For years, the typical identity preserved crops in Canada were usually things like non-genetically modified soybeans and wheat grown for Warburtons, a bread company in the United Kingdom.
But there’s a new player in the IP game — oats.
This spring prairie farmers seeded about 3.4 million acres of oats and a good share of those acres were identity preserved.
“There’s a significant acreage (of IP oats) in Manitoba, southeast Saskatchewan and North Dakota,” said Lorne Boundy, a merchandiser with Paterson Grain.
The grain company has been offering an IP oat contract to growers for about four years. Acres have expanded because millers want oats that have specific traits and qualities.
As well, food companies want a pure and reliable ingredient.
“Oats are going, not just with us and some of our customers, but across the board oats are turning into an ingredient, not a commodity,” Boundy said.
On its website, Paterson Grain says IP crops are handled more carefully than commodity grain.
“They are produced with a chain of custody that is documented from beginning to end…. Paterson Grain makes contracts with farmers to grow IP grains to precise specifications … and safeguards the integrity of the crop through the grain handling system.”
Paterson works with General Mills and a few other customers on IP oat contracts.
IP oats satisfy certain expectations for quality and purity, but the program also generates data on how oats are grown in Western Canada. That provides a level of reassurance to the public that breakfast cereals, snack bars and granola are safe and produced sustainably.
“So, consumers can see (the data) and say, ‘yes, I’m comfortable buying my box of Cheerios for my child,” said Prairie Oat Growers Association president Jenneth Johanson, who farms near Lac du Bonnet, Man.
“From what we’ve been told, this is what consumers are wanting.”
An IP oat contract typically includes a number of requirements. The buyer may dictate the type of variety grown, and producers must use certified seed, grow oats on a field following a certain crop and promise not to spray glyphosate before harvest.
In exchange, the grower receives a price premium and the opportunity to deliver oats at a specific period of time.
“(It offers) consistency in knowing a certain percentage of crop is going to move at this time frame, the next percentage is going to move at (another) time frame,” Boundy said.
The price premium for IP oats has been about 25 cents per bushel in the last couple of years, Johanson said.
More grain companies and end users may soon introduce their own IP oat programs in Western Canada because consumers want more information about their food — how it’s produced and where it originates.
“I would not be surprised that over the course of the next few years we’ll see an increase in IP oats,” Johanson said.
The expansion of IP oats is part of a bigger change in Canada’s oat trade. Every year, more oats are produced under contract and fewer oats are grown by speculation, where a farmer grows a crop and looks for a buyer after harvest.
“The majority of acres in Western Canada will be contracted within five to 10 years,” Boundy said.