Canadian advantage promotion can aid trade

WINNIPEG — Keeping and further developing the “Canadian Advantage” is key to future prairie grain value, said speakers at a recent conference.

The advantage comes from a combination of factors involving politics, environment, farm and industry structure and changes in world crop demand, they told the inaugural Canadian Global Crops Symposium.

Bill Cordingley, managing director with Rabobank International of the Americas, said the world’s premium crop buyers believe they can get top quality supplies from Canada.

“Having that reputation for consistency and reliability is critical,” he said.

Gregory Page, executive chair of Cargill Inc., said he thinks Canada not only has an agricultural advantage now but will have an increasing one in the future with its rain-fed prairie cropping system.

“This is going to be a huge positive for the reputation of Canadian crops as we go forward,” said Page, noting that countries such as the United States rely more on irrigation.

Speakers, both foreign and Canadian, said Canada’s advantage comes from several factors:

  • an unusual multitude of small acreage crops
  • a cold environment
  • political stability
  • skilled farmers
  • an efficient grain storage handling and transportation system

Pulse Canada chair Nick Sekulic said farmers should focus on boosting returns by meeting growing world demand rather than just maximizing production for the sake of doing more.

“We know it’s growing. Our key focus in our strategic plan is profitability,” said Sekulic.

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“We need to focus on strategically going after markets where we can optimize our profitability.”

Henry Van Ankum, chair of Grain Farmers of Ontario, agreed.

“We need to continue to build off our strengths, supplying high quality niche markets,” he said. “We need to differentiate ourselves, figure out what our niche is and tap into a higher value with that.”

Page said Canada has become one of Cargill’s top five countries in which to invest, putting it in a club with global agriculture giants such as the U.S. and Brazil.

He said Canada is politically stable, which isn’t true of many nations. Its rain-fed advantage is increased by northern environment, which reduces pest threats and allows farmers to produce with fewer inputs.

“Canada, with its cold climate and much more modest use of crop protection products, is going to fare very well in comparisons about sustain-ability in the agricultural system,” said Page.

Customers are increasingly asking about pesticides and fertilizers, he added.Being able to source rare crops from Canada is an advantage for Cargill.

“Western Canada has an incredibly diverse set of crops,” Page said.

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“While some of these may be small commodities in the total global scheme, they are important in the sense that Canada often makes up a significant percentage of global trade in these crops.”

However, seed and biotechnology companies talked about one of the threats to Canada’s crop diversity.

Monsanto believes short-season, hardy corn and soybean varieties could be developed for 26 million acres of prairie land, supporting an annual crop of eight to 10 million acres of corn and six to eight million acres of soybeans.

However, it would come at other crops’ expense, and panelists debated which ones it would be.

As well, Sekulic said the current crisis in prairie grain transportation is damaging Canada’s reputation for reliability. The expectation of bigger crops in the future means Canada will need to ensure it can remain a trusted source for premium-priced crops.

Prairie farmers should have a great future if it can do that.

“Canada is extremely well-placed,” said Cordingley. “Not only quality, but also ease of doing business.… A reliable, trustworthy trading partner is a critical element in an era of … volatile global commodities.”

Van Ankum said Canadian farm and agriculture commodity organizations need to unite to promote Canada’s strengths as a supplier of commodities for which buyers should be willing to pay premium prices.

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“We need to promote our Canadian advantage,” said Van Ankum.