Frank Bourgault – Farmer, Innovator and Community Leader
Ever since he was a boy, Frank Bourgault had shown inventive abilities, combined with good mechanical instincts. As a young man, Frank built a gas engine powered snow toboggan long before snowmobiles were developed. He also patented a new type of root rake for the family farm. In 1969, Frank was a 44 year old farmer and partner in the Massey Ferguson farm implement dealership in St. Brieux, Saskatchewan. During his time at the dealership, Frank earned a reputation as an excellent farm equipment mechanic by solving problems that other mechanics were unable to solve. This often included making modifications to existing designs to make the equipment work in the area. Since the area around St. Brieux was extremely stony and hard on equipment, Frank gained experience on every make of cultivator in the countryside. He learned the strengths and weaknesses of each machine down to the individual components. Problems with existing designs included excessive shank bending, poor residue clearance, lack of soil penetration capability, and poor weed kill. Frank felt that he could produce a cultivator design that could overcome many of the shortcomings he saw in his shop and in the field. His goal was to do so while producing an implement that could do the job of both a chisel plow and a cultivator, eliminating the need for farmers to purchase both machines.
F.P. Bourgault Industries Ltd. Established – The Timing Was Right
In December of 1974, right in the middle of the largest equipment demand boom ever seen, a manufacturing facility was officially opened in the southeastern corner of the village of St. Brieux. The plant included a 4,000 square foot production area and an 800 square foot office. Recruiting local people, Bourgault Industries began with a work force of 10, mostly welders and metal fabricators. They were mainly younger and middle-aged farmers. One of Frank’s goals with the establishment of his enterprise had been to provide local employment opportunities for the community for those being forced off the farm by low grain prices. Frank’s enterprise provided seasonal and full time employment for many in St.Brieux and the surrounding community. By February 1975, a second shift of 12 production workers was put in place to meet the demand for the new cultivators and mounted harrows. In the spring of 1975, the first major run of 75 cultivators and mounted harrows went into service in various locations throughout Western Canada.
Family Members Fully Support Frank’s Vision
Gerry joined the company full time in May of 1975. He had recently graduated from the College of Engineering with honors, receiving his degree with Great Distinction. Upon completing high school Frank's second son, Joseph Bourgault, began travelling throughout the province as a sales representative, recruiting implement dealers to retail Bourgault’s new Dual-Purpose Cultivator. Claude Bourgault, Frank's third and youngest son, also joined the company after completing his high school education.
In the spring of 1976, Bourgault Industries recruited Richard Coquet, Frank’s nephew, from B.C. Hydro. Rick was a Civil Engineering graduate from the University of Saskatchewan, earning his degree with honors. By the spring of 1977, the design team, comprised of Frank, Paul, Gerry and Rick, had developed the agricultural industry’s most advanced and durable cultivator, the Bourgault Vibra-Master. From 1976 to 1979, nearly 1,000 cultivators were manufactured, keeping the staff, now numbering approximately 100, extremely busy. More cultivator designs evolved during this period to expand the tillage line from a width of 36 feet to include models with widths of 40 and 50 feet.
Air Seeder Carts Added to the Product Line Up
In 1978, Frank acquired the rights to manufacture a unique seed metering system from Jerome Bechard, a well known Saskatchewan inventor. The Bechard Seeding System became the heart of the new Bourgault air seeder. After a two year design and development effort, the Bourgault Model 138 Air Seeder was introduced. The first 7 air seeders were manufactured in the fall of 1980 followed by a production run of 40 more units in the winter and spring of 1981.
The Model 138 was the first air seeder to be towed behind the cultivator, giving the operator an unobstructed view of all of the shanks. The Model 138 Air Seeder could quickly be disconnected, freeing the cultivator for other fieldwork. This concept of a tow-behind unit has served as the model for virtually all of the air seeders currently being produced throughout the world.
In 1982, Bourgault introduced the first five-row, dual-purpose cultivator design which provided residue clearance on a narrow spaced cultivator that even exceeded that of a chisel plow. In the spring of 1984, a quick-change mounted packer system was introduced to the market. This innovative design allowed farmers to interchange harrows and packers on their seeding unit, depending on the farmer’s seeding requirements. A four wheel model air seeder cart, the Model 180, was developed and went into production in the fall of 1984. This 180 bushel unit was designed for the largest farming operations of that time. When the unit was first introduced, many farmers commented that nobody would ever have a need for a unit this large! The Model 135, with the same frame as the Model 180 was later released, replacing the three-wheeled Model 138. A new and innovative air seeder option was introduced, which allowed farmers to load and unload their air seeder tanks without having to drag an auger to the field. A full floating hitch, five-row cultivator was also released for production in 1984. The unique design increased the cultivator’s contour following capabilities and produced more uniform opener penetration. Bourgault’s floating hitch design basically ushered in a new era in cultivator design where cultivators were no longer primarily designed to till the soil and kill weeds, but rather to accurately and uniformly deposit seed.
