Are We traders or justs raw goods suppliers?

Andrea Mandel-Campbell, speaking at Nufarm’s 10th anniversary media event in Winnipeg recently, said Canadians are not big on self-promotion or on branding our trade goods. We’re content to be commodity suppliers — a. k. a. “price takers” — which does not qualify Canada as a true “trading nation,” she says.

Mandel-Campbell wrote the book called “Why Mexicans don’t drink Molson,” and Nufarm invited her to speak about why marketing matters. Her provocative comments are meant to light a fire under Canadian would-be entrepreneurs.

Her point about Molson specifically is that Canada has abundant supply of the two ingredients needed to be a big player in the beer market: malt barley and fresh water. And yet Mexico — not known for barley or fresh water — has the much stronger international beer brand, Corona. Molson isn’t big in Mexico because it never tried to market outside Canada, she says. It had a cushy arrangement in Canada, especially Ontario. Ontario is the most profitable beer market in the world, Mandel-Campbell says, because the provincial government gave Molson and Labatt monopoly control over beer wholesale and retail. Because of this, Molson never learned to market, she argues.

This attitude is not confined to beer. The same is true in mining, forestry and agriculture, Mandel-Campbell says. Canada is the top exporter of canola, mustard, lentils and maple syrup, yet she says there is no big Canadian brand in any one of these products — certainly no brand with any international presence. A brand gives you some leeway to set the price and avoid sharp ups and downs of the commodity market. “The farther you’re removed from the commodity, the better you’ll fare in a downturn,” she says.

Be A Salesperson

I asked Andrea Mandel-Campbell how farmers can change this attitude.

1. Farmers don’t tend to think of themselves as salespeople. “This fundamental mindset change has to come first,” she says.

2. Start with the basics. Talk to the people directly above you in the value chain. Ask what they want and what you can do to provide it. That starts to build your “brand” in their eyes. (A brand doesn’t have to be a logo, she says.)

3. She doesn’t the like the Canadian Wheat Board because it overregulates the wheat market in Canada. “By going along with the CWB, farmers are choosing to be commodity producers,” she says.

A CANADIAN CANOLA BRAND

As Andrea Mandel-Campbell says, Canadians are generally bad at branding the things that SHOULD BE Canadian brands. Canola is one of her examples. But in fact we do have a canola oil brand. Canola Harvest, the brand of Richardson Nutrition (formerly called Canbra Foods), is sold on store shelves in the U. S., China and Lebanon, as well as Canada.

But we could go farther. For instance, you can’t buy specialty canola oil. Say you or any other Canadian consumer wants a bottle of Nexera canola oil (which Dow calls “Omega-9 oil”) with its better frying properties. You can’t buy it. U. S. consumers can get bulk pails of Nutra-Clear NT from Bunge, Mel-Fry Free from Ventura Foods and FryMax from ACH. HiLo from Richardson Nutrition sells in Costco in Canada in 17.3-litre jugs. But you can’t buy it in one-or four-litre containers.

“We do get a lot of inquiries from growers and customers as to why no one yet has a packaged retail bottle available in Canada,” says Tyler Groeneveld, omega-9 oils market manager for Dow AgroSciences. “ I personally would love to see a packaged retail bottle product.”

Paul Brisebois, assistant vice-president of sales and marketing for Richardson Oilseed, explains why it hasn’t happened for HiLo: “The primary benefit of HiLo is functionality in food service frying applications. You get extended fry life from HiLo in a zero-trans product, so it’s the best product available to restaurants that are deep frying. We have considered going into retail with the main benefit being the high smoke point, but feel that this would not sufficiently differentiate us enough at retail to demand a premium.”

PHOSPHORUS TIPS

A panel presentation at the Manitoba Agronomists Conference in December brought together Rigas Karamanos of Viterra, Geza Racz, now an Agri-Coach with Agri-Trend, Don Flaten, prof at U of M, and John Lee, agronomist with AgVise Labs, to talk about phosphorus recommendations. Here are the highlights:

1. If you have good soil reserves of available phosphorus, you can cut rates in the short term. Don Flaten quoted a 1962 study that says if you soil test shows 15 ppm of available phosphorus in the soil, you may just need a starter rate of 10 pounds per acre of P2O5. Flaten favours 11-52-0 orthophosphate, “the cheapest source.”

Geza Racz added that 10 pounds is reasonable for a one-inch opener. “If the seed row is wider than one inch, you’ll want to go to 15 pounds or more,” Racz says.

2. Cutting rates below soil test recommendations is only a short-term fix. In the long term, you need to balance off crop removal of P with applications of P, Flaten adds. Others on the panel agreed.

3. Geza Racz emphasized the need for placement with the seed or right beside. “One inch away in a side band is OK,” he says. You want P close to the seed because growth restriction of the crop due to P deficiency occurs 15 to 30 days after emergence. “Phosphorus MUST be available to seedlings,” he says. “Delay in uptake equals lower yield.”

4. John Lee showed slides to demonstrate how far apart fertilizer granules or liquid droplets are at certain rates. For example, with seven-inch row spacing, phosphate granules applied at five pounds per acre will be 7.5 inches apart in the seed row. You need to get up to 20 pounds before the granules are two inches apart, on average. “That’s close enough for granules to be accessible to every seed,” he says.

With liquid fertilizer at five pounds per acre of actual phosphate, the droplets are 11 inches apart, he says. One person in the audience asked if you could reduce the spacing between droplets by adding water. That way you could apply higher rates of solution yet keep actual P rates the same. Lee said, “yes.” Note, if you have wider row spacing, granules will be closer together in the seed row.

5. Rigas Karamanos says you’ll get the maximum yield return from the first 15 to 20 pounds of phosphate applied. After that, you might as well save your money. When asked if he would reduce his rate based on cost, he said “Definitely, in the short term.”

WATCH THE WHOLE CONFERENCE ONLINE

Video of the whole Manitoba Agronomists Conference is online at http://youronlinechannel.com/mac/webcast/ index. php. If you can’t get to it that way, go to ww.umanitoba.ca/afs/agronomists_ conf/ and click on “Webcast Archive.”

THE ’30’s WERE MUCH WORSE

Ron Settler recommends the book, “Men Against the Desert,” by James H. Gray. Ron writes:

“It tells the story of the drought in Western Canada in the 1930s. The causes. The problems. And the cure. I found it fascinating. Did you know that summerfallow in the 1920s was supposed to be harrowed to a fine powder? That was so moisture would not wick up to the surface as it does in packed or compressed soil. After the Dirty ‘30s, they developed a new theory.

“In one Rural Municipality in southern Saskatchewan there were 895 people. How many were on relief (social assistance) in one year in the ‘30s? 890.

“Did you know that many farmers went seven years of more without harvesting a decent crop?

“The book describes the development of community pastures, introduction of crested wheatgrass and the stories of the many men who toiled to keep Western Canada from becoming a desert.

“Great reading. Published in 1967. I’m not sure if it’s been reprinted. You can probably find it in used bookstores or in your local library.” Thanks Ron.

SIGN OFF

While at my grandma’s 90th birthday party in early January, Bill Agnew, a third cousin of mine and a farmer in the Chain Lakes area of southern Manitoba, suggested that Grainews write articles on “older” people who came back to the farm. He’s one of them. His first career was as a policeman for the RCMP. Then he moved back “home” to get back into farming. If you know of someone else who got into farming later in life, please let me know. It could make for an inspiring article.

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