VIDEO: Canadian durum exports still the best, but less consistent

Poor international durum yields mean 
more business for Canadian grain

International durum buyers visiting the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi) last week said they are seeing less consistency in their purchases from Canada since the end of single-desk marketing.

“Sometimes we see peaks in proteins or test weight,” said Italian broker Miria Filomena Balletta in an interview. “Not just in the same cargo, but in the same hold.” The quality is never worse than promised — sometimes it has been better. But she said she would like to see more consistency.

Balletta was one of 22 international guests from 13 different countries attending last week’s international durum program at the Canadian International Grains Institute. The group toured Cigi’s facility, visited wheat plots in Saskatchewan and flew to Vancouver where they walked through a terminal elevator, and stopped by the Canadian Grain Commission and the Port of Vancouver.

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wheat sorting in a grain facility
Elwin Hermanson, Canadian Grain Commission chief commissioner
A group of farmers taking a tour of Cigi in 2010

Balletta said consistent quality is key to processors. Canada’s crop has historically been very homogeneous, but that changed slightly after the Canadian Wheat Board’s single desk was disbanded in 2012 and access to the export market was privatized. Canada is still the world’s largest durum exporter, however, and customers said they still consider it to have the best quality.

“My hope is the (Canadian) crop this year is going to be as good as it was in the previous years,” Balletta said. She says the most important quality Italians look for is protein content, because they use the product to make semolina flour for pasta.

Seyed Moineddin Ahmadi, a trader from Dubai, agreed there is some concern amongst importers that the crop’s reliability has been compromised since privatization.

“Now as the market is open and international market demand is going up and down, there might be a concern about will it be available or no,” he said. “But in general, looking at the size of the crop and the size of production, it seems it is going to stay as it is.”

He expects 100 per cent of Dubai’s durum imports will be from Canada this year due to price, quality and most of all its consistency. “Canada (durum) is always available, always present in the market.”

Abdelkader Hamici, from Algeria, buys durum to make couscous and pasta.

Abdelkader Hamici, from Algeria, buys durum to make couscous and pasta.
photo: Meghan Mast

Abdelkader Hamici, deputy general manager of Algerian processor Sosemie Eurl said he expects his country’s durum imports will rise to two million tonnes this year from 1.2 million because local production is down. Most of those imports will come from Canada.

For Algerian buyers, protein is less important than esthetics, such as colour.

“The colour plays a very big role in Algeria. When we see a nice yellow colour, we are happy,” he said, holding up his fingers and rubbing them together.

Algeria buys durum primarily for couscous and pasta production. The country’s durum imports are subsidized by the government, under the condition of selling durum and semolina flour at, or below, a certain set price.

“Canada’s durum is probably the best,” he said.

Canadian durum exporters could cash in on lower supplies due to weather-damaged crops in France and Australia. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is forecasting a strong export pace for durum this year, with total exports of 4.75 million tonnes.

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