F.P. Bourgault Industries Ltd. Creates Two Divisions
In November 1985, F.P. Bourgault Industries Ltd. was reorganized into two divisions. F.P. Bourgault Industries Cultivator Division Ltd. remained at the original site in the village of St. Brieux and F.P. Bourgault Industries Air Seeder Division Ltd. was located just ½ a mile north of St. Brieux. Frank Bourgault retained the position of President for both Divisions. Each division was responsible for the development, manufacture and support of their respective lines. However, the two divisions operated as one marketing entity using a common sales force.
Product Line Expands Further
The Cultivator Division went on to develop a full line of floating hitch chisel plows from 28 feet to 60 feet. It also acquired a tillage tool manufacturing line from the defunct Co-op Implements Ltd. and began to manufacture tillage openers. The production equipment was moved from Portage La Prairie, Manitoba to St. Brieux. It was here that the design team developed a new concept of a long wearing sweep opener called the Parallel Wing sweep. Although a revolutionary concept at the time, this design is now commonly used by a wide range of manufacturers.
The Air Seeder Division was responsible for the production and expansion of the air seeder cart line. However, it also began the development of other agricultural products. These included the Convert-A-Bar, Centurion Field Sprayer and 4000 Wing Type Packer product lines. Patents were applied for and issued for many of the product designs developed during this period.
In the summer of 1991, the Cultivator Division sold the large equipment product line to the Air Seeder Division to focus exclusively on the tillage tools line under a new and more appropriate name. The new company was called F.P. Bourgault Tillage Tools Ltd. It became the main provider of tillage tools for Bourgault’s cultivator line; however, also produced tillage tools for other lines. Since its formation in 1991, F.P Bourgault Tillage Tools Ltd. has greatly expanded its product line and market area, becoming a world leader in field opener technology.
Between 1992 and 1995, Bourgault continued to expand its tillage equipment line up and developed the Model 5700 Air Hoe Drill. The development of the 5710 Air Hoe Drill soon followed along with the development of the 4000 series of air seeder carts, several models of field sprayers, the 4700 Air Coulter Drill, the 1100 Grain Cart and the Series 20 Mid Row Banders.
One of most significant equipment developments in Bourgault’s history has been its coulter Mid Row Bander® system. In the early 1990’s, Bourgault Industries Ltd. pursued the development of a side-banding, double shoot opener for one pass seeding and fertilizing. However, during testing, Bourgault’s designers found that side banding openers could not consistently provide good results over the full range of field conditions. The consensus was that a better one-pass seeding solution was required to provide farmers with a high level of seed safety and the highest levels of emergence over the full range of soils and moisture conditions expected to be encountered by the seeding units. The system, which utilized a coulter opener between every second seed-row to apply nitrogen fertilizer, was first pursued and developed with the cooperation of Garry and Glenn Meier of Meier Bros. Farm in Ridgedale, Saskatchewan and Peter Kondratowicz Sr. and his sons at the Kondratowicz’s farm at Unity, Saskatchewan. Released for production in 1995, the Bourgault Mid Row Bander® system allowed farmers to apply any form of nitrogen fertilizer, in a one-pass seeding operation, while eliminating the possibility of seed burn and minimizing seedbed disruption.
The period between 1995 and 2004 saw the release of new products including the 5000 series of air seeder carts, 750 Grain Cart and the Series 25 MRB II. Bourgault also entered the hay handling market with the development of the 1650 Round Bale Mover.
In the fall of 1992, Bourgault Industries Ltd. had identified an opportunity to set up a steel profile cutting facility. A stand alone, steel sheet and plate profile cutting division was created to not only provide profile cut parts for Bourgault Industries Ltd., but also to other surrounding manufacturers. It was called CNC Precision Profiles Plus. This division was soon operating at full capacity, producing parts with a computer-controlled oxygen and natural gas unit. A plasma cutting system for cutting lighter material was later added.
CNC Precision Profiles Plus has grown steadily and today operates five state of the art laser cutting machines, three of which are linked to an automated material handling system which allows for cutting without having human operators present.
