The paradigm-shift we are calling for in the Prairie grain-economy involves three prongs: specialization in higher-value crops, shift away from bulk-trades to direct-sales channels, and containerized shipments to final destinations. Our mission is motivated by our observation that producer margins are already slim, at least for those who are highly indebted from past investments, and are likely to be squeezed further in the coming years under competitive pressure from low-cost exporters.
However, this is hardly a call for abandoning bulk-trades that provide secure and reliable sources of revenue, at least as long as they maintain their viability on the global stage. The alternative channels we are trying to establish offer the promise of higher-margins, but are not risk-free; we advise producers to exercise caution by carefully assessing the inherent trade-risks, and to the extent possible, rely on contract-sales to credible, thoroughly vetted buyers on secure payment-terms.
Also, we should note that though we see this as a viable path-to-prosperity for producers, change in this direction can only come over time, as producers make the appropriate risk-reward trade-offs in shifting their crop-base. We would call our strategy a success even if the shift to direct-sales channels was modest, 10-15 MT/yr in a decade, basically equivalent to the grain production growth increment from yield-increases in that time-frame, leaving bulk-trade volumes at their current levels.
At the outset we would like to issue a “disclaimer” that we are not a sales-portal; some visitors are still asking our trading-volume as if that was our mission. We do not trade and it is highly unlikely that we ever will; we are a trade-facilitation portal. We try to help producers reach out to end-markets by bringing new opportunities to their attention through the market-research we conduct. In time we also hope to attract direct-buyers to the region to procure all the crop-varieties they may need.
In just a few months since our launch we have been pleased with the traction that we have achieved; obviously many of our concerns over the future of the Prairie grain-economy are widely shared, and there is interest in the direction that we are trying to move this vital sector of our regional economy. However, these are just the early days; we are determined to not only grow our following but also deepen their engagement. We still have a long way to go in accomplishing our trade-mission.
To this end, you will see a major shift in our emphasis, in terms of what we publish as well as how we engage with our audience, through both the portal and social-media platforms. You will hear less about why we embarked on this mission, and more about what we must do in realizing our vision of a very different trade environment -- more specialized in high-value export-crops, geared towards direct-sales that we have no doubt will yield higher-margins, paving the way to greater prosperity.
In the coming months our efforts will be focused on the following six areas; then our trade-facilitation will get underway in earnest to start going after export prospects.
Market-research: We will give utmost priority to our market-research agenda, giving you more insights than just telling you what we are doing or intend to do. Our priorities will be as outlined earlier (Article #9) but as we attract more external funding for this purpose, that agenda will expand and intensify. We do not expect our geographical focus on Asia Pacific to change, but with more resources, we will be able to tackle more markets with industry-structure and supply-chain studies.
Portal-following: We are happy with the pace of growth in our following so far but as we move forward we want to accelerate that growth -- we won’t be content until we reach every producer in the region. Also, we will pay more attention to deeper “engagement” by reaching out to producers to get their input with ideas, comments and suggestions. Accordingly, you will see us attend to our social-media pages more intensely, and also you will hear from us more directly through email campaigns.
Producer-meetings: Early in 2022 we will embark on producer-consultations, not electronically but in-person, coffee-shop or town-hall meetings. You will hear about the details early in the year, starting with Saskatchewan and extending to Manitoba and Alberta. At these gatherings, we want to expand on our mission, explain our strategy, and get feedback from producers -- we want to know whether we are on the right track, or need to change course, as this whole mission is in their cause.
Farm-profiles: We explained the importance of these profiles in extolling our virtues in export markets (Articles #5 and #10) -- putting across the advanced state of our farms is of critical importance in getting the attention of importers. We hope these will also turn into effective marketing tools for producers, individually or in groups. In the coming weeks we will embark on an invitation-campaign for this purpose -- we will not give up on pestering until we have not just dozens but hundreds of profiles.
Export-image: In the same articles we also emphasized the need for recasting our global image, from bulk-trades to specialty-crops. We advocated a three-prong approach in this regard, but cannot tackle the challenge on our own. We need producer-advocacy to push public authorities to give priority to this matter before we can expect our export-base to diversify to higher-value specialty crops. You will hear more on this topic from us in the coming months, as it is vital to our mission.
Buyer-targets: Once we make sufficient progress on these last two fronts, we will be ready to turn our focus to the buyer-targets we would have identified through our market-research efforts. By this time, we would have modified the Prairie Profile tab of our portal with a new image, projecting an advanced farm-economy, arguably among the most advanced in the world with a highly-diversified crop-base that can meet all the needs of importers, to be shipped in containers directly to their facilities.
It must be evident from these activities that our attention in the coming months will be sharply focused on individual producers, to get them engaged and provide their input into our mission that is clearly in their commercial interest. We will continue to emphasize the collaborative nature of our approach we outlined at the outset (Articles #3 and #5). Without active producer engagement and participation our strategy will not yield meaningful results; we will continue to stick to this approach.
However, we also recognize that there are producer-associations that represent their interests, associations that they fund directly or indirectly. The same associations can also play a crucial role in facilitating the diversification-initiatives and direct-sales channels we are trying to open up. To this end, with the launch of our portal we reached out to most of them with an email-campaign, but we have not received any response, let alone endorsement, encouragement or support.
We understand that we were not yet well-known, and our intentions may not have looked completely transparent; naturally we need to earn their trust and respect before expecting any support or cooperation. Also, at the time there were extenuating circumstances, impacts of a severe drought to cope with. We will continue our efforts but in the mean time call on all producers to reach out to the associations that they belong to with ideas on how they can be involved in our cause.
When we first launched our portal we also reached out to government agencies, federal and provincial, involved in agriculture and export-promotion. The response in this domain was not very encouraging; we had one response with a referral to another agency that did not lead to a follow up. We are going to launch another campaign with this compendium of articles, in the hope of a warmer reception.
As we outline in our last article (and make references throughout) any shift in our export-base is not going to be very successful without government endorsement and support. This is imperative in view of the need for recasting our global image, as in addition to extolling our region’s advanced production-capacity and crop-variety, we flag our institutional strengths -- particularly with respect to our crop-classification and identity-preservation regulations. Again, we are relying on the producer-community to help us mobilize more support for our mission from public agencies.