From milling to noodles and more – First week at Cigi an eye-opening experience

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Wheat is complicated. There are different classes, varieties, and grades that are all best suited for specific purposes.

Before I started working at Cigi for the summer, I didn’t know a lot about wheat. I was aware that people used hard (also called common) wheat for bread and soft wheat for cakes and cookies, but I had no idea there were so many variations in those categories.

Cigi shows industry professionals around the world the benefits of choosing Canadian wheat and the most efficient ways to use it in their products.

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Canadian wheat is used for hundreds of different products, including pasta.

But around the world, countries use grain in different ways, so Cigi’s job is a lot more complex than simply showing people which wheat makes the best pan breads.

Since my summer job involves participating in Cigi programs, taking photos of participants, and writing stories about their (and my) experiences at Cigi, I decided I needed to step up my agriculture game.

In preparation for my first Cigi program, the Africa Technical Exchange, I spent a week learning everything I could about what makes various classes of wheat different from each other, everything from the gluten index to flour extraction rates.

It’s specific characteristics like these that allow buyers to be sure that they get the wheat they want.

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While testing flour for gluten content, stretchy balls of gluten are created.

Nigeria’s staple bread is pan bread, just like here in Canada. But unlike Canada, Nigeria is extremely hot and humid. Most Nigerian bakeries are small, local businesses who don’t usually have air conditioning, so they often reach +40°c and 85 or 90 percent humidity. When making bread under those conditions, dough can become very sticky and hard to handle. Nigerian bakers use Canadian wheat because it gives a tolerance to the dough that keeps it workable in those extreme climatic conditions. They often blend Canadian wheat with wheat from other countries that may have a lower tolerance.

In order to properly inform and train people, Cigi needs to know not only what type of wheat-based products are commonly consumed in a country, they also need to know how those products are made and what the customers are looking for in that specific product, like the ability to work well in extreme heat.

That kind of preparation takes a lot of legwork. When Cigi conducts investigative and technical missions to other countries, it’s not just to train people onsite. It let’s Cigi technical staff see how local mills, bakeries, and other end-product processors work. They visit supermarkets and see what staple products are being sold. They see the main types of grains, starches, and pulses that are being consumed.

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Africa Technical Exchange Program participants Kenne Louw and Ndah Musa Bameyi were surprised to find a functioning pilot flour mill in a downtown Winnipeg office building.

When planning incoming programs held at Cigi, the staff also take into account the professions of the participants.

Both Kenne Louw and Ndah Musa Bameyi, the participants on the Africa Technical Exchange program, are millers so Cigi made sure they had multiple technical presentations in the pilot mill.

They also had presentations in analytical services, the noodle lab, pasta plant, the test bakery and pilot bakery, and the pulse lab, but the mill presentations were the most intensive.

Program participants also visit farms to see how Canadian wheat is grown and stored. The Africa Technical Exchange group toured Ellis Seeds, a farm near Wawanesa, Manitoba, approximately two hours west of Winnipeg.  Not only did they get to see how wheat is grown, but they were able to ask questions about fertilization, herbicides, and growing seasons.

Simon Ellis shows participant a plant from this year’s wheat crop at Ellis Seed Farms.

Simon Ellis shows Ndah Musa Bameyi (l) and Kenne Louw a plant from this year’s wheat crop at Ellis Seeds.

Since Ellis Seeds is a seed farm, they were also able to ask questions about wheat breeding and the differences in wheat classes and how wheat class quality is maintained.

The day after they toured the farm, Kenne Louw and Ndah Musa Bameyi travelled to Ontario to visit a terminal elevator in Hamilton, which gave them a complete picture of how the Canadian grain industry works together to maintain such high quality standards. Seeing how the properties of Canadian wheat are tested in Cigi’s facilities, hearing from a variety of industry representatives, and meeting with the farmers who grow the grain means that overseas customers know they can trust the quality of Canadian grain.

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Doing tests with the Extensograph takes three hours, but a thankfully a video cuts the process down to five minutes.

By sending technical missions to key markets, conducting applied research and talking to participants in Cigi’s programs, Cigi staff are able to tailor their information and presentations to the exact needs of millers, bakers, pasta producers, and anyone else around the world who uses or buys Canadian wheat.

Iraq-Canada Grain Industry Program
Cigi is also required to do some intense multi-tasking. While I was running around with the Africa Technical Exchange program, other people were busy with the Iraq-Canada Grain Industry Program, coordinating both programs’ tours and presentations so that everything ran smoothly.

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Iraqi participants learned about instant noodle processing during a technical session in Cigi’s noodle lab.

The Iraq-Canada program was larger than the Africa Technical Exchange program, with nine participants. The purpose of the Iraq-Canada program was to give them an overview of the crop quality and control systems that are in place in Canada and introduce them to key industry players. Their agenda included, but wasn’t limited to, presentations in all of Cigi’s technical areas, quality assurance presentations and grain grading demonstrations from the Canadian Grain Commission, a session on wheat breeding and varietal registration, and visits to a primary elevator and farm.

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The Iraq-Canada program had presentations in all of Cigi’s technical areas, including the pilot mill.

After leaving Cigi, they went to Vancouver and toured a terminal elevator there, as well as meeting with representatives in the CGC’s Vancouver office.

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Iraq-Canada Grain Industry program participants learned about the entire Canadian wheat value chain, from farmers to exporters.

Meet the Wheat Market: Nigeria and Iraq
Nigeria has a population of 181, 562, 056, but they don’t grow nearly enough wheat for internal demand. More than 90 percent of their wheat is imported from other countries. As of June 1, they have received 496.9 thousand tonnes of Canadian wheat this crop year, which is already 80 percent of what they received in total last year.

Iraq has a population of 37,056,169. As of June 1, they have imported 200 thousand tonnes of Canadian wheat, half of which they imported in April. It has been over 20 years since Cigi has hosted a program from Iraq.

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