Cigi’s International Grain Industry Program leaves lasting impression

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Twenty-nine men and women from 15 different countries around the world gathered at Cigi last week for the 48th International Grain Industry Program, a course that invites international millers, processors, traders, and managers to learn about the grain industry in Canada and the value chain that surrounds it. Over the last two weeks, the group participated in discussions and demonstrations on Canadian grains and pulses that provided a broad perspective on the industry from wheat breeding, inspection and grading to handling, transportation, marketing, and technology.

That being said, after full days of learning and meeting different industry representatives, the group had a lot of fun too getting to know each other and more about their respective countries.

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The participants eagerly anticipate dinner at Winnipeg’s famous family-owned restaurant, DeLuca’s. Virtually all of them hail from different parts of the world, but only a couple of days into the program, and they’re already sharing smiles, jokes, and exchanging knowledge of the grain industry.

Last year, Canada exported 17.3 million tonnes of wheat and another 4.8 million tonnes of amber durum. Canada’s wheat exports stretch around the globe. We have customers all over the world, from Latin American countries, to expanding markets in Africa, to the slew of countries in the Middle East, and all the way to Eastern Asia. What is truly amazing, though, is that all these countries have different applications for our grain, whether it’s pan breads, flat breads, noodles, pasta, whatever!

And this is why our participants are in attendance for Cigi’s 48th International Grain Industry Program. Yes. Forty-eighth. The first iteration of this program in 1973 also brought in a comparable 32 students, 13 of which came from eight of Canada’s customer countries. Then as now, each had different and unique end-product requirements.  And after spending time with the group of participants in the 2015 class, it was obvious that the opportunity to learn from industry experts is as relevant today as it was 42 years ago.

Akshay Patel, a trader from Singapore, says that it’s good to learn about the technical qualities of the grain regardless of the differences in use from country to country.

“They’ve taught us how you analyze the grain based on what you require—dough strength, extensibility. They’ve taught us so many things that will help us use it in our specific applications,” says Akshay. “It needn’t be specific to one country. It can just be an overall teaching of how you can see value in the grain and you can use it in your own country according to your specific requirement.”

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Participants gather around Kelly Gogela, a Cigi technician in Analytical Services, who shows them how to operate equipment used to measure gluten levels.

During the program they covered many different end-product applications—the flat breads of the Middle East, African cous cous, various Asian noodles, and of course, pan bread, which is more or less ubiquitous around the world.

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Kasia Kaminska, Technician in Asian Products and Extrusion Technology, guides the group in moulding CWRW dough that will eventually be made into steamed buns.

“I’m learning from the classroom and the sessions,” says Anup Kumar Saha, business director of a flour milling company in Bangladesh, “but also from my colleagues, the participants from different countries.

“We have different people here, from the commercial section to millers to owners,” says Anup. “It gives us the opportunity to learn, for example, the milling culture and behaviour from different parts of the world. We are exchanging views and experience based on what we use in our own country.”

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Frank Bergen, Milling Technologist, shows the group the disc separator in Cigi’s Pilot Mill.

Being a trader from Singapore who trades thousands of tonnes of CWRS a year, Akshay says that the industry is akin to an abstraction; he never really gets to see the farms and feel the grains, but this program offered him that chance.

Akshay stands in a field of wheat on Craig Riddell's farm, a sight he's never seen before. Well, it's a sight he's never seen in person before.

Akshay stands in a field of wheat on Craig Riddell’s Manitoba farm, a sight he’s never seen before. Well, it’s a sight he’s never seen in person before!

“It’s quite a technical program. It extensively covers from the farmer right down to the shipment itself,” he says. “It also covers the technical aspect of the grain and how the wheat is marketed around the world.”

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The group even made it out to the Richardson South Lakes primary elevator, to see the processes involved in receiving, handling and storing wheat.

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The sheer size of these monumental buildings really is a testament to how much grain moves through them ready to ship out to port.

Even though this program has helped him learn about Canadian grain and its corresponding markets, one of Akshay’s biggest takeaways was actually learning from his fellow participants.

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Ahmad Asiri, who works in lab analysis for a flour milling company in Saudi Arabia, and Yuki Ono, in charge of quality control for a flour milling company in Japan, learn to roll a flat bread together in Cigi’s Pilot Bakery.

“Guys from Latin America, Africa, Japan, it’s interesting to see how all of them have different requirements and different views on the wheat. It’s interesting to learn from them,” says Akshay. “There are flour millers. There are traders. Everybody has an opinion to share.”

Akshay was pleased with the diversity the program brings with respect to end-product application.

“There are products I see in Singapore, which the guys in Latin America have never seen before like the steamed buns made of CWRW. We had a workshop on it.” While this workshop was beneficial to Akshay, he still found value in the seminars and applications used for other end-products. After all, the program is a full two weeks, plenty of time to get a comprehensive overview of multiple disciplines and how Canadian wheat can be used in various ways.

After a little more than a week had passed, the international group traveled west to Alberta and then on to Vancouver, British Columbia. There, they visited the Canadian Grain Commission offices before ultimately touring a terminal elevator, operated by Alliance Grain, to see where grain gets ported off around the world. However, even after a week in Winnipeg, I knew that the International Grain Industry Program had left a lasting impression on these inquisitive and amicable people. It offered them a place and time where they were able to connect with us here at Cigi and with others in the Canadian industry but also with each other as agricultural professionals from around the world.

Excluding Canada, the 48th International Grain Industry Program participants came from 14 different countries:

  • Bangladesh
  • Chile
  • China
  • Colombia
  • Ecuador
  • Ghana
  • India
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Peru
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Singapore
  • United Kingdom

Mike Kontzamanis is a Creative Communications student at Red River College in Winnipeg, working at Cigi for the summer.  Watch for more articles from Mike about Cigi’s programs and other activities over the next several weeks.