Farmers need first-hand market assessment

It’s possible that Canada has thrown away its grain quality advantage and farmers don’t even know it.

It’s not yet clear that this is happening, but producers need to wake up and demand that all parts of the grain industry ensure Canada’s hard-won reputation is maintained.

Farmers need to know what customers think about the crops they grow and how the middlemen deliver it, free of the filter of non-farmer organizations.

We don’t know if there’s a big problem out there. We don’t actually know much at all about what customers think. That’s a problem all by itself.

Certainly we know that at least one important buyer has found problems with shipments of Canadian grain in the past couple of years, both bulk and containerized.

Derek Sliworsky of Prima Group, a Singaporean milling and processing company, recently urged the Canadian grain trade to look into why some wacky things are happening with export shipments, considering that Canada has always been seen as a high quality supplier.

Some players in the Canadian grain trade were offended that Sliworsky, who grew up on a Manitoba farm and formerly represented CWB in Japan, spoke his concerns out loud in a public gathering during the Cereals North America conference.

However, some farmer representatives with whom I’ve spoken have praised his willingness to give the Canadian grain trade, of which he’s a proud proponent, a wake-up call regarding something he sees as serious.

As a journalist, I favour openness and public discussion of developing issues. I think that’s just as important for the farmer.

It’s hard to know if anyone else is experiencing the problems seen by Prima.

However, somebody should be doing a forensic audit of the situation today and taking on the sort of ongoing, constant customer contact that the CWB used to perform.

We have an export inspections system run by the Canadian Grain Commission, but that only makes sure loads meet the minimum specifications. It’s not a customer satisfaction service.

The Canadian International Grains Institute does a great job of dealing with customers on technical issues, but it isn’t doing the sort of sales follow-ups that are needed.

Somebody needs to see that all of farmers’ crucial customers are happy, and this somebody should be a farmer-based organization.

Farmers have the most to lose here.

The grain companies have their own private interests at heart, as they should have. They are answerable to shareholders, not farmers.

Governments and public agencies are officially answerable to the public, but often care more about internal priorities and protecting their institutional interests.

Farmers are the ones who get the money that’s left over after all the middlemen take their cuts, so they’re the ones who need to know what’s going on with their grain.

Could this be done by the new barley and wheat commissions being set up on the Prairies? Should it be done by general farm groups like Keystone Agricultural Producers? I leave that to wiser minds to determine.

But one thing I’m sure of is that it should be done by the farmers who grow the grain and have the most to lose if something goes awry.

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  • ed

    Farm groups that did not fight the annexing of the CWB single desk should have no involvement in this what so ever. We used to have a Collective Marketing approach that kept top notch quality grain shipments on time and without question delivered the premiums to the farm gate. Now we just have Collective Stupid.

  • Tandem007

    The grain co’s fund cigi. They follow up by selling. If buyer doesn’t buy then that’s the message they’re sending. Cwb never controlled quality. They never loaded a car. Never have dumped a truck. Never graded a sample. They just brainwashed canadians

    • Den

      And now what do you have without the CWB. A bunch of misinformed Canadians doing a job that took CWB 75 years to perfect.

  • ed

    You got it all right. The CWB cartel didn’.t have to do any of those things. They had people at Carguill and Pioneer to do that for them. A mere 400 people at the CWB for a cost of 7 cents per bushel kept the farm gate price of the best quality Canadian Prairie Wheat substantially above the ambient world price level plus got it all moved in bumper years through mountains with snow and cold weather. A miracle in orderly marketing that was akin to the constant and sustained winning under the leadership of great coaching in sports vs always losing under tragically bad coaching that is trying to appease screaming and not too knowledgeable fans, and all with the very same players. “A good loser is a consistent loser”, my coach always use to say. Going along to get along is not an option when it comes to getting farmers collective/incomes back. If we don’t fix these things we will continue to have our model mega farms filing for bankruptcy protection like the one yesterday with $46 million dollars of unpaid creditors on the list, primarily due to the large farm gate commodity price drops of wheat and all other competing commodities with the annexation of the farmers CWB. And yes 007, you don’t know how right you really are. There is a tremendous amount of brain washing going on out there. For the people doing it, it is cheap, relatively easy and very cost effective with a very high rate of return for the families that run the food giant corporations and their share holders. Divided farmers have always been easy targets.

  • “Farmers are the ones who get the money that’s left over after all the
    middlemen take their cuts, so they’re the ones who need to know what’s
    going on with their grain.” They get what’s left over, even though they’re the ones doing the work to grow high quality grain? If farmers are only getting what’s ‘left over’, why should it be their job to ensure customer satisfaction? Isn’t that what the middlemen take their cuts for, to make sales and make sure their customers are happy? Farmers have a hard enough job as it is trying to make it in a business that is getting continually harder to get into with the cost of land, equipment, and grain. It’s a tough enough business as it is and I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect more out of farmers. They do the best they can to grow high quality grain, and at the end of their harvest all that they’re entitled to is ‘what’s left over’. That in itself is problem enough.

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