Local grain farmers have a significant opportunity to boost their productivity and profits when a large distiller sets up shop in St. Clair Township.
President of Spirits Canada Jan Westcott has been touring the province and told CK News Today after making a stop in Chatham on Wednesday that grain farmers in Essex County, Kent County, and Lambton County are well positioned to benefit from increased corn, wheat, and rye production and profits when Diageo opens its $245 million facility in St. Clair Township sometime in 2025.
Diageo announced plans for a 400 acre plant on Moore Line near Highway 40 about 15 months ago with the capacity to produce 10.5 million gallons annually for its Crown Royal Canadian Whisky brand.
Westcott said with all of that whisky on the horizon, local grain farmers will need to up their game to keep quenching the public's thirst.
"We're very proud of the fact that 100 per cent of the grain that we use to make whisky and our other spirits is grown by Ontario farmers. We're lucky that we get the quality of grain that we need in the three counties," said Westcott.
Westcott said the spirits industry in Ontario buys anywhere from 225,000 and 250,000 metric tonnes of grain a year.
He also noted the new Diageo plant is the first commercial distillery built in Canada in over 50 years.
Westcott said Crown has been distilled in Manitoba for the past 30-plus years after a plant in Waterloo burned down to the ground, but that production will be returning to Ontario to use more Ontario grain.
"That will drive up our grain purchases in Chatham-Kent and in Essex and hopefully will inspire more farmers to put corn and wheat and rye in the ground for us," Westcott added. "The Grain Farmers of Ontario tell us that we're already the fourth largest buyer of corn and I suspect that once the new Diageo distillery gets up and running we'll be the third largest. We're never going to be as big as the ethanol guys (Greenfield) or the feed lot guys."
Westcott said it's been a long time since the spirits sector has had to source grain outside of Ontario and he thinks the local grain farmers are up to the challenge.
Westcott also talked about including spirits to be sold at grocery stores.
Currently, Ontario only allows the sale of beer and wine at grocery stores and he encourages the public to demand better from their MPPs.
He said selling spirits at grocery stores would generate an extra $150 million to $175 million for government coffers and wouldn't hurt the LCBO because grocery stores already buy beer and wine from the LCBO at regular mark ups.