Almost half of the world's durum wheat is grown in western Canada. Durum is used to produce semolina, the main ingredient in pasta. In 2009-10, prairie farmers exported about 3.8 million tonnes of durum. So why is there only one small pasta processing plant in western Canada? That's the question coming from the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association.

"None of them want to deal with the Wheat Board directly. Any of those value-added facilities want to build a contract with farmers directly," says Wheat Growers spokesperson Stephen Vandervalk. "So we export it to Italy and then import it from there. It makes no sense. We need some value-added processing in western Canada."

The Wheat Growers point out Canada's trade deficit in pasta is increasing. In 2009, pasta imports surpassed exports by 223 million dollars. "A large part of the problem is that prairie farmers are prohibited by the CWB from selling their durum direct to processors," says Vandervalk.

"It's a poor argument," says Jim Thompson, senior marketing manager of domestic and U.S. wheat and durum sales with the Canadian Wheat Board. "All processed products, all manufactured goods are dependent on demand for those particular products. It is not driven by the amount of grain you grow or by the marketing system, it's demand driven. All of it depends on the per-capita consumption of the particular product you're making, whether it's semolina, pasta itself or flour."

Meanwhile, Vandervalk points out there are five commercial pasta plants operating in North Dakota, compared with only one small operation in western Canada, located in Edmonton. "Just one pasta plant in North Dakota alone produces pretty much more than all of Canada. The only facilities we have are around Toronto and Montreal. That doesn't make any sense," says Vandervalk.

"A number of those plants grew up down there through subsidies that were offered by various levels of U.S. government and favourable tax treatment, so to say they're there strictly as commercial operations is just disingenuous," says Thompson.


 Both Vandervalk and Thompson joined Kelvin Heppner on the Manitoba Farm Journal last week.

Listen to the conversation with Vandervalk from Thursday's MFJ:


Thompson's conversation on Friday's MFJ:



~ Monday, November 1, 2010 ~