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Historic Prairie elevators to be saved

CHOICELAND, Sask. -- Old-fashioned wooden grain elevators will not slip into the fog of history thanks to a success...

CHOICELAND, Sask. — Old-fashioned wooden grain elevators will not slip into the fog of history thanks to a successful campaign to sell dozens of the Prairie sentinels.

“This is helping me make a living, but a big factor is saving these buildings. They’re an important part of our history,” says Merv Andersen, one of the real estate agents involved in the sale of the 100 elevators owned by the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool.

In the past few months, the pool and Re/Max Crown Real Estate in Regina have concluded 46 sales, with deals pending on about 50 additional elevators scattered throughout the province. Another 100 elevators were sold in the past two years and the pool gave a half-dozen elevators to community groups and museums for display and other heritage uses.

Farmers purchased most of the elevators to store grain. Some of the elevators were bought by upstart grain handling companies, including some that will compete directly with the pool.

Following this year’s harvest, Richard and Carol Mardell bought the elevator in Choiceland, Sask., because it was cheaper than buying steel grain bins. Mardell said the elevator would hold his entire 2001 harvest, including several thousand bushels of grain now sitting in piles on his fields. The move will help ensure the farm’s survival as his son, Ian, comes into the business.

“A lot of this decision is because of his involvement. His decision to farm led me to decide to go ahead and expand. It’s also kind of sentimental,” Mardell tells local media.

Mardell would not say how much he paid for his elevator, although the price was “significantly less” than the $2-per-bushel cost of standard grain bins. Most elevators were listed between $240,000 and $440,000 for commercial uses. Farmers who wanted the elevators for storage use only were offered deeply discounted prices, ranging from $15,000 to $120,000.

In 1933, about 6,000 elevators dotted the Prairies. Today about 1,000 remain. The pool, the largest grain handler in Saskatchewan and Canada’s second largest grain company, has closed more than 300 grain elevators in the past three years.

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