South America is a long way from my farm near Reston, Manitoba.
I left home on November 11 as the farmer representative on the South American leg of the 2018 Canadian wheat new crop missions. Between November and December, new crop mission seminars will take place in 17 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East, North and South America.
I’m part of a team made up of members of the Canadian value chain – Cereals Canada, Canadian International Grains Institute, Canadian Grain Commission and an exporter. I got back to Manitoba on November 24, after meeting with customers in Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Chile (plus our first stop in Mississauga to meet with Canadian millers).
When I finished seeding in the spring, I could not have anticipated that a few months later I’d be standing in front of customers in these key markets, talking to them in a personal way about my experiences farming in Canada, showing them pictures of my farm and a map that pinpoints where I’m located in southwestern Manitoba.
I am able to talk about my farm as an independent business where decisions are driven by market forces and not governments. You would be surprised at how many customers think that the government can tell me to grow more wheat.
As farmers, what we do matters to customers, whether it’s how we make cropping decisions, application of pesticides, our sustainable farming practices or how we deal with challenging conditions like an early snowfall at harvest time. I talk about the best management practices I use to maximize my farm’s profit and minimize problems like fusarium. I review the sophisticated storage on my farm and outline what I do to minimize storage issues like Ochratoxin A or insect infestation.
I speak about these topics and more during each new crop seminar. The farmer is the first to present, followed by the exporter discussing Canadian wheat and durum production, supply and disposition. Next up is the CGC with its crop quality report and finally Cigi discussing the milling, baking, noodle- and pasta-making quality of the 2018 crop.
When all is said and done about 3-1/2 hours later, customers in each market have received a complete and honest picture of this year’s wheat crop, with time provided for questions and answers. This approach is unique to Canada and one that demonstrates our collective commitment to providing the information and technical support customers require to optimize the value and performance of Canadian wheat.
The Canadian team is equally committed to bringing back what it hears from customers during these missions to ensure that the value chain has a good understanding of customer needs. This knowledge can shape areas like research and innovation – both of which are essential to maintaining Canada’s brand as a supplier of clean, consistent, quality wheat.
It is a great privilege to represent Canadian farmers to our customers and it has been eye opening for me to discover how much our customers want to know about what we do on our farms. I am looking forward to coming back and sharing what I’ve learned from these customer interactions with my peers.
Fred Greig is chair of the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association, a Manitoba farmer, and owner and operator of Avondale seeds in Reston.