Canadian wheat has some satisfied customers, according to a British buyer who spoke at a Canadian Wheat Board farm meeting in Manitoba this month.
Gary Sharkey is head of wheat procurement for Premier Foods, one the largest food companies in the United Kingdom, with holdings that include Rank Hovis, the nation’s biggest flour miller and bread maker.
“We know milling and baking inside out,” Sharkey told farmers at a meeting in Somerset, Man. “If I were to go to one of my High Street bakers and ask them what quality or origin of wheat they would like in their bread product it’s always Canadian. In the U. K. it’s the highest-quality wheat we can get our hands on.”
Sharkey said he pays a premium for Canadian wheat, but can afford to because his customers pay more for the flour made with Canadian wheat.
“I spend a lot of time with retail customers in the U. K. and they want Canadian wheat,” he said.
The U. K. loves our wheat and pays top dollar, but it’s still a relatively small customer. Last crop year (2007-08) the CWB exported 500,000 tonnes of high-quality milling wheat to the U. K., accounting for three per cent of the 15.4 million tonnes in total CWB wheat exports.
Unfortunately for Canadian wheat growers, 80 per cent of the U. K.’s wheat needs are met by domestic production. The U. K. also imports, on average, 400,000 tonnes from European Union countries. But of the 600,000 tonnes of non-EU imports, Canada accounts for 40 per cent, said Chris Gillan, the CWB’s marketing manager for Europe, Africa, Middle East.
Sharkey said he also prefers Canadian wheat because he can trace it back to the farm where it was produced if necessary.
Asked if Premier Foods would buy Canadian wheat if it were shipped through U. S. ports or blended with U. S. wheat (presumably something that could occur if the CWB lost its single desk marketing authority), Sharkey said no, because traceability would disappear.
Sharkey said he prefers dealing with the CWB because it ensures he gets the wheat he needs, even in years when Canadian supplies are limited.
“We only really want your No. 1s, but we feel we were looked after (in 2005 when Western farmers harvested a low-quality wheat crop),” he said. “We probably paid the price.
“You’ll be happy to know since I’ve been in the business for four years we have not bought U. S. wheat.”
Sharkey, who previously worked for a farmer-owned grain firm in the U. K., was in Canada on this trip to meet with CWB officials, and said he asked if he could attend one of its farmer meetings.
In an interview later, Sharkey said he was impressed with how knowledgeable farmers here are about world markets and their customers.
“My one and only plug for the wheat board tonight is they’re doing you guys a really good service,” Sharkey said, adding that the loss of single-desk selling in Australia has lowered wheat returns there.
“A lot of international traders started trading down there about 18 months ago and those guys are now falling over themselves to supply world customers. What has happened as a result it has cheapened the price they pay their farmers.” [email protected]