Court approves Morris Industries’ sale to Rite Way

Yorkton plant, not included in deal, to close

Seeding equipment manufacturer Morris Industries has been approved for sale to another Saskatchewan manufacturer — minus its Yorkton manufacturing plant, which is not part of the sale and is now expected to close by year’s end.

Judge Shawn Smith of Court of Queen’s Bench in Saskatoon on Friday approved the sale of Morris to a numbered-company arm of Superior Farms Solutions Ltd. (SFSL), the operator of Rite Way Manufacturing. The numbered company will operate as “Morris Equipment.”

The deal will see Morris’ Saskatoon head office, its Minnedosa, Man. manufacturing plant and its patents and related intellectual property go to Rite Way. The deal’s financial terms and dollar amounts are redacted in court documents posted online.

Rite Way and Morris’ court-appointed monitor have agreed to target a closing date of Dec. 31 for the deal.

In its report to the court on Dec. 11, Alvarez and Marsal, the monitor for Morris, described the deal as “the culmination of all of the efforts and resources expended by Morris Group and its stakeholders over the course of the last 12 months.”

If approved and completed, the monitor said, the deal “will preserve the core components of the 90-year-old farm equipment manufacturing enterprise carried on by Morris Group (and its predecessors) continuously from the 1920s until the present date.”

However, in its “exhaustive sale process” to find an investor or buyer for Morris, “no party had expressed to the monitor an intention to purchase, acquire or operate the Yorkton plant,” the monitor said.

The deal as reached means the Yorkton plant will close down when the deal is completed, officially putting the plant’s 20 remaining employees and another 50 laid-off employees out of work.

Without a letter of understanding, as was reached earlier this year between the company and the Yorkton plant’s union, the plant’s collective bargaining agreement would have required any buyer to “take on a degree of labour relations risk for their existing business operations” even if it didn’t buy the Yorkton facility.

The Yorkton plant’s workers, members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union Local 955, approved the terms of the letter in August in a vote at an open-air meeting at a Yorkton baseball diamond.

The exact contents of the letter were kept confidential in the monitor’s Dec. 11 report. It calls for creation of a fund to manage payments to Yorkton plant employees “whose employment is anticipated to be terminated.”

The importance of the letter of understanding to the deal “on which the survival of this business enterprise is based cannot be overstated,” Alvarez and Marsal wrote in its report.

BMO, which as Morris’ principal secured creditor is owed about $25 million, has said it supports the proposed sale but also now plans to file for an application-for-bankruptcy order against Morris Group, likely to be heard in court next month.

A bankruptcy would see the employment terminated for Morris’ Saskatoon and Minnedosa staff but, as the monitor’s report puts it, “reasonable prospects exist” for those staff to get employment with the new owner.

Operating in creditor protection since January this year, Morris’ businesses include manufacturing air carts, drills, seeders, harrow bars and bale carriers.

Founded in 1929 as Morris Rod-Weeder, the company was owned by the Morris family up until 2007, when it was sold to an ownership group led by then-CEO Casey Davis. Another ownership group, led by Ben Voss replacing Davis as CEO, took majority control in 2017.

Morris has operated a plant at Yorkton since 1949 and at Minnedosa since 1960, and went on to expand both plants several times. A company-owned dealership and service centre at Virden, Man. closed earlier this year.

Rite Way, founded by Regina machine shop owner Les Hulicsko, is today headquartered in Regina but has its main plant at Imperial, Sask., about 130 km north of the city. Hulicsko, who began building rock pickers in 1972, sold the business in 2012.

Apart from rock pickers and rock windrowers, Rite Way’s product lines today include land rollers, heavy harrows, rotary harrows, crimper rollers, bale carts, grapples and high-speed compact discs. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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Editor, Daily News

Dave Bedard

Editor, Daily News, Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.

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