The saying goes “build it and they will come.” And they did.
The first, and what is almost certain to be annual, Canadian Global Crops Symposium, held in Winnipeg April 15 and 16, was a huge success, said Richard Phillips, president of the Canada Grains Council, the association that organized the event aimed at attracting international grain buyers to Canada.
“The original goal was to make one premiere conference in Canada to showcase the Canadian crop sector,” Phillips said in an interview following the day-and-a-half event. “That was the impetus for all of this. Let’s start bringing in more international customers to see what we have to offer.”
About 240 people, including grain customers from Japan, Italy, Dubai and the United States, attended.
“We had a huge turnout,” Phillips said. “It exceeded expectations. It was sold out.
“I think we’re definitely a go for next year.”
The Canada Grains Council, formed in 1969, has held its annual meeting in April in Winnipeg for years, focusing on grain trade issues of the day. And while past meetings attracted international grain trade officials, most represented their respective national grain trade associations. This year buyers and merchants attended, as did farmers and government officials from Canada, the provinces and the U.S.
Phillips said he wants to build on this year’s success to attract even more international grain customers to Canada next year. Options include adding courses at the Canadian International Grains Institute and tours to the Canadian Grain Commission’s Grain Research Laboratory and the University of Manitoba’s Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals.
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Phillips is also mulling over including a trade show so crop organizations can show off their products.
The meeting started with International Trade Minister Ed Fast announcing $100,000 for the council to help Canada’s grain industry remain competitive.
Improving Canada’s economy’s the federal government’s goal, Fast said.
“Trade advocacy is vital to improving market opportunities for all stakeholders along the supply chain and protecting Canada’s grain industry from potential trade disruptions means open access to new and existing markets abroad,” he told the meeting.
The conference included several high-profile speakers, including Greg Page, executive chairman and former president and CEO of Cargill.
Canada’s grain industry has a lot going for it and that’s why it’s one of the top five countries Cargill invests in, Page said.
While Canada only produces 2.5 per cent of the world’s grain, it accounts for 13 per cent of the trade, he said.
Canada’s ‘just-in-time’ grain handling and transportation requires more collaboration than anywhere in the world, but it can pay off.
“When that system works it creates the most efficient logistics system in the world,” Page said.
This year it hasn’t, with most fingers pointing at the railways for failing, until recently, to move even as much grains as last year.
Key is getting the investment mix right between on-farm storage, off-farm loading and handling facilities and rail transportation, he said.
Overinvesting in any one area will result in an expensive marketing system.
“If we try to force people to build a railroad that will haul all our crops in a 100 days we will ultimately bear the burden of those fixed costs in the freight rates that we pay,” Page said. “So getting this balance between the infrastructure at the ports and in the rails and on the farms is extremely critical.”
With proper market signals, more will be invested in additional grain-handling capacity and it’s already happening, Page said.
Later in the meeting a panel of farmers said Canada’s grain industry must gear up to keep up with farmers as they continue to grow more.
A panel of grain company executives said investments in country and port facilities is already underway.
The railways want to move more grain too, Jean-Jacques Ruest, CN Rail’s executive vice-president and chief marketing officer, told the meeting. But they need early estimates about how much will have to be shipped, he said.
“This summer we (entire industry) need to run flat out,” Ruest said, if the backlog in shipments is to be drawn down before the 2014 crop is harvested.