Combine to Customer experience builds knowledge and community



No matter what profession you choose in life, learning opportunities surround you — although it’s up to you to choose to take them. Speaking for myself, jumping into the agriculture world has had its learning curves but it’s also given me the opportunity to explore and learn more about the industry I have grown to love.

After being with RealAgriculture for just under two years, there’s certain events I had heard about through the grapevine that I knew I wanted to attend; one of those being the Combine to Customer program put on by the Canadian International Grains institute (CIGI).

To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure how they were going to fit the whole value chain process — from combine to customer — into a two day and a half day session, let alone all in one building. Boy, did they ever surprise me.

The first night in Winnipeg, Man., was great in that the bevvies were flowing along with the conversation at the welcome dinner. I sat at a table with a friend who also happened to be attending the course, Sarah Leguee, a third generation farmer from Saskatchewan. Also at our table were farmers from Alberta and Saskatchewan, along with those in industry who represented Sask Wheat and Alberta Canola.

As you can imagine, we started talking about farming, and continued talking about it until the dessert course came. Everything from politics, to what everyone grows, to cattle woes, to even arguing (in fun) about who has the lowest P.O. box number.

For day one at the course we were greeted by Shona Fraser, program chair along with Dean Dias, interim director at CIGI. It was pretty cool to learn that CIGI started back in 1972 and all the work that the organization has done since.

From there we got to hear from Brenna Mahoney, of Cereals Canada. Although I speak to her often as she’s the communications manager, it was also great to hear her insight into what the organization has been doing and I found it was beneficial to all in the room since they asked a lot of questions near the end.

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When it comes to markets, we not only heard from CIGI’s director of markets, Lisa Nemeth, throughout the day, and we also heard from Peter Watts, managing director of the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre (CMBTC).

In the morning we also got to learn a bit more about the grain grading process, where there were a lot of questions surrounded falling number and frost damage, of course. Farmers have been non-stop talking about the issues at the elevator, and this was a great opportunity for them to get the answer they may (or may not) have wanted to hear, straight from the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) inspectors.

The afternoon consisted of learning more about sprout damage, how they test protein and gluten strength, how the falling number test works, and more. I really do mean that you don’t. stop. learning.

The day came to a close with a tour of the CMBTC, which is very conveniently located in the same building. If I were to work for CIGI, I would probably spend a good chunk of my breaks offering to taste their delicious batches of beer, although perhaps surprisingly, Aaron Onio, technical specialist at CMBTC, says they don’t sample their brews too often.

After learning all about the malting and brewing process, it was taste time and we got to sample two brews from varieties AC Metcalfe and AAC Synergy. Let’s just say there was no glass left half full by the end of the day.

For day two, there was even more hands-on learning — this is something I think is crucial to a program where farmers are used to working with their hands and constantly moving. However, before we got to the noodle and bread making process, we heard from Brett Halstead, the new chair of Sask Wheat, as he spoke about the new crop missions being done. There was also an intriguing panel discussion on variety development which covered UPOV 91, breeding, the registration system, and pedigree seed production and distribution.

This would be a very timely discussion as just days after the seed industry announced its seed variety usage agreement pilot project.

Speaking of seed, when you grow wheat or durum, where does it all end up? Probably food for your belly. In the baking area we got to see first-hand what it takes to makes a good loaf of bread, using 100 per cent Canadian wheat, of course.

It was interesting to see the difference in bread types when you mix Canadian Western Red Spring (CWRS), for example, with wheat from Russia, or to see what bread looks like with 100 per cent Russian wheat.

And in case you were wondering, yes we got to taste the bread, and yes — it was amazing.

Fresh asian noodles and steam buns were pretty great to eat, as well. We learned there’s a common misconception of noodle vs. pasta which is something that I’m guilty of saying on a regular basis. Also, I found it pretty cool to learn the creation of noodles took place over 4,000 years ago.

After taking a walking tour of the mill — on the 11th floor of a skyscraper (how cool is that!) — we got to head back to the classroom and have an open discussion with Dias of CIGI, Mahoney of Cereals Canada, and Doug Chorney of the CGC, regarding farmer concerns.

It didn’t get too heated, but you could certainly tell from the tone in the room that 2019 remains to be one to remember, and not for the good. That being said, most were already past the year that was and are focussed on what lies ahead — though certainly tempered by current geopolitical and national issues, such as rail blockades, tight margins, and tariffs on pulses.

This again was something I found very valuable for farmers to experience. Especially when it’s not just your neighbours you’re talking to. This program brings together from all three Prairie provinces and, though different in location, much is the same when it comes to farming frustrations.

On the last day, my group got to take a look at what it takes to make pasta. Hearing about the product from a man named Paul instantly gave him the cool nickname — Pasta Paul. (Sadly there’s nothing cool that starts with a ‘J’ and rhymes with Jessika… so there’s that.)

The consistency of the dough has to be spot on in order for the pasta to take perfect shape. Thankfully in this day and age, machines do all of that for you to eat your spaghetti or macaroni.

The day was capped off with discussions about pulse milling, railway transportation, and a grain market outlook — all were timely and important for producers to learn more or refresh their memory about.

I mentioned earlier that I did not stop learning throughout the past two and a half days. There was not one session that I was in where I thought, “I know this already.” For others, there might have been, but I can guarantee most left with a plethora of knowledge about where their crop goes once it’s off the field.

That being said, I think short, hands-on, group learning is needed in this industry that’s forever changing.

Short for the fact that, “time is money, and money is time” and as producers are always on the go, short programs work best to entice producers to sign up, plus farming isn’t a 9-5 desk job, and farmers will likely learn best in the mill and lab and not by sitting in a board room, flipping through slides all day. Lastly, a group setting builds a stronger community. This program builds new connections which not only helps with the every day farming challenges, but also as a check-in on mental health as there’s attendees build a network of new people to check in with  once they return home to the cab.

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