Cigi’s future could soon be clearer.
For more than a year, the Canadian International Grains Institute, created in 1972 to provide market development and technical support for Canadian wheat and other field crops, and Cereals Canada, which represents the country’s cereals sector, have been considering merging. Cigi could decide on that during its annual meeting this month, says Cereals Canada president Cam Dahl.
“And we (Cereals Canada) have a board meeting at the end of June,” he added in an interview May 23. “I may be able to tell you more at that point.”
But even if Cigi’s and Cereals Canada’s boards approve merging, each organization’s members still have to endorse it, Dahl added. How farmer-members of Cigi and Cereals Canada would be consulted isn’t clear yet.
“Each of those respective boards still need to decide what they’re doing and then depending on what happens there then the process will be laid out in terms of how the members get to have their say,” Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association (MWBGA) executive director Pam de Rocquigny said in an interview June 6.
Cigi and Cereals Canada share many of the same member-organizations, including farmer-funded provincial wheat groups like the MWBGA, and grain companies.
And both Cigi and Cereals Canada are involved in promoting Canadian grain exports, especially wheat and durum. A merger would cut some operating costs, but more importantly enhance the focus on market promotion, Dahl said.
“So the way you ensure that common focus continues is to have that common board of directors and common mandate and common strategic plan,” he said.
“We are having discussions on what the benefits are of coming together and what a new organization might look like. No decisions have been made on those questions.”
But what impact would merging have on Cigi’s ‘brand?’
Why it matters: During its 45 years of operation Cigi is credited with boosting Canadian grain exports by training foreign millers and bakers to get the most from Canadian crops. Would Cigi be as effective if it’s no longer a standalone institution?
Both Dahl and JoAnne Buth, Cigi’s recently-retired CEO, agree Cigi, like Canadian grain, is highly regarded among international grain buyers, and merger or not, Cigi’s brand needs to be protected.
“There have been virtually no concerns raised by customers — maybe one or two — about Cigi being funded by the grain companies,” Buth said in an interview May 22 just before retiring from the position she took up in August 2014. “I think it has not been an issue at all for customers. Clearly if the amalgamation occurs there needs to be a discussion about how do you maintain the Cigi brand.”
If Cigi continues to provide good service and information to customers, it won’t matter what form Cigi takes, she said.
Cigi is a creature of the Canadian Wheat Board (see sidebar), which the Harper government scrapped Aug. 1, 2012. At that time the CWB, funded by earnings from selling western Canadian wheat and barley destined for export or domestic human consumption, split Cigi’s budget with the federal government. In the early years Ottawa covered 60 per cent of it.
For 40 years Cigi’s was viewed as a quasi-government organization, operating in the same building as the Canadian Grain Commission in downtown Winnipeg, with a reputation as a reliable and independent expert on Canadian grains.
Since 1972 Cigi’s flour mill, bakery, noodle and durum facilities have trained thousands of millers and bakers from around the world, while showing off Canada’s grain handling system and grain quality control. It’s a globally unique model that begins on the breeder’s bench and ends when the Canadian Grain Commission issues its ‘Certificate Final’ guaranteeing the weight and grade of grain loaded on a ship.
In 1997 during its 25th anniversary Cigi reported more than 13,000 people from more than 100 countries had attended one or more of its 410 courses held in Canada and around the world up until that time.
“Cigi is a good news story,” then Cigi chair and CWB commissioner Gordon Machej said in a 1997 interview.
Quantifying Cigi’s contribution is difficult, but the consensus is it’s valuable, Buth said.
“There is no doubt if you ask anybody they support the work that we do…” she said.
As a single-desk seller, the CWB captured whatever benefits came from Cigi’s work. Who gains now in an open market is less clear. Farmers and grain companies do, but by how much?
“The tough part always becomes, what is the return on investment,” Buth said. “So we struggle with that question just like every other… commodity organization struggles with.”
When the CWB disappeared in 2012, a temporary checkoff to fund Cigi and the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre was introduced.
In 2017 a 15 cent a tonne wheat checkoff was formalized through the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers (MWBGA), Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission and Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC) to help fund Cigi. All are Cigi members.
In addition seven grain companies — Cargill Canada, G3 Canada, the Inland Terminal Association of Canada, Parrish & Heimbecker, Paterson Grain, Richardson International and Viterra — are Cigi members.
The three wheat groups and three of the seven grain companies — Cargill, Richardson International and Viterra — are also Cereals Canada members.
Cereals Canada’s other members include multinational pesticide/seed developers — Bayer, BASF, Corteva and Syngenta. What, if any affect, would their connection to Cigi have on Canadian grain customers?
Notwithstanding Cigi’s accomplishments, the world has changed. The CWB is gone and Cigi’s funding and governance has changed. The federal government is contributing $2 million a year or about 27 per cent of Cigi’s annual $7.5 million budget, Buth said. The wheat groups and grain companies make up the rest and each have five directors on Cigi’s 10-member board.
Cigi’s priorities have changed too.
“We are much more focused on wheat because we are supported by the wheat grower organizations,” Buth said. “We have been doing less and less pulse work because that is project-by-project based on where we can uptake funds.”
Fourteen Cigi employees were laid off over the last few years cutting total staff to 28 from 42, Buth said.