Alberta Barley’s AGM an opportunity to reflect and plan for the future
Buoyed by a successful 2015 harvest, Alberta’s barley industry looks to continue the momentum into 2016. However, before taking on the new year, farmers and industry alike had the opportunity to learn about exciting opportunities and the increased potential for the world’s oldest cereal grain at Alberta Barley’s annual general meeting.
Hosted at the Banff Springs Hotel, Dec. 9 to 10, the 2015 AGM was a chance for Alberta’s barley producers and industry members to come together, learn and look forward.
“This is the time when we reflect on the activities and accomplishments of the past year and work towards the future,” said chairman Mike Ammeter, as he kicked off the meeting.
“It wouldn’t be an agriculture conference without sustainability on the agenda,” added Erin Gowriluk, government relations and policy manager for Alberta Wheat Commission.
As she updated attendees on the Alberta Crops Sustainability Project, Gowriluk discussed the sustainability goals and standards set forth by the new federal government. “Given the work we have done, and the interest and engagement many of you have demonstrated in this area,” Gowriluk said, “we are well positioned to work collaboratively to help the federal government reach their sustainability objectives.”
In addition to addressing the shifting world of environmental standards, maintaining the sustainability of Canadian barley markets also remains a focus for 2016. Kenric Exner of Viterra highlighted the growing competition with other barley-rich countries as a concern, especially in terms of exports and demand into China, during his presentation on export and domestic markets. “Ensuring barley’s risk and returns to the producer remain competitive versus competing commodities is a major priority in order to grow or preserve barley’s acreage base,” he explained.
Exner cited Canada’s growing number of craft breweries as a major force keeping the domestic demand for malt barley strong. With over 400 breweries opening in Canada between 2004 and 2014, and global beer production rising, malt barley has become a key domestic and export market player.
During his update on the commission’s activities, Alberta Barley’s general manager, Rob Davies, discussed how to keep the malt barley industry sustainable and competitive. With more than 20 malt varieties available, Davies outlined why producers largely stick with AC Metcalfe and CDC Copeland, varieties registered in 1994 and 1999, respectively. “Malt barley growers are basically holding almost 70 per cent of their eggs in a basket that is 15 to 20 years old,” Davies explained. “That is hurting our competitiveness both in the field and internationally.”
Davies said market development work to improve both domestic and international acceptance of new varieties is critical. When buyers accept new varieties, it will allow producers the opportunity to grow newer varieties with better yields and to increase their net returns per acre.
On the industry side, Gord Winkel from the University of Alberta gave producers a look at what safety and sustainability can mean for an essential yet often misunderstood sector. Building on his mining industry experience, Winkel’s presentation, titled “The Sustainability Imperative,” included sound advice for Alberta’s barley producers. “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will,” he said. “And you might not like it.”
Similar to mining, agricultural communities are located in rural or remote areas, yet many of the negative perceptions of the sector come from large urban centres. According to Winkel, this means people who have no experience in the industry are passing judgment on the practices of an industry they rely on.
In 2016, members of Alberta’s barley industry will have to come together to work towards sustainability goals while ensuring their story is being told and, most importantly, understood. With the tools, tips and information presented at Alberta Barley’s AGM, they are starting the year off on the right foot.