During 1995, Bourgault Industries Ltd. purchased a controlling interest in the local plastic product manufacturing company, Free Form Plastic Products Inc., which supplied the sprayer tanks, air curtains for sprayers, and various other plastic products. Free Form Plastic Products continues to provide plastic components to Bourgault Industries Ltd., and is also marketing several lines of products under it’s own name and Fenderco™ Fenders.
On May 23rd, 2006, Bourgault announced the acquisition of Highline Mfg. Inc. of Vonda, Saskatchewan. The company was renamed Highline Manufacturing Ltd. with its head office remaining in Vonda, Saskatchewan. Highline had developed an excellent reputation for producing quality products and standing behind them. Its core product was its industry leading line of bale processors. It had a skillful and experienced staff that Bourgault saw as a solid base for moving the company forward. Since 2006, Highline created an industrial division to produce a highly innovative family of mower designs.
Bourgault Industries Ltd. began marketing its products in the U.S. in the late 1970’s because it had the cultivator of choice for mating with Prasco’s line of air seeders. Many cultivators were sold into the U.S. market in 1979 and 1980. Unfortunately, Prasco went into receivership soon after and other manufacturers picked up Prasco’s market share. Bourgault continued to sell its products into the northern U.S. but only at a modest pace. To increase its penetration into the U.S. market, it was considered necessary to establish a physical presence. After researching several locations, Minot, North Dakota became the location of choice. In August 1994, fifty-eight acres of land was purchased on the northern end of Minot, along highway #83. A new 30,000 square foot facility was built to serve as the company’s U.S. headquarters.
In 1995, Bourgault Industries Ltd. entered the Australian market with an agreement with a local farm equipment manufacturer, Forward Engineers Pty., to manufacture all of the larger components and provide final assembly for distribution of Bourgault cultivators and air seeders across West Australia. After a few years, Bourgault Industries Ltd. took over the marketing and distribution of it’s own products in Australia. Shortly after, Bourgault built a new assembly and distribution facility in Armadale, Western Australia, just adjacent to the city of Perth. From this location Bourgault Australia oversees warehousing, product assembly and product support for all Bourgault equipment in the country. A second distribution facility in Parkes, New South Wales, has been set up to service Australia’s east coast. Bourgault has developed various Australian specific product lines, such as the AU Series air seeders carts, the 11-15 meter tri-plex floating hitch cultivator and the HVB hydraulic trip assembly that better suits the particular requirements of Australia farmers.
Bourgault Industries Ltd. has also developed markets in Eastern Europe and Asia. In 2002, Bourgault began the distribution of equipment in this region, primarily in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. A strong network of dealerships has developed over the years. Recently, a sales and support services office has been opened in Kiev, Ukraine to provide a base of operations for Eastern European sales and service staff. Because of the solid performance of the equipment and dedicated support of its staff, Bourgault has become one of Eastern Europe’s major suppliers for seeding equipment.
Bourgault’s facility in Minot, North Dakota will enter a new level of service in the fall of 2008. In addition to providing sales and service support for Bourgault products sold in the U.S., this facility will include the production of PHD™ and MRB® assemblies plus provide final assembly of 3310 PHD™ units for sale in the U.S. and Western Canada.
Since acquiring Highline Manufacturing, Bourgault has gradually shifted selected Bourgault products to Vonda to help fully utilize this plant’s capacity. A significant setback was experienced July of 2007 with a major fire at the plant. However, Highline has since repaired and rebuilt, making major improvements along the way. A 12,000 square foot expansion is being added to the existing plant and the creation of a second production line in the existing plant area will double the plant’s capacity by the fall of 2008. This will allow Highline to take on manufacturing of additional Bourgault products, and accommodate the additional demand expected to be generated for Highline’s new and innovative products, primarily its line of rotary mowers.
Bourgault is Very Well Positioned for Future Success
The success of Bourgault Industries Ltd. would not have occurred without the dedication and skill of the talented team of men and women who are the backbone of the company. Their contributions have been crucial in building the company’s reputation for producing high quality products and providing superior service to its customers. They have been key to making Bourgault Industries Ltd. the world leader in air seeder technology. With a continued focus on product development, the increased use of automated manufacturing, the proliferation of Lean methodology throughout the company, continued market expansion and aggressive efforts to find and recruit the most talented team members, Bourgault Industries Ltd. is looking forward to meeting the challenges that lie ahead.