This January I went on a much-anticipated trip to Maui with my wife. Twenty years ago, we committed to spending the rest of our lives together and thought this was a good way to celebrate such a milestone (sans children, of course!).
One month prior to this celebration, I was over the Indian Ocean heading to Asia as part of a small group from Western Canada, all with the same goal of promoting Canadian wheat to those who buy it from us.
In the very early-morning hours of Dec. 3, I headed for the Red Deer Municipal Airport for the first of many legs of a trip around the world. Upon arriving in Vancouver, I met up with the rest of our ‘Team Canada’ — half of them for the first time, as a member of one of four new crop mission teams travelling to customer countries that have been, and continue to be, significant purchasers and users of Canadian wheat.
The teams consisted of a representative of Cereals Canada, an exporter/handler, a producer, and technical experts from the Canadian Grain Commission and Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi). Each of us had distinct and important roles to play in the seminars we gave in each of the markets we visited. Our team began in Manila, Philippines then continued to Jakarta, Indonesia; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and finally completed our mission in Lagos, Nigeria. The other teams that went out, beginning in the middle of November, covered markets in Central and South America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa.
The seminars delivered a consistent message around the world. They were made up of several presentations — the producer presentation opened each seminar; followed by Cereals Canada and the exporter (who presented on the growing season and Canadian supply and disposition); and then Cigi and grain commission representatives (providing data on the technical and processing qualities of the 2016 crop).
On our mission, I was of course the producer.
I realized why it was so important for a producer to be on the missions when I saw how intently focused the attendees were when I showed them pictures of my family, my farm, some of the machinery we use, a GPS map from my combine, and SNOW! (I always got a reaction when I presented a slide of the forecast at home showing daytime highs around -24 C.)
They were quite interested to see an aeration fan and floor, and hear about how below-zero temperatures can be effective in preserving and maintaining wheat quality. They heard how crop rotations benefit both soil and wheat quality along with minimizing levels of pathogens such as DON and ergot.
They saw a picture of my soil probe and heard about soil tests that guide us in applying only the right nutrients and the right amount of nutrients to grow an optimal and high- quality wheat crop. They heard about reduced tillage and direct seeding that has resulted in significantly less soil erosion from both water and wind along with increased soil organic matter.
Then they asked an array of questions such as, “What is the capacity of a 13-inch auger?” “What percentage of my crops is wheat?” “How do I decide which variety to plant and do I bin different varieties of the same class of wheat separately and sell them as such?”
Meeting a producer — and seeing and hearing how the wheat they are buying is grown, stored and delivered — are essential parts of our customers’ need for information in a competitive global marketplace (one where consumers are increasingly demanding more information about where their food comes from).
Our competitors are active in these markets too and we need to maintain and grow our presence. Fostering relationships with our customers is paramount to our continued business with them.
As I reflect, 20 years of marriage did not happen by doing nothing. It took effort. It took work. Fruitful rewards require investment.
I’ve got a good thing going with my bride. Canada’s got a good thing going with wheat. My intent is to keep them both that way. Aloha!
Kevin Bender is vice-chair of the Alberta Wheat Commission; a director with Cereals Canada and Cigi; and farms near Bentley.