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Opinion: Farmers’ voices important on crop missions

It's not an easy time for durum growers currently as durum prices are well below the cost of production.

The Canadian wheat new crop missions for 2018 are well underway. These are missions organized and co-ordinated through three organizations: Cereals Canada, Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi) and the Canadian Grain Commission. They take place over six weeks in November and December and include missions to 17 of our top markets for wheat and durum. I feel honoured to be one of the farmers who will be representing all western Canadian farmers during these missions.

I am currently part of the delegation that is focused on Canada’s leading durum markets including Morocco, Algeria and Italy. It is not an easy time for durum growers today, with durum prices well below the cost of production.

The primary goal of the missions is to inform our top customers about the quality of the 2018 harvest and how they can expect Canadian wheat and durum to perform in their mills, bakeries and plants. The missions are also about maintaining relationships and dialogue with customers, something even more critical when issues arise that impede the free flow of agricultural commodities.

Canadian exports of durum account for approximately 50 per cent of the world’s durum trade. So, when the demand for Canadian exports are down the world price follows. And demand is down in two of our leading markets – Italy and Algeria. In Italy we are seeing the impact of the protectionist country-of-origin labelling laws and the campaign against Canadian durum being run by the Italian farm group Coldiretti. Algeria has focused on its larger-than-normal domestic crop to serve its domestic market – but this durum is not of the same quality as Canadian.

The goal of our trip is to re-enforce the value of Canadian durum in markets that are not buying like they have in the past and to support customers, like Morocco, who remain loyal customers.

I am looking forward to telling a grain farmer’s story to our customers.

The missions give farmers the opportunity to speak directly to our customers, letting them know how the decisions we make on our farms maintain the Canadian brand of clean, consistent, quality wheat.

When the mission visits Italy we will be meeting with customers one on one to help restore the free flow of trade. We will also be meeting with farm groups in Italy that support science-based rules of trade. The issue of Italian country-of-origin labelling for pasta will be discussed as will Italian concerns about pesticide residues.

I will also have the opportunity to talk about the sustainability of modern Canadian agriculture. Canadian farmers have a good story to tell of reducing fuel use, improving soil health, reducing erosion, sequestering carbon and allowing us to produce crops even in drought conditions. At the same time, we are increasing the quality of the crop we deliver into international markets.

The new crop missions include the entire Canadian value chain, that co-operate in customer support and development efforts. The presence of farmers is a critical component, especially in a growing protectionist trade environment.

Scott Hepworth is a fourth-generation producer on his family farm near Assiniboia, and vice-chair of the board of Sask Wheat.

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