Too many cooks in the kitchen?

A grain company worries commodity 
groups on promotional trips make 
promises that can’t be kept

Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart travelled to India this winter for an export development mission to promote the province’s pulse, canola, flax and oat crops.

Representatives of SaskPulse and SaskCanola joined Stewart on the week-long trip, during which they met with importers, government officials and business leaders.

These sorts of trade missions are extremely common in Canada, but a grain industry executive isn’t convinced they’re particularly helpful.

Jean-Marc Ruest, Richardson International vice-president for corporate affairs and legal counsel, said other trade missions, not specifically the Saskatchewan trip to India, have caused friction between Richardson and its overseas buyers.

“Organizations that decide unilaterally … to visit various marketplaces … and meeting directly with customers without the input or leadership of (grain) exporters, (they) run the risk of making promises that we’re unable to meet … whether it be on our ability to deliver the product itself, on the specifications … (and) having to deal with mixed messages or misinformation that they (customers) may possess as a result of these well intended (trade missions),” said Ruest, who spoke at a Manitoba Agriculture consultation forum in Portage la Prairie July 12.

Ruest said export development should be done in collaboration with grain companies so that the entire value chain presents a united front and shares consistent information with existing and potential customers.

“The exporters, grain handlers and the grain companies that are responsible for those sales ought to be leading those market development efforts with the support of the rest of the value chain.”

Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada, which represents farm organizations, crop development companies and grain exporters, agreed that co-ordination is critical for export development.

“There does need to be a common approach and a common understanding,” he said at the Portage meeting.

“The associations like the Canola Council (of Canada) or Cereals Canada or Pulse Canada are in constant contact with our customers. So we know what the issues are. Perhaps individual provinces might not know what those issues are.”

When Cereals Canada travels overseas to promote Canadian wheat, it takes a team that includes representatives of the Canadian International Grain Institute, the Canadian Grain Commission, wheat exporters and growers from across the Prairies.

Provincial governments and associations may want to promote their grains for export, but grain companies and the broader value chain push the Canadian brand, Dahl said.

“When it comes to the western Canadian wheat market, selling CWRS, we’re not selling Manitoba wheat or Peace River wheat or Red River Valley wheat,” Dahl said.

“We’re selling Canadian wheat.”

SaskCanola vice-chair Doyle Wiebe, who travelled to India with Stewart this winter, said he met with “some of the potential merchants,” but he was there to explain how canola is grown in Saskatchewan.

“I wasn’t there with order books in hand,” said Wiebe, who farms near Langham, Sask.

“(I was there) to help them better understand the production system…. They (customers) like to have that message come directly from producers.”

Wiebe said SaskCanola doesn’t initiate such trips. It may send a representative when asked to do so.

“We respond to invitations, whether it be the provincial government or (another) organization,” he said.

“If there are opportunities that (Ruest) is talking about that would be better, we’re open to invitations.”

Stewart said in an email that provincial trade missions help build relationships in potential export markets and gather “feedback” from existing partners.

As well, provincial officials don’t conduct export development in isolation.

“We make every effort to work with all members of the Saskatchewan export community to ensure we take a collaborative approach,” Stewart said.

“(But) as Canada’s leading agricultural exporting province, we have a strong understanding of the issues affecting agricultural exports…. Saskatchewan will continue to undertake trade missions where we see value.”

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