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Being the best is no longer good enough

Global wheat buyers love our quality but cheaper alternatives have increased the need for building relationships

A recent trade mission to promote Canadian wheat went around the world in 14 days — or at least that’s how it felt to Greg Porozni.

“We had a very successful mission,” the Mundare-area farmer said of his travels to Indonesia, Dubai, Nigeria, and Ghana last month.

“These are growth markets, and that’s a really good-news story for Canadian wheat producers.”

Porozni joined a cohort of farmers and reps from Cereals Canada, Cigi (Canadian International Grains Institute), and the Canadian Grain Commission on the two-week trip to these markets. And in those regions, sustainability was “the big theme — clean air, clean water, clean land.”

“In Canada, we have all that, but when you land in these cities and see nothing but smog and polluted rivers and people everywhere, it starts to resonate that we take it for granted,” said Porozni, who sits on the Alberta Wheat Commission and Cereals Canada boards.

Across the globe in another emerging wheat market, Kevin Auch had a similar experience.

“Sustainability is not just a North American thing — it’s something that’s becoming important around the world,” said Auch, who visited Chile, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico City in mid-November.

“People want to make sure we’re taking care of the planet as we produce food in our production systems. There’s a real desire for sustainability in the world right now and for farmers and agriculture to consider the environment when we’re producing our food.”

And that was the message the Alberta Wheat chair stressed when talking with South American millers and bakers.

“I was sitting beside guys who are buying a quarter of a million tonnes of Canadian wheat at a time,” said Auch, who also sits on Cereals Canada’s board.

“I wanted to tell them our good-news story about how we are sustainable and how we’re producing a very nutritious and healthy crop in a very sustainable manner.

“I think we got that point across.”

Keen interest

Auch was “amazed” that 80 to 90 per cent of the buyers in those countries attended the information seminars hosted by the Canadian mission.

“We weren’t just talking to a couple of people. We were talking to the vast majority of buyers and mills and processors in those countries,” he said. “It’s a little bit intimidating in a way. Here I am as a farmer from Carmangay, Alberta, and I’m an ambassador for something that’s a lot bigger than me.”

In fact, one man drove eight hours to attend a seminar in Ecuador, which started at 8 a.m.

“He wanted to get to that meeting so much that he sacrificed a night’s sleep to get there,” said Auch. “I was quite impressed with the dedication that these buyers have — they want to come and hear about Canadian wheat and they’re interested in it.

“It’s their livelihood, and they want to make sure that they understand where their wheat is coming from and how it’s being produced.”

It’s no surprise that Canadian wheat — and wheat producers — are a hot commodity in these emerging markets. Buyers want Canada’s high-quality, high-protein wheat, and they want to hear about this year’s crop directly from the source.

“That’s why I think it’s so important for farmers to go on these trips, especially into Third World countries that don’t know what we do as producers in Western Canada,” said Porozni.

He shared an example of an ongoing concern in countries close to the equator — moisture content of wheat.

“I just showed them where I farm and explained that we struggle with moisture year after year,” said Porozni. “I explained that we would love to give them 13 per cent moisture consistently, but we just can’t.

“When you talk about it and give examples about how you struggle on your farm, instead of a scientist saying we have different climacticzones, it resonates a bit better. They’re talking about theory. I’m talking about practice.”

Black Sea threat

Consistent quality kept coming up with the millers and bakers they talked to.

“We’re known as a provider of consistent quality, and that’s quite important,” said Auch. “Bakers want to be able to have the same thing on the shelf for their customers every day. And they know that when they buy Canadian quality, what we’re telling them is actually what we’re selling them.”

By and large, Canadian hard red spring wheat is the best seller.

“In every country, there is a demand for our high-quality CWRS,” said Auch. “We’re starting to see some CPS and durum sales into these areas as well, but by far, the vast majority of what we sell into those countries is CWRS.”

In one country he visited, they actually labelled their high-quality bin as CWRS.

But for developing countries like the ones Porozni visited, Canadian wheat serves a different purpose — it’s blended with cheap wheat from the Black Sea region, which sells for about $50 a tonne less.

“If you’re… importing a million tonnes, that’s $50 million,” said Porozni. “Yeah, we’d like to sell 100 per cent wheat to these countries, but these are developing countries. They’re quite poor. Frankly, they can’t afford it.

“I’d rather send a 50 per cent blend to them than nothing.”

Every country he visited was importing Black Sea wheat and that makes building relationships more important that ever, he added.

“We need to get out there to our customers because everybody else is beating down the doors and talking about their wheat.”

Auch agrees that having the best quality isn’t, by itself, enough.

“We’re not the only country in the world that sells wheat. If we’re not there, our competitors will be. And they’ll gladly eat our lunch for us. I don’t want to see that happen.”

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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