Grain quality required to offset other issues

An Alberta grain marketer worries that the world market will discount or spurn Canadian grain if Canada can’t offer better grain than its competitors.

Canada needs to boost quality guarantees to hang onto the top of the market, Andy Kirschenman said.

“We have been told we’re the best in the world, which is true the majority of the time, but we don’t understand that we need to be best for end users to look at our product because of our inherent logistical shortcomings,” he said.

Foreign competitors usually don’t face anything like Western Canada’s risks to transportation disruption. American farmers have many ways to get to market, while producers in Argentina and Europe farm close to ports and transportation systems.

Kirschenman said Canada needs to be able to guarantee top quality and consistency to prevent a risk discount because western Canadian grain is always at risk of port delays.

A mixture of factors has challenged Canada’s grain reputation recently. For example, last year’s rail system delays combined with poor milling quality wheat varieties upset overseas buyers.

Kirschenman said the Canadian industry might need to add more specifications to maintain its reputation.

Grain elevators in the northern U.S. Plains often add extra specifications to obtain the top price for the basic grades they’re looking for, he added.

Researchers and Canada’s marketing institutions should at least know what’s inside the grain the country is selling.

“Milling testing probably needs to be done on a location basis per variety so that we know end use performance based on location,” he said.

“Some varieties should be grown prairie-wide because of milling stability, but there may be other varieties that are affected by day length in the Peace (River region) or other factors that need to be understood by the breeders, CIGI (Canadian International Grains Institute) and farmers.”

Last winter revealed the logistical risks of Western Canada’s export system, which has not only upset prairie farmers but also overseas buyers. Much of the risk can’t be eliminated because of the physical reality of mountains, distance and harsh winters.

However, keeping Canadian quality higher than that of competitors might be the edge Canada needs to remain competitive.

“It can’t just be a catch phrase. We actually need to actively strive to preserve our quality,” said Kirschenman.

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