Western Canadian farmers add producer perspective to new crop missions

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Kent Erickson (left) visits a flour mill at the Institut de Formation de l'Industrie Meunière in Morocco with Ashok Sarkar, Cigi Head of Milling Technology (centre).

Kent Erickson (left) visits a flour mill at the Institut de Formation de l’Industrie Meunière in Morocco with Ashok Sarkar, Cigi Head of Milling Technology (centre).

Four western Canadian farmers travelled with Cigi’s new crop missions for the first time to Asia, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa in November and December. The farmers led off the new crop seminars with presentations which provided customers with an invaluable producer perspective. The experience also offered the farmers insight into customer countries.

“I was excited to go to Southeast Asia (and China) as I’d never been before and to get to represent Canadian farmers, the Alberta Wheat Commission, and Grain Growers of Canada was a real honour,” says Gary Stanford, a grain farmer near Magrath, Alberta who is also a member of the AWC Board of Directors and Vice-President of the GGC Executive Committee.

“I think when you are on your own farm you want to do a good job and be proud of producing food for the world, so to go and see where the grain is actually bought and used was a real highlight for me. It was awesome to see the large flour mills and the cultural food differences.

“The millers and bakers were so proud of the grain they were buying and the final products they were making to sell to the public,” he says. “For them to meet a farmer growing the product (grain) I thought was a major step forward to creating better public relations. It seems relationships are very important to them.”

Gary says he is pleased Canadian wheat is being purchased in the countries he visited – China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam – but it is important that Canadian grain sellers keep informed on the quality of wheat varieties to be able to answer customers’ questions. Canadian wheat quality must also be maintained as Canada is one of the most distant countries, competing with lower quality wheat that is plentiful and accessible. However, high quality wheat is in demand to blend with other wheats for particular food products.

“Canada needs to support the grain we sell so that countries know how to mill and bake it to the best potential,” he says. “I thought Cigi staff did a great job explaining what grain we have here to sell and what the milling qualities are to best utilize it.”

Kevin Auch, who farms near Carmangay, Alberta and is also a director with the AWC, presented at seminars on the European new crop mission which, over several days, took in the U.K., Spain, Italy and Germany. He says he was glad to have the opportunity to represent Alberta and western Canadian farmers on the mission and one of the highlights was interacting with European customers and answering questions about Canadian grain production.

“My biggest objective was to help give a positive image of the wheat that we produce here in Canada and that we farmers care about the needs and concerns of our customers,” Kevin says. “We were able to connect with a large number of European wheat processors in order to promote the Canadian brand and quality. 

“It’s very important to let our buyers know that we are listening to them and we will always strive to supply them with the best product that fits their needs.  Canada has a great reputation, but there are many competitors who would love to take our place if we don’t actively maintain or expand our place in these markets.”  (Hear Kevin’s interview with Golden West radio at https://cigi.ca/alberta-farmer-discusses-new-crop-mission-in-europe-during-radio-interview/ )

Kent Erickson, AWC chairman, who farms near Irma, Alberta, travelled with the new crop mission to the Middle East and North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco). “As a producer in Western Canada, we don’t have the opportunity to meet and observe the end location for our products.  It fascinated me to see the trust and safe guards that are in place for our grain to travel up to three months before it hits their port. This showed me the value of our system and how it needs to be in place to uphold the quality standards that we consistently offer.“

Kent says that farmers need to pay attention to market signals but also understand that the premium will be in the higher quality market and that the logistical system in Canada needs to be pushed to maintain grain movement and increase its efficiency.

The trip opened his eyes to what end users need from Canada, echoing the experience of the other farmers on the missions. In addition to Gary, Kevin and Kent, Terry Young an AWC director from Lacombe, Alberta, participated in the Latin American new crop mission to Venezuela, Colombia and Chile.

“End users want quality and consistency,” says Kent. “They can get low quality from anywhere in the world but Canada has the highest quality wheat and they want it.

“The millers at these new crop missions expressed the importance of the information that Cigi gives them every year,” he says. “The producer perspective was also very well received. It gave the end users some understanding of where their crop was coming from and what is involved in the operations that grow their product in Canada.” 

At an industry debrief session following the new crop missions, Cigi CEO Earl Geddes praised the role that the farmers played in communicating with customers and emphasized the importance of their continued involvement in future missions.