Cigi technical exchange: Latin American millers recognize advantages of using Canadian wheat

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LA TE_Noodle

Jose Fernando Chacon Valencia (centre) takes a close look at dough used in processing noodles with other Latin American participants in Cigi’s pilot noodle plant.

Cigi welcomed 14 representatives from milling and processing companies in eight Latin American countries for a week-long technical exchange on July 13. The group represented organizations from Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru and Puerto Rico.

The program offered participants that included millers, grain buyers, and bakers an opportunity to not only experience Cigi’s milling, baking, analytical, and noodle and pasta processing expertise and facilities firsthand, but to also share information with their Latin American colleagues.

Stuardo Soler, general manager of Molsa in Guatemala and El Salvador, says the exchange gave him the chance to find out more about Canadian wheat and interact with professionals from other milling companies.  “When at Cigi you have a chance to learn something new and the resources are here so you can ask questions. And there’s also the interaction with classmates where there are people with a lot of experience and so you have the opportunity to exchange opinions.”

Mr. Soler’s participation in the program at Cigi follows a mission Cigi technical staff made to major milling companies in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rica in May. Personal contact is crucial to establishing business relationships in Latin America, he says, a fact echoed by Juan Carlos Arriola, Technical Specialist in Cigi’s Milling Technology area, who was part of the mission and formerly worked as a miller in Guatemala and Dominican Republic.

“This visit to Cigi is extremely important as it has made us realize the advantages of Canadian wheat,” Mr. Soler says, adding that as a member of his company’s board directors he intends to share his findings with other members. Molsa, which also has operations in other Central American countries such as Honduras and Nicaragua, has not used Canadian wheat for a number of years. “Canadian wheat has maybe the highest quality you can get and the good economical point on the milling side is the extraction or yield.”

Jose Fernando Chacon Valencia is plant manager of Harinera del Valle S.A., Colombia’s leading milling company and the country’s largest Canadian wheat importer. Responsible for wheat purchases for the operation which includes several mills, pasta plants and a bakery, he says the company exclusively uses CWAD, CWRS and CPSR except for soft wheat required for some baked goods.

During the past crop year a shortage of higher quality No. 1 CWAD that his company mills for premium pasta posed no problem, he says. Adjustments in the milling process for lower grade Canadian durum maintained the consistency and quality of the semolina.

Mr. Chacon agrees that Canadian wheat is high quality, is very clean and produces good flour yields. “Millers around the world, not only in Colombia, are going to prefer Canadian wheat every time because the yield (flour extraction) is higher.  The wheat is usually blended rather than used 100% because it’s got high protein and the quality.”

The market for bakeries in Colombia is growing, especially for specialty products, he says. “So Canadian wheat is very important as it gives you a lot of flexibility for blending, to give bakeries the quality they want.”

Mr. Chacon says that attending the technical exchange has given him the opportunity to find out what is currently happening in the industry and research, and to discuss topics of interest with technical staff. Like Mr. Soler, he says the program also gave him a chance to connect with other millers.

“Rarely can I talk with a miller from Peru or Chile,” he says. “The market in Chile is very different from Colombia, and the same for Peru, but there is always something that you can take back to your company. It was very good.”

During 2013-14 Colombia imported nearly 745,000 tonnes of wheat and 28,000 tonnes of durum from Canada. Combined, the eight Latin American countries represented on the technical exchange imported about 2.2 million tonnes of wheat and about 214,000 tonnes of durum.