Foreign buyers keep eyes on farmers’ social media posts

Gary Stanford has a message for his fellow farmers after returning from a recent New Crop Mission to all three Americas.

“We need to be careful on social media,” said the chair of the Alberta Wheat Commission.

He was surprised to learn that millers and bakers in key importing countries pay close attention to what Canadian farmers post on Twitter and other social media outlets.

Stanford’s trade mission included stops in Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. There have been other missions to Asia, North Africa and Europe. Later this month there will be one to the United Arab Emirates and Nigeria.

He was taken aback when buyers asked about photos they had seen on social media of farmers in Western Canada combining cereal crops in the snow.

They were concerned about moisture damage to Canada’s wheat and barley crops.

Stanford explained to them that crops don’t lose quality as fast in cold temperatures and that grain harvested at 18 to 20 percent moisture content can be dried down to acceptable moisture levels.

It is one example of how a single tweet can cause buyers to jump to erroneous conclusions about an entire crop.

Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada, said growers need to keep in mind the implications of a buyer reading what they post on social media.

“What we say isn’t just seen and read in Canada, it is seen and read around the world,” he said. “Farmers do need to be aware of that.”

And it isn’t just social media that can have an impact. He regularly gets calls from buyers in foreign market reacting to a story they read in The Western Producer or a small weekly newspaper with an online presence.

“The Japanese customers pay more attention probably than anybody,” said Dahl.

It is part of a broader trend of customers increasingly testing and scrutinizing the food that they import.

“What happens on the farm really, really matters. And this is part of that picture,” said Dahl.

Stanford said photos of farmers spraying their crops with pesticides is a particularly sensitive subject matter.

Buyers on the trip wanted to know if farmers are spraying glyphosate on their crops.

Stanford explained that growers use the chemical for weed suppression but not for desiccation, which is the big concern.

He asked growers to remember that if they are tweeting a photo of spraying a crop that it reflects them following best management practices and adhering to label instructions.

Buyers also quizzed him about genetically modified varieties. Stanford informed them that GM wheat hasn’t been commercialized anywhere in the world.

Falling number was a hot topic on the 2019 trade missions. The issue was raised at every stop on the trip.

Buyers want to see an average falling number of 300 seconds or more in wheat shipments.

“It was a concern for them,” said Stanford.

Some buyers will accept shipments with a lower falling number for use in flatbreads, noodles and other products.

He told them that the falling number was lower than usual this year due to the wet harvest. The good news is crops harvested in December appear to have better falling numbers than those taken off the fields in October and November for some unknown reason.

Another buyer expressed anger that the strike at Canadian National Railway caused him to get shortchanged on a shipment of wheat. The 50,000 tonne vessel left the port with 49,000 tonnes because that’s all that was available.

“He was quite upset about it. We had to try and calm him down,” said Stanford.

“It’s very important that these New Crop Missions continue on because it puts out a lot of fires.”

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