The necessity of grain segregation

IN A POSITION FOR CHANGE

ontario produces A very diverse mix of grain crops – and each year new traits, technologies and varieties are added to the complex lineup of products that are grown, stored, processed or exported for specific end use markets. The industry has become accustomed to handling a wide range of grain varieties, but today, products like identity preserved soybeans, GMO corn and specialty wheat demand additional investments and protocols for storage and handling to keep them all separated. 

While grain segregation proves challenging, it is a challenge the Ontario industry is willing to take. Troy Snobelen, general manager of Snobelen Farms points out that his facility in Lucknow, ON only started handling GMO grain in 1997, and today GMO traits make up 75 percent of all Ontario grain. The industry has had to quickly adjust to handling these products, and most importantly, keep them segregated from conventional, organic and identity preserved grains. But according to Snobelen, the Ontario grain industry – from farmers to elevators – has quickly expanded and invested to handle the additional challenges of segregation and is positioned to handle new product developments as they are introduced to the market.

It has never been more important that the Canadian grain sector work together for the advancement of the industry, something Dan Wright, Canadian trait launch lead for Monsanto Canada, says is crucial to developing and commercializing products. According to Wright, “Monsanto, and likely many other technology companies, have strict product stewardship checklists to ensure the introduction of new traits and technology do not interrupt the flow of grain.” Wright references the development of Monsanto’s Genuity® Roundup Ready 2 Yield® soybeans as an example where the company worked to make sure every aspect of the food chain was aware of the technology and market restrictions before the seed became available to farmers. Before launching the technology, Wright began conversations with the Grain Farmers of Ontario about doing seed production in Canada prior to receiving all global approvals. Together, Monsanto and Grain Farmers of Ontario  discussed the risks and opportunities for the production in Ontario, helping the company develop an industry approach to communicate about the new technology. Wright says “Ontario growers bring a high level of expertise and experience to producing specialty products, creating confidence in the Ontario grain production market and sometimes opening market access ahead of other countries.”

a confident and compliant industry
The most common challenge in grain handling is proper segregation of GMO and non-GMO varieties, traits and technologies. This includes separate legs, belts, transportation and storage – all additional quality control measures that most Ontario facilities already have in place. Snobelen says there have been significant investments in grain handling companies and elevators in the past 10-20 years, creating a reliable, high-quality sector of the Ontario agricultural industry.

Grain segregation starts with producers and the responsibility carries right through to the elevators, processors and exporters. “Everyone who wants to be involved is doing their part,” says Snobelen referencing additional on-farm equipment cleaning and paperwork to specialized elevator processing and storage. Snobelen also points out that the additional time and investments of grain segregation must pay off, “anyone can handle a commodity, but the premiums need to be high enough to generate returns from the extra effort.”

And it must be worthwhile, because as yields continue to increase, Ontario grain storage construction is on the rise too. On-farm storage is seeing significant growth, and Snobelen says that farmers are doing a great job separating storage and handling of grains destined for specific end use markets.

While the Ontario market appears established for handling grain segregation, there is always the potential for something to go wrong. Snobelen says a major contamination could impact not only his own operation and growers but jeopardize the reputation of Ontario’s industry. However, there are strict measures in place to ensure that if a major contamination of grain products ever occurred, the industry’s recall system and exceptional traceability programs could track a container right back to the field where the product was grown.  

Grain segregation is expected to become more complicated as new grain products are introduced and launched into the Ontario market. However, the Ontario industry has built a solid infrastructure and is well equipped to handle the changes. Those who are invested in segregating grains participate not only for their own advantages or premiums, but also for the development and maintenance of Ontario’s superior reputation in quality grain products. The whole supply chain including farmers, product developers, transportation companies, elevators and exporters is willing to accept future changes and challenges because everyone is invested in the success of Ontario’s grain industry.

TROUBLES ABROAD
While Troy Snobelen of Snobelen Farms in Lucknow, ON is confident farmers and the grain handling industry here in Ontario are well equipped to handle numerous traits, technologies and varieties that need additional quality control measures, a recent incident in the US proves the grain handling sector is still challenged when keeping up with technology and product development.

In 2011, Syngenta filed a complaint in the US District Court for the Northern District of Iowa against Bunge North America. Syngenta alleges Bunge was attempting to block the legal merchandizing of the Agrisure Viptera™ trait that had become commercially available to US growers for the 2011 planting season. In a company statement, Syngenta says the corn trait was launched in compliance with US regulatory requirements as well as industry guidelines for commercialization. Bunge’s decision not to handle the product was explained as concerns the trait hadn’t yet been approved in China.

This unfortunate disagreement between the two companies created additional headaches for US corn growers who already had the new technology planted in their fields. However, Judy Shaw, government and public affairs representative for Syngenta Canada assures Ontario growers that this same incident is unlikely to happen in Canada. “Our Canadian grain industry has demonstrated the importance of working collaboratively – we have guidelines for product development and market access that are voluntary and industry driven,” says Shaw. Canada is known to have an excellent reputation working with all industry partners from growers to overseas buyers, creating a solid industry delivering exceptional quality and positioned for growth.

As new products and technologies are introduced to the Ontario grain market, we can expect grain handling and product segregation to become more complicated. Whether its GMO corn, organic wheat or IP soybeans – specific handling, transportation and storage is vital to the success of the industry.

Farmers are happy to accept the introduction of products and technologies that are constantly increasing yield, improving grain quality and helping combat disease and weeds. But, these changes have had a spin-off effect that has seen significant growth, expansions and the development of additional quality control measures to keep up with these new traits, technologies and varieties.

Monsanto Canada, Syngenta Canada and Snobelen Farms discuss the importance of grain segregation to the Ontario industry and how it is positioned to handle these on-going changes. Ontario, and the greater Canadian industry is already on-board with quality control implementations, product development guidelines and industry collaboration to ensure every step in the grain value chain is well equipped to handle new products and additional segregation requirements. The success of Ontario’s export grain industry, commodity and purpose-grown grain crops depends on segregation – and our province is confident in its current position to handle impending changes and complications. •