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Sylvan Lake farmer joins Cigi board at a critical time

Kevin Bender’s new role will involve sorting out funding and trade issues

“It’s up to the industry as to how we want to continue funding. Do we see value in Cigi and is there enough value to keep funding it or is there some other model?" – Kevin Bender
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UPDATED: Aug. 3, 2016 – Governance, trace residues, and falling gluten strength.

Those are among the issues Kevin Bender wants to tackle in his latest off-farm role.

The grain grower from the Sylvan Lake/Bentley area — already vice-chair of the Alberta Wheat Commission and its representative on Cereals Canada — joined the board of the Canadian International Grains Institute last month.

Better known as Cigi, the non-profit facility plays a key role in the marketing of Canadian grain by offering to technical services to millers, bakers, and other buyers as well as organizing and leading ‘Team Canada’ missions abroad.

It also front and centre when grain buyers have a concern, such about as the presence of genetically modified organisms.

“It could be something like soybean dust that is present in the wheat shipment,” said Bender. “If there’s zero tolerance (in the other country), it might be minute, it might be parts per trillion. But that’s still not zero and that’s an issue.”

Cigi is trying to work with other countries to establish a benchmark or acceptable levels on GMOs and pesticide residues in wheat shipments. It is also dealing with complaints about falling gluten strength in the past few years — a problem blamed on three varieties that became popular with Prairie producers.

“The reclassification (of milling wheat classes) has helped address that, but at the same time, wheat acres in those three varieties have been declining,” said Bender. “The problem was correcting itself, but the Canadian Grain Commission took steps to reclassify those varieties as well as several others that didn’t fit.”

Those varieties will be moved into a new class, so growers and seed growers will have time to adopt new varieties into the new Canada Western Red Spring Wheat class as other varieties move into the Canada Northern Harvest Red Spring Wheat class.

But beyond these issues is a larger one.

“The most relevant and current issues are governance and funding,” said Bender. “We’re looking at the new funding model.”

The board will be determining what to do with the Western Canadian Deduction, the 15 cents the Canadian Wheat Board used to deduct from final payment for *each tonne of grain it sold and gave to Cigi. (The agency also receives funding from Ottawa and industry partners.) When the wheat board monopoly ended in 2012, the Alberta Barley Commission took over the program. But that agreement is ending soon.

“It’s up to the industry as to how we want to continue funding,” said Bender. “Do we see value in Cigi and is there enough value to keep funding it or is there some other model? Those are some of the things that we are working through.”

Many producers have told him that there is value in Cigi and want farmers to continue to help fund its work, he added.

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the Western Canadian Deduction (checkoff) was 15 cents per bushel rather than 15 cents per tonne. Alberta Farmer regrets the error and any confusion this may have caused.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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