“Farmers get a chance to see exactly why qualities like protein level or falling number are so important. And they get to ask the experts questions.”
For many years there have been courses in Winnipeg to learn more about the organizations in the grain industry, but it used to be that you had to be sponsored by a company or industry organization.
Now, anyone can enrol in grain business courses from the best in the business and learn more about any grains produced in Canada and what’s involved in using them.
The Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI) has an international reputation for its courses for overseas and domestic customers who want to learn about how to purchase and use Canadian grains and oilseeds. Since 1972 it’s hosted more 31,000 people from 114 countries. In addition to classroom lectures, CIGI has milling, baking and pasta-and noodle-making facilities to give course participants a hands-on demonstration of how to use Canadian grain. They can also visit the Canadian Wheat Board, the Canadian Grain Commission and other industry organizations in Winnipeg.
Companies send new staff, grain companies bring overseas users so they’ll understand how to handle Canadian grains in their products and people involved in one part of the grain industry come to the overview course to understand how their business fits into the whole industry.
Traditionally, each course was developed for an industry group. One exception has been regular Combine to Customer courses, put on six to eight times a year for farmers and others invited by CWB farm business reps.
“We’ve had 60 of those courses and they’ve been very successful,” says Heather Johnson of CIGI. “Farmers get a chance to see exactly why qualities like protein level or falling number are so important (both affect baking quality). And they get to ask the experts questions.”
Johnson says comments from participants are consistent and positive, usually about the complexity of grain marketing. “I had no idea there was so much involved in selling my grain,” and “This was really interesting,” are the most common. Networking among the participants is important too, as people build relationships with people outside their usual circles.
Open to all
Now, CIGI has opened up many of its courses to anyone who wants a better understanding of grain technology. Among the current offerings is a grain overview course – much like the CWB’s combine-to-customer sessions, but covering all Prairie grains and oilseeds. Others such as an Asian noodle technology and milling technology program include hands-on experience in the flour mill and noodle lab. Those are aimed mainly at millers and technical specialists, but anyone interested in setting up a plant or improving an existing facility is also welcome.
In the last two years, CIGI has introduced study tours to countries that buy Canada’s grain. The first trip to Russia took six farmers to farms in the Volgograd region. This July there’s a Chinese study tour to a region very like Western Canada. So far, 12 farmers have signed up for the two-week tour of farms of all sizes from a tiny subsistence farm to state farms covering 250,000 acres with its own flour mill and pasta plant.
Because CIGI’s work involves technical exchanges and hosting overseas specialists, it has developed relationships in all parts of the world. It takes advantage of these contacts to set up interesting and informative visits.
“It really is a study tour,” says Rick Morgan, who leads the overseas farm tours. “Sleep was at a premium on our Russia trip. We drove from farm to farm and walked through fields and climbed on equipment from early morning till evening and I expect this tour will be the same. We don’t do a lot of sightseeing.”
Biofuel is more recent CIGI initiative. It has a demonstration trailer set up to make biodiesel and assess its quality that it takes across the country to help communities, farmers or the general public understand what’s involved in biodiesel production.
The course is hands-on and a lot of fun. You bring your oil source, from coffee grounds to canola seed or fryer fat, and make your own biodiesel. The staff uses the equipment to make a 30-gallon batch.
After running courses for three years, the biofuel unit has course alumni who’ve gone on to build 10-or 20-million litre per year plants, and a several who make their own fuel at home.
Biofuel specialist Rex Newkirk takes the trailer to the Calgary Stampede and other events to help overcome the negative press on biofuels and confusion of ethanol and biodiesel.
“I show people that we can make fuel that doesn’t smoke or smell from weed seeds or heated canola and help people capture value from something with no value,” he says. “Turning good canola into fuel upsets some people, but you never want to be beholden to one market – if you can can market food, feed and fuel, you have a better chance of capturing the full value of your crop more of the time.”