Watching the evolution of the Prairie Grain Economy over the last 30 years, we cannot help but be amazed by how producers responded to market opportunities, diversified their crop-base, and advanced their production-capacity. By the same token, we cannot overlook the missed opportunities, how much better it would have been if not for the structural impediments standing in their way. Lack of open sales channels were greatly limiting their ability to further diversify to higher-value crops.
In the last few years our attention turned to facilitating direct-sales channels that could be fulfilled with containerized grain-shipments. Great advances had been made in intermodal-systems, making them more competitive with bulk-systems. We had observed these shifts taking place across Europe, and recently extending to Asia Pacific; we felt the time had come to make a similar push from the Prairies to Asia.
We knew our mission would serve the interests of producers, but did not know how they would react. There is always resistance to “change” when markets turn in new directions, bringing logistics-challenges and trade-risks. In this case, there was also the fear of container shortages across the Prairies, something we were less worried about as we had tackled these problems in much less developed parts of the world.
Anyway, we were brave enough to embark on this initiative in October, 2021, and in just 3 months ramped up our following to more than 2000, with most of our articles getting 100+ reads (some 400 or more). With this level of interest why would we not get on with the job of generating direct-sales? The problem is that it takes two-to-tango; there is producer-interest but we now have to attract buyer-interest.
Though one of the most advanced agricultural regions in the world, there is little visibility into our farm-economy. Most of our grain exports are traded in bulk; we make little effort to promote ourselves in export-markets for the variety and quality of crops we can grow and export outside bulk-channels. We face an urgent need to recast our global-image, which we keep bringing attention to in our articles or posts.
Our greatest treasure is our production-capacity, farms that can grow a huge variety of crops to the highest standards in the world, anything discerning end-users would need. Moreover, buyers can reach out to actual sources-of-production, our farms, to procure what they need and get them shipped to their door-steps with crop-integrity intact in containers. But they know little about our farm-economy to engage.
We developed a framework to recast our global-image and provide more visibility into our grain-economy. We urged you to sign-up to our farm-profile-program, an integral part of this recasting effort. Now we are also holding virtual-consultation-meetings to get your input and participation in our efforts to serve your interests.
Upcoming Virtual Meetings
When we first launched the PGP, naturally we were hoping to attract producers, and we did. But we also knew that in order to get them to engage and become active participants in our mission we had to establish more direct contacts -- explain what we intended to do to serve their interests by opening up direct-sales channels. To this end, our plan was to hold town-hall or coffee-shop meetings across the Prairies.
At the time we were under the delusion that the COVID-crisis was subsiding, and we would be able to hit the road as 2021-harvest was winding down. You know what happened in the interim on the COVID-front, thus we had to opt out for a virtual-format, hosting Zoom-sessions through March, 2022, but with the full intention of going back to in-person meetings once the seeding-season chores subside.
The registration is now open for the first two of these virtual-meetings, March 1 and March 3, 2022. Since we are limiting active participants to 40 for each meeting, we urge you to sign-up as soon as you can through our portal where you would find a “tab” labelled “town-halls”. Alternatively, you can just send an email to our portal email@example.com or to organizers firstname.lastname@example.org
These two dates are confirmed, and once you register (or request) you will get an invitation (to the email address you contacted us from) for a Zoom-meeting. We intend to hold 4 more of these meetings in the first 3 weeks of March, 2022. If there is demand we will try to hold more sessions before the upcoming seeding-season, and continue offering them throughout the year as long as demand continues.
Meeting Agenda and Format
The virtual-meetings will be hosted by Upfront Consulting in Regina, and attended by representatives of the Prairie Grain Portal. Following an opening statement by Upfront, PGP will take 10-15 minutes to present a brief presentation-deck, which you will be able to see on your screens. Then we will follow a Q&A format for discussion, where you can ask questions about our mandate, agenda, initiatives, or concerns.
You will find the presentation deck on our portal, on the registration-page, that sets the stage for discussions during during these sessions. Topics we hope to cover include the following, but the floor will be open to any questions, comments or suggestions you may have -- curious, supportive or critical, we want to hear them all.
Challenges that bulk-trade-dependence poses to the future of Prairies
What do we mean by direct-channels and how will they function
Risk-reward trade-offs: bulk-trade versus direct export channels
What do we need to do to attract importers: recasting our image
Role of farm-profiles: critical window into our production sources
Platform evolution: Farm-Profiles to Grain-Mall to Trade-Forum
Time-lines: where we are at and when do we think trades will materialize
Aside from these consultative sessions, we always encourage you to contact us directly with any questions you may have, or topics you want to discuss. We are only an email away, and always open to email exchanges or phone conversations.
More Consultative Initiatives
Virtual Meetings: Our virtual-program will continue as long as there is demand. Though we were skeptical about this venue at the outset, preferring in-person meetings, with the model we developed, we now believe it is going to be effective in conveying our mission and attracting participants. Although we are launching the program in Saskatchewan, we plan to extend its reach to Manitoba and Alberta.
In-Person Gatherings: In addition, however, we still believe in the virtues of in-person gatherings, which we will pursue by holding town-hall or coffee-shop like meetings as soon as conditions become conducive in late Spring or early Summer. These will start across Saskatchewan, and in time extend to Manitoba and Alberta -- in all three provinces we will coordinate virtual and in-person venues in tandem.
One-on-One Engagement: Aside from these group venues, we still see a pressing need for one-on-one engagement with producers, which we will initiate through email or phone-calls, and follow up with farm-visits. Initially the need for these engagements are evident in the context of our farm-profile program, but as we progress into the trade-facilitation phases, they will become all the more essential.
Local Area Clubs: As we discussed in our earlier articles, direct-sales channels will present opportunities for producers to collaborate in order to fulfill larger contract-orders. We will make every effort on our part to facilitate the formation of local-area producer-clubs, strictly on a voluntary basis to serve their own interests -- consolidation in advance to attract buyers, or in response to purchase-requests.
Through all these consultative initiatives, our objective is to deepen producer-engagement in the process, whether to respond to sales opportunities we bring to the table, or opportunities they take the initiative to create for us to present to overseas buyers. As we continue to emphasize, trade-facilitation is a collaborative-process that requires engagement and participation on the part of producers.
Another Invitation to Farm-Profiles
After our two articles (and many more posts on the same topic) you may have had enough of our insistent calls to sign-up for our farm-profile-program. But we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to convey to the world how advanced our farms are, and that they are not mere collection-points for bulk-trades. They are production-sources from which importers can procure a much broader range of high quality crops, and get them shipped directly in containers with crop-integrity intact.
At the root of this neglect in promoting our production-capacity at the farm-level is our dependence on bulk-trades, where it does not matter where the crops come from as long as, once consolidated, grain-stocks meet certain grade and quality standards. In direct-sales, however, crop-differentiation is all the more important, and moreover, buyers would like to have more visibility into actual production-sources they are buying from. Thus, it is incumbent upon us to showcase our farms.
Public agencies and producer associations do not seem to recognize the importance of this, but we hope producers can relate to it and sign-up for the program. We are committed to making this as easy as possible for them, and also note that we need to present as many profiles as possible to move on to the next steps in our agenda, Farm-Mall and Trade-Forum, essential tools in facilitating direct-sales channels.