Last week 26 western Canadian producers participated in the first of three Combine to Customer programs being held at Cigi over the next two months. The participants applied at the invitation of producer organizations, grain companies and the Alberta Wheat Commission.
“It’s really important to discuss with farmers what their customers are demanding and requiring and why they love Canadian wheat,” says Rex Newkirk, Cigi’s Vice President of Research and Innovation who chaired the program. “That is why we do these courses as well as looking at other ways to communicate with farmers in the future.”
He says that although the Combine to Customer programs involve a relatively small number of farmers, it remains an effective information tool. “It’s a very good way to get some good information to them so when they go home they can share with their neighbours.”
During the three days, farmers hear presentations from industry representatives, find out about grain inspection and grading at the Canadian Grain Commission, and attend sessions in milling, baking, noodle and pasta processing, pulses, and analytical testing.
With a large grain crop to move and limited rail capacity, transportation is a primary issue this year, Rex says. “That was a topic that farmers were most interested in which is key to them and impacts Canadian grain customers as well. Even though transportation isn’t something that Cigi focuses on, it was useful that we could bring in speakers, that we could facilitate a discussion between producers and parts of industry.”
Jeremy Welter, who farms about 2400 acres (971 ha) of canola, wheat, barley and peas, with his wife and parents near Kerrobert in west central Saskatchewan, said he found out about the program at the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan annual meeting. “I hadn’t heard of Cigi before but applied because I thought I’d find it interesting.
“The work done here is great. I see the opportunities created through the research, being able to promote Canadian products (crops) and using them in new ways. It’s important because it opens up markets for products we are currently growing.”
Jeremy says the program also offers the producers from across Western Canada an opportunity to connect with each other, to access more knowledge by sharing information and finding solutions to common problems.
Participant Tracy Cote from Fahler in northern Alberta said she got into farming full-time several years ago after a career in nursing. She attended the program with her husband Norm who has farmed for about 30 years. They currently grow canola, wheat, barley and peas on 2100 acres (850 ha).
“I just came into the farming community when we got married so we’ve had five years of farming together,” she says. “My husband was familiar with Cigi so because of his knowledge said this was an opportunity to get down to the meat and potatoes of what is going on. I have found out so much more about the particular grains and pulses and oilseeds out there and how they are being marketed, what research and development is going on here.”
Tracy says the program supports her perspective of their farming operation: “It will certainly help us, to learn about the marketing that’s being done, how we need to change things, how we need to diversify, how we look at what we need to do, how dynamic things are. Sometimes I hear producers say this is just what we do but I say there is so much more to it. It’s so expansive you need to be out there. It’s more global.”
The Combine to Customer programs offer farmers an opportunity to get to know Cigi, Rex adds. “I heard so many of them say this is the kind of work (marketing and technical activity) we need to be doing, it’s important that Cigi continues this work and that we engage with the provincial wheat commissions to do it.”
Registration has reached capacity for the upcoming Combine to Customer programs scheduled for February and March.