Cigi to probe effects of inputs on wheat quality

With $5 million in funding in hand, Cigi hopes to address issues around Canadian wheat quality, 
while also expanding its research on pulse crops

The Canadian International Grains Institute, better known as Cigi, is moving into research in a big way in an attempt to better serve its clients.

“Since 2010, Cigi has been moving in a new strategic direction,” said CEO Earl Geddes. “And this whole move to a sustainable, independent, technical institute has been core to our transition away from the previous marketing structure, to make sure we can provide the kinds of services that industry requires today and will require in the future.”

Since about 2010, the institute has also been fielding complaints about the quality — in particular the strength — of Canadian wheat. Much of the planned research will work to address and prevent those issues.

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“We know that weather has an impact, and we’ve gone through a cycle of some pretty wet weather later in the season, and we know if you get rain later in the growing season, that can have an impact,” said Rex Newkirk who will lead Cigi’s technical team in the applied commercial research.

“But there are concerns that maybe it’s more than weather, so we’re looking at what else has changed,” he said.

That will include a detailed look at the effects of fungicide on wheat, as well as those of glyphosate.

“Our hypothesis is that it is having an effect, but we don’t know if it’s positive, negative or neutral,” Newkirk said.

The research — made possible by $5 million in funding over five years through the federal government’s AgriInnovation Program — will also look at the interactions between wheat varieties and the regions in which they are grown.

“This allows us to look forward and ask what do we have to do to be proactive. What are the detailed things that need to be known to make sure we keep those customers happy?” he said.

That also means sussing out greater specificity as to what uses various wheat varieties are best suited to.

“What does this mean to a baker in Guyana, versus a baker in England, versus a baker in Japan,” Newkirk asked, adding that they will be working closely with the Canadian Grain Commission.

But while the commission looks at varieties pre-commercialization, Newkirk said Cigi will be looking at the properties and uses after commercialization.

More focus on pulses

Geddes noted that recent changes to how wheat is sold and marketed, mean that regional variations may become more pronounced.

“Nobody has 100 per cent of the grain to blend to make up the cargoes that smooth out any regional issues, so the research we’re doing is to help both those exporters understand better what exactly is happening, region by region, variety by variety and to be able to provide direction to farmers.”

A portion of Cigi’s research will also focus on pulse crops, with the institute working closely with Pulse Canada as initiatives move forward.

“We need to understand the milling properties of peas and lentils and beans as we mill them in roller mills and hammer mills and stone mills and tin mills,” said Geddes. “And that’s led us into a very extensive set of conversations with customers, and with the commission… to start to create cereal and pulse food products and ingredients.”

As part of the new focus on research, new staff has and will be hired, swelling the seams of the organization’s current location. Currently Cigi is looking at moving into a larger space by 2017.

“We’re doing the work with our engineering company, so the design work, the load work for a new facility — and we’ve got a couple of new buildings in downtown Winnipeg that we’re interested in renting space in — so they need to know what the loads are for things, such as a flour mill, dust removal, electricity, airflow,” Geddes said, adding that once a cost estimate is established, fundraising for the move will begin.

About the author

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Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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