Canadian grain reconnaissance

In late November, two members of the AgriDigital team, Ben Reid & Tristan Shannon, braved the wind and snow and headed off on a reconnaissance trip to the Canadian wheat fields.

This trip was an important fact finding mission to gain a deeper understanding of the Canadian grain industry, the logistics around importing and exporting, and the ins and outs of the Canadian agri-supply chain. As part of our plans for global expansion, we were looking to identify key pain points for participants in the Canadian market and see how the AgriDigital platform could be tailored to meet their specific needs and requirements.

Ben and Tristan, along with AgriDigital’s North American consultant, Brenda Tjaden, visited two of Canada’s wheat growing provinces, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, meeting with various people across the the Canadian grain industry including grain processors and elevators, brokers, industry associations, and technology providers.

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So, what did we learn?

Canada. It’s the world’s sixth largest producer and one of the largest exporters of wheat, producing an average of over 25 million tonnes and exporting around 15 million tonnes annually. It’s big business, and the grainbelt provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are filled with endless wheat and oilseed fields.

Snow Fallow, Organic Farming & Provenance

For the large majority of the year, these fields are covered with snow which assists in fallowing — the locals refer to it as ‘snow fallow.’ During winter, a thick layer of snow on the ground keeps weeds and pests at bay. Come spring when the snow melts, the land is irrigated. Many farmers then, particularly those growing organic grain, will simply plough the field prior to sowing spring crops with no need for fertiliser or chemicals.

The snow fallow practice was of particular interest to Ben, noting the large shift in North America towards organic farming, due largely to the intrinsic demand from the consumer market:

“There’s significant potential for a solution to assist grain farmers, traders and processors track the provenance of the product back to the farm gate; which is precisely what the modern consumer demands. This is really exciting, and is in line with one of [AgriDigital’s] core objectives to improving tracking & traceability for participants throughout the supply chain.”

On Farm Storage vs. Bulk Handlers

AgriDigital’s Storage module has significant benefits for the Canadian market, which operates quite differently from the Australian market when it comes to storage of harvested grain. Here at home, most grain is stored by bulk handlers post harvest, whereas in Canada, the large majority it stored on farm. The AgriDigital Storage module enables farmers to improve visibility and accuracy around their inventory and manage their position more effectively.

Once the grain is received into the elevator (similar to an on site grain storage facility), it then follows a process resembling ours, and the AgriDigital platform can manage the creation of new grain contracts and deliveries between buyers and sellers, as well as orders, invoices and payments.

Paperwork, Cheques & Handwritten Dockets

The AgriDigital team found some stark differences between the Canadian grain industry and us here at home in Australia. Whilst Canada is well advanced in the use of technology for on farm production, post farm gate processes are still very much done by hand.

“Grain contracts and delivery dockets are not standardised across the board and are largely handwritten”, Tristan recalls, “Buyers seem to spend a large amount of time chasing signatures from growers that are usually sent via fax and kept in paper files. Electronic transfer of funds isn’t widespread either, with the large majority of payments made via cheque.”

These methods not only mean extra time spent on administration and paperwork, but also mean records are often misplaced, illegible and involve a fair amount of double handling and resulting delay.

AgriDigital’s cloud based platform digitises these processes and maintains all data and records safely and securely. The platform simplifies commodity management and provides all participants with a single view of contracts, deliveries, prices, orders, payments and invoices. One single source of truth for all grain transactions means AgriDigital users never have to worry about losing a handwritten paper docket again!

What’s Next?

With further globalisation feature development and market research underway, AgriDigital is headed for North America with a soft launch in late 2018. We believe the AgriDigital platform will significantly impact the Canadian grain supply chain, providing increased transparency, efficiency and digitisation.

Watch this space!