By Tom Collins
PORT HOPE — It was just seven years ago that NorAg Resources was posting one-year revenues of $114.5 million. The business suddenly closed its doors in February.
NorAg founder Ben Currelly, whose family also runs a 4,000-acre cash crop farm at Port Hope, shuttered the business on Feb. 13, sending an email to clients and posting the same notice on the company’s web site. NorAg was a grains and oilseeds buyer and seller started by Currelly in 1998.
“I regret to announce the need to retire,” he wrote. “Over the last 35 years, I have treasured the relationship with you as we enthusiastically endeavoured to service your needs to the best of our ability. I have found that the older one gets, it becomes increasingly difficult to handle the stress involved in the operation of this business. Simultaneously, some health issues and my family have convinced me that I must slow down.
“Accordingly, I hereby advise you that NorAg Resources Inc. is terminating business effective immediately.”
When contacted by Farmers Forum, Currelly declined to elaborate.
“I’m not prepared to do that yet,” he said. “Let me think on it. I’m going away on holiday and I’ll possibly talk to you when I get a chance, okay? Call me again in a couple of weeks.”
John Lanthier, who runs Market Smart Inc., providing marketing advice to farmers, said the last time he brokered a deal between a farmer and NorAg was around Jan. 24.
Lanthier said he dealt with NorAg for 10 to 15 years and never had a problem until now.
Lanthier added that he is concerned about $13 million in contracts with his clients.
“I think the farmers are concerned,” he said. “The fact that Mr. Currelly had been anticipating retirement was not news to me, but the fact that he could simply terminate his business in the process was the shocking part. This is kind of unprecedented.”
NorAg’s website includes a document from five Ontario grain associations, including the Grain Farmers of Ontario, stating that “contracts made between parties, whether in the form of a signed document, a verbal agreement, or on a handshake, are legally binding and are required to be carried out until completion.”
Agricorp, a crown corporation and Ontario’s crop insurance provider, has a grain financial protection program that covers farmers in situations when contracts go unfilled. Agricorp communications manager Stephanie Charest told Farmers Forum in an email that farmers “may be financially protected under the grain financial protection program if a licenced dealer does not meet his payment or storage obligations within the applicable timeline. Producers who have not been paid for delivered grain within the timelines established under the Grains Act should contact Agricorp right away at 1-888-247-4999.
“If a dealer’s grain licence is suspended, revoked, not renewed or surrendered, he cannot purchase or accept grain from Ontario producers. Producers who have contracts with unlicensed dealers may choose to seek independent advice for assistance in dealing with any unfulfilled contracts.”
Charest says NorAg surrendered its grain dealer licence on Jan. 23. As of Feb. 27, Agricorp had received “fewer than 20 calls” from producers asking about NorAg’s surrendered licence and the financial protection program, she said.
NorAg was named one of Canada’s fastest growing companies in 2012 and 2013, according to national business magazine Profit, which solicits entries and evaluates five-year growth with financial statements.
Profit said NorAg earned revenues of $27.1 million in 2006, which jumped to $114.5 million in 2011 and between $100 to $250 million in 2012.
The last few years has seen NorAg run into some roadblocks. Around 2012, NorAg opened an office in Winnipeg, but shut it down on Dec. 31, 2015.
NorAg wanted to build two 20,000-tonne storage bins and an industrial dock along the St. Lawrence River between Morrisburg and Iroquois, but was met with heavy opposition from local residents. The project’s environmental assessment was rejected by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change on the grounds that insufficient documentation had been provided. The terminal and bins were never built.