Food markets on a global scale
Peter Watts tells GrainsWest about his love for agriculture and international trade
Peter Watts wasn’t raised on a farm, but you would never know it from his resumé.
Watts is the new managing director of the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre (CMBTC), a member-based non-profit that drives demand for malt barley through applied research and marketing.
The Winnipeg native picked up his love for agriculture while working towards a master’s in international affairs at Laval University in Quebec City.
“One of the things that was happening at the time was there were a lot of issues in terms of agricultural trade—grain trade in particular—between Canada and the United States,” Watts said. “So I ended up focusing my thesis on the grain trade between Canada and the U.S.”
Watts also spent his master’s internship working for the Canadian Grain Commission.
After graduating in the spring of 1996, Watts went to work as a market analyst at the Canadian Wheat Board. Watts was the analyst for European wheat and barley price markets, and was also the analyst for global malt barley markets, since the European Union is one of the world’s largest producers of barley.
By 2006, Watts sought a new challenge and found it at Pulse Canada. As director of market innovation, his job was to build a program that would look for non-traditional uses for pulses in the food sector.
“He was given a portfolio and a blank piece of paper,” said Gordon Bacon, CEO of Pulse Canada.
Ten years ago, pulses were generally used in soups and canned foods and not much else, Bacon said. Watt’s role was to work with the research community to invent new processing techniques that would enable the creation of products like lentil flour suitable for use in breakfast cereals.
“Peter played a key role in creating interest, identifying research and knowledge gaps, and effectively shifting how not only the food industry but how farmers thought about the potential for pulses to play a very big role,” Bacon said.
This mix of research and marketing experience has led Watts to his current position at the CMBTC, where he faces new issues and new goals.
Canada is the second-largest exporter of malting barley in the world, Watts said, but marketing the grain is very complicated because of the many different quality factors malting barley has. Another challenge is that competition from other crops has meant declining acreage for malting barley.
“We’ve seen a reduction in the production of malting barley in Canada over the last 10 years, quite a significant reduction,” Watts said. “I’d like to see that turn around.”
The job also keeps him in the field that he fell in love with in university.
“Working in the agriculture sector, it’s allowed me to be in the international industry in the way I’ve always wanted to,” Watts said. “Agriculture is as international as it gets in terms of industry.”