Grain industry positive in post-CWB era

Industry analysts say continued investment in the transportation system will increase handling and market capacity

The Canadian grain industry is heading into its annual extravaganza feeling pretty good about how the post-Canadian Wheat Board world is working out.

“We’ve been able in the new environment to come together and build these things,” said Tyler Bjornson, president of the Canada Grains Council. “The mood in the industry over not only this year but also for growth prospects and value creation in general are very positive.”

The council’s annual Canadian Global Crops Symposium will be held in Winnipeg April 11-13 amidst an atmosphere of relief from some of the problems that erupted in the wake of the CWB losing its grain marketing monopolies.

These included a tempestuous cash wheat market in the first two years following the elimination of the wheat board’s single desk powers, the rail crisis of 2013-14 and confusion over pesticide residue limits allowed by grain companies.

The present crop year has been experiencing fewer disruptions, partly because of better weather and other gifts of fortune, but many say the industry has finally sorted itself out and the fruits of hefty post-2012 investments are now ripening.

“I think we’ve gotten to a point between elevator and railway companies … to be able to work together harmoniously and get the job done,” said Brennan Turner, founder of the FarmLead online grain marketplace, who will be attending the conference.

He said continued investment in the system will further increase grain handling and marketing capacity, especially on the West Coast, where many ships are now waiting to load Canadian crops.

“I think there are some unbelievable opportunities for Canadian grain to get moved in the next five to 10 years,” said Turner.

However, the opportunities could be threatened by myriad regulatory, legal or trade complications, which will be the focus of this year’s symposium.

“How do these technical barriers to trade inhibit the adoption of innovation?” said Bjornson, summing up the theme.

Scientific advancements in seed variety development, new biotechnology traits, new chemicals and new food products and markets offer the industry a lot of opportunities but also threaten trade disruption.

However, logistics is still a dominant theme for many, including Cam Dahl of Cereals Canada.

“It is one of those critical components that we still need to have a little bit of focus on,” Dahl said.

He’s thrilled by the recent advancement that grain companies have made in system capacity.

“Our ability to handle crop is really good,” Dahl said.

Turner thinks the same but wants to see how the industry handles the contradiction between having an efficient use of invested capital in facilities and having enough capacity to handle big crops.

“The system works today, but one could argue that it’s still a just-in-time system and from a competitive standpoint … do you build a system for today or do you build a system for the needs five, 10 or 15 years from now?”

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