By Karen Lewis
In year two of its existence, the wheat and barley check-off continues to provide producers with a significant “bang for their buck” supporting the growth of the agricultural industry.
The five-year federal check-off enables producers to continue supporting the work conducted by the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF), Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi) and the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre (CMBTC).
Administered by Alberta Barley, funding has continued uninterrupted during the ongoing transition to a new grain marketing model.
“We had a very successful first year of administering this transitional program,” says Alberta Barley general manager Lisa Skierka, who notes the check-off is also referred to as the Western Canadian Deduction. “The program is transparent for farmers and supports key initiatives that grow and build our industry.” A website, wheatbarleycheckoff.com, was launched in 2012 and provides producers with current information.
Recipients of wheat and barley check-off funding provide variety research, market development and technical expertise to support western Canadian producers.
“It has been a very smooth transition,” says Garth Patterson, Executive Director, WGRF, which invests check-off dollars to support public wheat and barley breeding programs that offer producers varieties with stronger agronomic packages. He added that the check-off allows WGRF to continue investing more than $5 million annually, leading to the development and release of more than 150 new wheat and barley varieties over the past 17 years.
A recent return on investment study conducted by the University of Saskatchewan indicated that every check-off dollar WGRF invests in wheat variety research delivered $20.40 in value to producers. Barley research returned $7.56 for every dollar invested.
Collaboration fuels success
“There has been great collaboration between all the organizations involved in establishing the new method for collection of wheat and barley check-off funds,” says Patterson, referring to his recipient partners and those involved in the administration. This includes the Canadian Grain Commission-licensed grain buyers who collect the check-off at the point of sale and Alberta Barley who administers funding to the three recipients and coordinates any refund requests.
Robert McCaig, Managing Director, CMBTC, concurs that the transitional check-off is working well. He adds that the funding is essential for his one-of-a-kind organization that provides technical assistance in support of malt barley sales to existing and new markets around the world.
CMBTC has been supporting sales of Canadian malting barley for more than 13 years. To date, its added-value malting and brewing programs have been delivered to more than 2,500 customers and potential customers.
Check-off dollars also support the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi). The independent market development institute has provided training and support to over 37,000 people from 115 countries in the optimal use of Canadian field crops for more than 40 years.
“We have been able to run a full set of programs, things have worked out quite well,” says Earl Geddes, CEO, Cigi, reflecting on the transitional check-off to date. Last year alone, Cigi ran 40 different programs worldwide to promote and position Canadian wheat as the best in the world.
One program saw 12 representatives from China’s grain and milling industry visit Cigi in Winnipeg to learn about the functional qualities of all Canadian wheat classes and their application in end-products as well as Canada’s quality assurance system. These types of programs contribute to long-term relationships between Canada and global customers.
“The programs provide a connection between Prairie farmers and current and potential customers all over the world,” Geddes says.
Realizing new benefits
The check-off is also providing new benefits. Geddes notes the enhanced role farmers are now playing at Cigi.
“We have three farmers on our Board of Directors who are setting our strategic course for the future. This involvement is in addition to two program advisory committees Cigi established in 2012 – one with farmers and the other with exporters,” he says. “The committees make sure that the program work we’re doing is what the industry needs and wants.”
Farmers from Alberta were also part of Cigi’s Canadian New Crop Mission teams, giving opening presentations during new crop seminars on western Canadian wheat held in Southeast Asia, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa toward the end of 2013.
At CMBTC, the check-off is helping to gain commercial acceptance for newly registered barley varieties.
“With the Wheat Board there was a good mechanism that helped bring new varieties through into commercialization and now that’s all gone, so we’ve kind of stepped into the gap,” says McCaig. “The malting barley industry would slowly disappear unless we bring in new varieties, which are better agronomically in terms of yield and disease resistance; they have hooks for the maltsters and brewers.”
Producers are doing their part by supporting the check-off.
“This program allows us to actively contribute to variety development and new crop opportunities,” says Matt Sawyer, farmer and Alberta Barley Chairman. This market development and technical assistance helps to uniquely position Canadian wheat and barley in the global marketplace.
“Producers understand the important role check-off dollars play,” says Patterson. “Check-offs really allow producers to leverage additional public and private investment to increase our overall research efforts and remain competitive with other exporters. We’re happy to continue to play a role in making that happen.”