It was a whirlwind visit — seven Asian nations in just 18 days — and an eye-opener for Willingdon farmer Greg Porozni.
“It was a gruelling trip, but it was good,” Porozni said after his recent Team Canada mission. “All we did was travel and present and we kept moving.”
The chair of Cereals Canada travelled with other grain industry officials to Japan, China, Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Bangladesh, and learned something with every visit.
“Japan wants the highest quality — it only wants No. 1 with fairly high protein, between 13.5 and 14 per cent protein,” he said.
Other Asian countries are looking for No. 2, blending Canadian Prairie Spring with wheat from the Black Sea region or Canadian Hard Red with low-protein wheats.
“That’s part of why hard red spring, especially Canadian Hard Red Spring, is in such demand. It’s because it’s so versatile,” said Porozni. “Part of that has to do with our (Canadian Grain Commission) classification system, and (because Prairie) growers do a good job of growing high-gluten, high-protein wheat.”
And that bodes well for the future.
One Asian grain official told Porozni that the Chinese middle class is expected to grow by 600 million in the next 20 years. The middle class in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Bangladesh is becoming larger as well, and millers are expanding their capacity and planning to buy more Canadian wheat.
Buyers were also pretty excited about shipping prices, which have plunged along with demand for other commodities in the last couple of years.
“If you can believe it, ocean freight from Vancouver to Singapore is $12 a tonne,” said Porozni. “Wheat is moving everywhere throughout the world because the ocean freight is so low.”
Henry Vos had a somewhat less hectic schedule on his Team Canada travels, but still squeezed in visits to London and the Italian cities of Foggia and Bologna in a six-day trip to Europe.
There are many long-standing European customers of Canadian wheat, a fact driven home by one British official.
“In the U.K., the managing director of the miller and bakers’ association reminded the group that the U.K. has bought wheat from Canada since 1842,” said Vos, who farms near Fairview.
The Italians and the British are big buyers of amber durum and Canadian Western Red Spring wheat.
“In the U.K., they order about 1.5 million tonnes of CWRS and about half a million tonnes of durum annually,” said Vos. “In Italy, it’s the reverse of that.”
One of his goals was to talk about the quality of the 2015 wheat crop, while buyers wanted to impress on the Canadians that quality storage, mycotoxins, and pesticide levels are top issues on their radar.
The Team Canada missions were started a year ago by Cigi, the Canadian Grain Commission, and Cereals Canada to both present new crop data and strengthen the bond between buyers and sellers of this country’s wheat.
The latter is important, said Vos, an Alberta Wheat Commission director.
“The one thing that I had a learning and appreciation of is the loyalty they have to Canadian wheat,” he said. “We need to respect their interest in buying our wheat year after year. It’s important to them.”
Having farmers go with officials from Cigi and the grain commission makes for a winning formula, both men said.
“We had a strong team that presented a positive message and we worked well together as a team to represent the entire value chain,” said Porozni. “When you come into those countries and they see that, they see the value in that.”
Decades of working with foreign millers, bakers, and grain buyers from abroad has allowed Cigi (short for the Canadian International Grains Institute) to build close ties, said Porozni, who is also an Alberta Wheat Commission director.
“I think a lot of times, if the price is close, they’ll buy Canadian wheat just because of those strong relationships.”
The buyers he met (which included millers in Toronto) were also very keen on Canada’s wheat classification system.
“There are some growers who think it is too regulatory and strict, but all we hear time and time again is how they really like the system and how it ends up being a very consistent milling wheat,” said Porozni.
The grain commission is in the midst of revamping the system, with two new classes — Canada Northern Hard Red and Canada Western Special Purpose — coming into effect on Aug. 1. Part of the revamp was to address buyers’ concern about low gluten levels.