Ritchie Feed & Seed Inc., a longtime member of the North Dundas business community and supplier of agricultural products to local farmers is closing its Winchester office at 685 St. Lawrence St.

The decision is the result of an inability of parent company Richie Feed & Seed being able to expand their operation, to include a greenhouse on their four-acre property in Winchester.

Ritchie Feed & Seed came to Winchester in 1992.

Scott Endicott, a partner as well the CFO of the company said the decision to close their store in Winchester was not taken lightly.

The employees at the location have been offered positions at other store locations in Ottawa.

Endicott gave some context to the decision. He said, “In 2020 Ritchie Feed & Seed sold its commercial feed business to Masterfeed, so we no longer sell commercially to dairy farms and we no longer manufacture our own product. They bought our commercial  business as well as all our recipes as well took over our manufacturing facility. We are a dealer for Masterfeeds. I do not handle bulk feed or commercial business.”

Because of the change in direction, the Winchester location had to change as well and a decision was made to expand the Ritchie Feed & Seed, already successful in horticulture and garden centre products. To do that, the company needed to build a state-of-the-art greenhouse on the Winchester property.

“We were running an agriculture outlet that is really seeing a shrinking market,” said Endicott.

The other Ritchie Feed & Seed outlets are in Brockville, Ottawa, Richmond and Stittsville and had already moved away from being purely agricultural suppliers, expanding into the garden supplies’ market.

“After we sold the commercial feed business, our facility in Winchester was primarily an agricultural outlet.” Endicott explained, “Our plan for Winchester was to expand in the horticulture direction. We were going to look at putting up some greenhouses. That was our original plan: we felt the only way to keep that facility viable was to change and evolve. Basically, over the last 12 to 15 months, we had worked with trying to put in a fairly large substantial greenhouse on our facility there, and it became too costly and prohibitive.

Building the kind of greenhouse required became very expensive, mostly because of current construction labour and material costs. “It was going to become well above budget,” said Endicott. “We are a commercial business we are not a farm, so for us to build our greenhouses, they would have to be a commercial greenhouse which is held to a higher standard.”

A greenhouse needs a fair amount of water and as it turns out, Winchester’s current drinking water allocation meant that the township was not able to provide a water allocation to Richie Feed & Seed, at least not in the short-term.

One option was to drill a well, which was considered, but the cost was prohibitive.

“I looked into getting a well drilled but the concern with a well was that it was going to be quite a bit of money but with no real guarantees.”

In the end, the water issue while solvable, was one more factor of many that made building a greenhouse at the Winchester location an unrealistic business venture.

“We exhaustively looked at several options over the last 12 to 15 months. I had already put in a sizable pile of money doing studies but we could not find a way for us to do this in an economically responsible manner,” said Endicott.

“We were disappointed. There was more to it than just the water.”

Endicott wanted to remind his Winchester customers that they can still get the great products they are used to getting from Ritchie Feed & Seed by going online and having them delivered.

“For our customers in Winchester and North Dundas, we will still service them by delivery for any of the products they are accustomed to buying,” he said.

He added, “This decision was not made lightly. We do value [the] relationships we have in the Winchester area.”