Grain Container Quality Certification gives Canadian farmers an advantage
By Leo Quigley, AJOT
For 100 years the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) has been the gatekeeper to Canada's international reputation for quality grain exports. Now, the CGC has included grain, oilseeds and pulse crops shipped in containers to its certification program and international buyers seem to like it.
The addition of shipping containers to the CGC’s quality certification programs, (probably the biggest change in the agency's 100-year history) came this summer when the Canadian Wheat Board was officially stripped of its monopoly and the CGC was handed a new mandate by Ottawa; basically, that it now has to pay its own way.
In the last federal budget, Ottawa confirmed its intentions to modernize key institutions within the grains sector and to updating the Commission’s user fees. The Commission was provided with Cnd $44 million over the next two years to continue to operate and update its fees.
At present, the Commission's Cnd $80 million budget is provided through government appropriations and user fees, but plans are to increase user fees, reduce government appropriations and modernize the operations of the Commission. Amidst all this change, the Commission is also introducing new programs - including a program for inspecting and certifying the content of shipping containers- a program that has been field tested over a four-year period,
Roughly 10% of crop exports generated in Canada move by container. And, according to Laura Anderson, National Manager, Process Verification and Accreditation for the CGC, container traffic has resulted in a growth in business that has challenged the inspection capacity of the Commission in recent years.
“Often, grain is shipped by rail or truck to Vancouver or Montreal and then transloaded at a container transloading facility. And, if the shipper wants a CGC certification, or if the buyer of that grain wants a CGC certification they would then call our regional office at Vancouver or Montreal and say; 'Can you get somebody to our facility to sample this product?'
Usually, the container inspection process would be carried out at a transloading facility where grain is transferred from a truck or rail car into a container or, sometimes, into bags and then into a container,” she said.
“Our staff would go and take those samples and then provide official grade certificates.”
Today, under the new container-sampling program, the Commission will provide accreditation to a private firm that will follow established CGC procedures to take the necessary samples, from which the Commission will provide the required certification.
Inspecting a producer’s grain sample
The other alternative, Anderson said, is one in which a transloading facility will be certified by the Commission as having the right equipment, knows how to take samples at the right place and has staff that have been properly trained by the CGC. As well, the Commission will audit the facility to ensure that procedures are being followed.
If all the requirements are met, the Commission will then certify the facility’s sampling program.
The other issue that encouraged the Commission to establish the new container inspection programs was simply the distances involved in sampling grain on the Canadian Prairies.
“It's a very large geographical area,” she said. “And we have staff limitations at our service centers.
“We call this 'source loading,’” she said. “For example a company that is buying lentils from local farmers, cleaning them and wanting to load them into a container and put that container on a railcar to have it make its way onto a container ship.
“In this case, the same thing would happen. Under the program they could hire an accredited third party and get an official CGC certification if that's what their buyer wants or, alternatively, they can have their sampling system certified by the Commission and then they can submit a sample to one of the Prairie service centers to have it graded and a certificate issued.”
Anderson said one of the unanticipated responses has come from exporters who say official certification of a company’s sampling system by the Canadian Government provides added value and is appreciated by international customers.
“They really like the idea of being able to tell their buyers that they have a CGC-certified sampling system,” she said. “As it was explained to me, a lot of the container trade depends on establishing a strong buyer/seller relationship.”
It's when a buyer wants to grow their business and penetrate a new market that the certification provides assurance to the new buyer and, in effect, becomes a marketing tool.
“The worst thing that can happen,” she said, “is that, when you get your product to the buyer, the quality isn't what the buyer expected.”
Doug Hyde, Program Coordinator for Zeghers Seed Inc., Holland, Manitoba, that worked with the Canadian Grain Commission on the pilot project said the program provides added credibility to Canada's grain export program where containers are used.
“The Canadian Grain Commission is a bit of a new face to some people,” he said. “It's well known to the Canadian producer, but less well known on the world stage.”
Zeghers Seed, launched in 1985 by Don Zeghers as a seed cleaning plant has grown over the years to include the primary processing, conditioning, and packaging of crops for the human edible and bird food markets such as yellow flax, brown flax, yellow mustard, brown mustard, canary seed, canola, buckwheat, and peas.
Hyde said the plant's biggest export crop at present is flax and it has also started handling wheat since the federal government's “Marketing Freedom” legislation became law.
Typically, when product arrives at the plant it's sampled and sampled again after it's been cleaned and processed. Samples are then sent to a private laboratory for testing. Once the lab completes the testing the results are sent to the grain commission that then certifies the product.
The Holland plant is not located on a rail line so all product is shipped as bulk, mini-bulk or in bags and either loaded directly into a container or into a truck and taken to a port to be trans-loaded into a container.
Hyde said the Zeghers Seed plant is a fairly typical plant in Western Canada other than the large facilities operated by major grain companies such Cargill, Richardson or Viterra.
“We're more of a niche marketing company,” he said. “And, our niche is the small customer.
“It's not 'Here's what we have, do you want it or not?’
“Its 'what do you want us to do to this product for you?’”