Organic buyers hold growers to high standard

Grain quality is a top concern for buyers, requiring farmers to know their product and present accurate samples

BEAUMONT, Alta. — Grain buyers want organic grain, but they don’t want just any organic grain, they told producers at an Organic Alberta grain workshop.

Organic grain might be in short supply but that doesn’t mean buyers will buy tough or diseased product, they said.

Tom Allen, a grain buyer with Sunrise Foods of Saskatoon, said a big problem when buying grain is failure to get an accurate grain sample from producers.

“We ask for a representative sample and don’t receive a representative sample,” said Allen.

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Recently, the company bid on malt barley based on a sample sent by a producer, but when the truck arrived, the barley had hard red spring wheat mixed in with the load.

The producer was disappointed because he was charged extra to clean the wheat out of the barley and the buyer was disappointed with the extra work required to make the malt barley valuable.

Tristan Gill, of Westaqua Commodity Group of Vancouver, said his company has rejected truck loads of grain because they didn’t match the sample.

“This year ergot and fusarium have impacted quality. We need to know the quality of grain we’re dealing with or farmers will end up with rejected truckloads if grain is not the product in the sample,” said Gill.

Mark Gimby of Growers International Organic Sales, a division of Paterson Global Foods of Winnipeg, said fusarium in grain has forced many companies to blend better quality grain to meet sales.

“We draw grain from La Crete to Winnipeg and are able to bring up the poor quality grain in the facility and blend out the fusarium and pass on milling price to growers whose grain graded as Canada feed,” he said.

This year, they hired two agronomists to work with organic producers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan to develop strategies to improve productivity and grain quality.

Jay Crandall, head of the Wetaskiwin Co-op Feed mill, said farmers mistake their feed mill for a seed cleaning plant and think the mill can clean a poor lot of grain.

“We try to work with farmers who have a clean product to offer us. A consistent product allows us to produce a consistent product. We’re a feed mill, not a seed cleaning plant. We can’t blend and clean like the elevators,” said Crandall, who added their customers also want a consistent product.

Another problem for Crandall is some farmers don’t have a good grasp of what they are selling.

He recently bid on a sample of barley estimated to weigh 50 pounds a bushel, but when the truck arrived, the grain only weighed 42 pounds a bu.

“It is frustrating bidding on grain and a farmer doesn’t know what quality their grain is,” said Crandall.

Hemp has also not escaped quality issues.

Clarence Shwaluk of Manitoba Harvest said farmers must remember that the hemp they’re growing is food and needs to be carefully treated.

“It is a raw food product and need to make sure quality meets standards,” he said.

Darrell McElroy of Hemp Oil Canada said his company must ensure the hemp it sells to wholesalers meets proper standards, including being gluten free.

“It needs to be wheat free and (wheat) is tough to take out. You need to make sure trucks are clean.”

Contact mary.macarthur@producer.com

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