Getting to know durum country

Reporter's Notebook: A French Durum SAS researcher may turn up at your doorstep, asking about durum

If you farm in Saskatchewan’s southern grain belt, you may have met Quentin Renault this summer.

Quentin hails from France, but he’s in Canada for two years studying the durum supply chain, from farm to harbour. He spent his spring and summer driving dusty gravel roads in Saskatchewan’s durum belt, looking for farmers. On June 1, he arrived at Leeann Minogue’s farm to talk durum. I know this because he and Leeann figured out they both knew me, and Leeann texted me.

Everyone in Saskatchewan knows each other, Quentin said afterwards.

The three of us met in person at Canada’s Farm Progress Show in Regina. Leeann wondered how farmers reacted when Quentin arrived, unannounced, at their farms. Quentin said most people were friendly.

Leeann thought this would be a brilliant way to spend a holiday in the British countryside — driving around the farmland and telling people she was studying something agricultural so they’d feed her tea and dessert.

I’m less sure about that vacation idea.

Durum study

Quentin is a development officer with Durum SAS. The company was created by two other agricultural co-operatives — Axereal and Arterris — to market French durum. Durum SAS sells into international markets including Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

So why is Quentin in Canada?

“My boss said to me you have to go to Canada because we know Canada is the main producer of durum in the world,” he said.

Durum SAS buys Canadian durum when it’s short French durum and needs to fill contracts. Quentin’s two-year study will help Durum SAS understand Canadian agriculture, he said. It will also help the company build relationships with the different actors in the Canadian durum supply chain, he added.

When it comes to growing Canadian durum, Quentin wants to know everything from seeding to harvest. He also wants to know why a Canadian farmer picks one farming practice over another, he said. He’s hoping to talk to about 200 durum growers for his study.

Farming in France

Quentin, who has an ag engineering degree, grew up on an 800 acre grain farm in France. As a child, he spent his holidays helping his parents with farm chores, from seeding to harvesting. He inherited a passion for agriculture from his dad, he said, and never considered working in another sector. Agriculture is a “big thing,” he said, because people need to eat.

Quentin’s father’s farm has been in minimum tillage since he started farming in 1994. But not every French farm can switch to minimum tillage, Quentin said. Some soil types exclude minimum tillage, he said, and some specialty crops require tillage.

“But I think farmers are going to change because of more and more restrictions. So we have to be smart about the life of soils,” said Quentin.

France is the European Union’s biggest agricultural producer, but French farmers deal with a heavy regulatory burden. For example, French legislators are pressing farmers to halve their pesticide use by 2025, Reuters reported in January.

France’s agriculture minister said the industry would reduce pesticide use through a combination of biological controls, other technology, and penalties for pesticide suppliers who don’t cut their volumes by 20 per cent over the next five years, according to the Reuters article.

You can read the full article by Googling “France delays pesticide reduction goal by seven years.”

One of the biggest differences Quentin’s noticed between farms in France and Saskatchewan is the size. France’s fields range from an acre to 150 acres, Quentin said, a legacy of France’s agrarian history.

Some farmers are trying to fuse small fields into bigger ones. “But it’s expensive to do that in France because you have restrictions about that,” said Quentin.

And does everyone know each other in rural France?

Quentin says they do — but only within a 20 or 30 km region. “It’s no more. And here it’s — I don’t know — 100, 200 (km).” Of course, Saskatchewan’s small population is spread over a much larger area, so this makes sense.

If you’re interested in helping Quentin with his study, ring him at (438) 820-1535 or email [email protected]. And if you talk to him, be sure to say hi for your cousin George. Chances are they already know each other.

About the author

Field Editor

Lisa Guenther

Lisa Guenther is field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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