within our manufacturing process to grow the business, grow our capacity, grow our volume without a direct one-to-one dependence on people.
“Our location is a reason behind that. The advantage is that it forces us to look at some things a little bit differently than maybe some traditional manufacturers would.
“That allows us an opportunity to invest in our people, to upskill them and develop new capabilities and competencies to allow us to evolve and accomplish what we want.”
The Canada-Saskatchewan Job Grant has been important to Väderstad in accomplishing that. Through the program, an employer contributes one-third of the cost of training while the federal and provincial governments contribute the remaining two-thirds. The employer selects who will be trained and the training program. They then employ the trainee at the end of training. Employers receive up to $10,000 per individual trainee. They can submit multiple grant applications to a maximum of $100,000 per fiscal year.
“We’ve used it, to be honest, with great frequency. So, it’s been a real advantage for us.”
Another important program to Väderstad has been the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program.
“Having the ability to invest in new Canadians and allow them an opportunity to get a foothold in Saskatchewan and help us grow the Väderstad community has been great,” said Wasylyk.
“It also helps them grow their communities and benefit the surrounding communities where all of these people live.”
While the future is always clearly in focus, the perspective on the past is never lost. The founder of Väderstad, Rune Stark, was known for repeating the phrase, "Built to last." That applies to more than the equipment being manufactured. It also pertains to the relationships
Väderstad has formed by being in Saskatchewan.
“We're here because this is where we were born. We remain here because we're right in the middle of our customer base. A lot of our staff have been with us for many years. Why would we want to be anywhere else?”