Visiting delegation marks new beginning
Asian representatives from across agri-food sector.
November 13, 2007 By Top Crop Manager
A visiting Asian trade delegation may be nothing new for members of the Canadian
Soybean Export Association, or the Ontario Soybean Growers. But one of the more
recent groups to visit Canada marked an important first for the soybean sector,
and perhaps for Canadian agriculture.
From September 26 to October 5 the Canadian Soybean Council, in co-operation
with the Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI), hosted a visiting delegation
of 12 business people from Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and the People's Republic
of China. The 12 day intensive tour included stops in Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario,
and provided the group with insights into growing, shipping and handling, processing
and even plant breeding. It also heralded a new era with CIGI leading the drive
to unite the three provincial soybean sectors.
Dr. Linda Malcolmson, director of special crops, oilseeds and pulses with the
Winnipeg-based institute, highlights some of the goals that CIGI has set. Although
it was important to offer industry insights to the Asian delegates, it was equally
important to show the three provincial sectors can work together to improve
all aspects of production, processing, including research and development. "It's
much more of a case of everyone understanding each other's needs and requirements,"
says Malcolmson. "The importance of this was really just to bring buyers
and potential buyers to Canada, and showcase the Canadian industry, right from
breeding and research to the growers, the handlers, the transportation issues,
and the Canadian Grain Commission. We've been showing them how all of these
people work together to produce the best possible food-grade soybeans for their
Tour intense but very informative
Kwok Wing Talon Lee, a senior purchasing manager with Lee Kum Kee Foods of Hong
Kong, China, has had dealings with the Ontario grains sector for nearly 20 years.
But even he was impressed with the scope of the tour, its intensity and the
volume of information provided. "I know more now because as an importer,
as a buyer, we only know a couple of exporters, but with this trip, we went
more in-depth," explains Lee. "Not only exporters, but the farm, the
elevator, the port manager and the government offices as well, so it is more
vertical, more three dimensional."
Just as the destinations on the tour were different, so too was the make-up
of the delegations. "Some of them are from research and development, some
from quality control, some from process development, so it's very accommodating
for a lot of different people coming together," says Lee.
An invaluable opportunity for all
The development of industry links, the tour's extensive nature and the union
of the three provincial sectors also mark a new era for Canadian agriculture.
At present, Canada accounts for about two percent of the world market, according
to Jim Gowland, a director with the Ontario Soybean Growers. Soybeans are approaching
a saturation level for production in Ontario, he notes, although Manitoba and
Quebec sectors are still in their relative infancy. That leaves Ontario pressing
beyond agronomic or export issues. "On that domestic side, we look at soy
foods, perhaps fractionalizing the crop, getting soybeans into more ingredients,
more into identifying ingredient markets, industrial markets," says Gowland,
who farms near Holyrood, Ontario. "We have to look at this because nationally,
our production is only three million tonnes."
It lends itself to the concept that Canadian agriculture must brand itself
much like French wines or German automotive products. And Gowland sees the association
with CIGI as a definite step in the right direction. "They're experts in
market development in other commodities and they bring that whole professionalism,
knowledge and expertise to us, to build on these new markets and where we should
focus," he says. "Growers recognize that we have to put efforts into
utilization, making sure there's a home for this crop, and CIGI can bring all
of those things together and perhaps a bit beyond the usual perspective."
Not competing but setting new standards
John O'Brien agrees with Gowland's assessment and emphasizes the Canadian soybean
industry cannot compete with South America on a volume basis or the US on a
volume or political level. Instead, Canada must differentiate itself using quality
and desired traits as attractions. "It's really a survival thing, so we
have to find places where we can add value," says O'Brien, food products
manager for Thompsons in Blenheim, Ontario. The ability to showcase all aspects
of production, processing, research and development and retailing can add value,
and not just in Ontario but in Manitoba and Quebec, as well. "There's a
good opportunity for all those regions to feed into the market and have a very
successful relationship with many of the people involved with this mission."
As informative as the mission is for the Asian delegates, it is also a welcome
vehicle for learning to some from the domestic side of the industry. Troy Snobelen,
president of Snobelen Farms in Lucknow, Ontario, had the opportunity to see
some of the key industry aspects. In the past, delegations might visit a farm
and several processing plants. "But here, they could see the broad aspect
of every different stage of how the industry works, and of course it's more
beneficial and more interesting for them," says Snobelen, who is also the
current president of the Canadian Soybean Export Association. "This is
more geared to technical aspects, and someone like me usually gets to deal with
the buyers, so it's good to get the technical people out to find out what they