Field in the crop is food on the plate

Jennifer McCombe, agronomist with Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods spoke to organic growers at Organic Day January 19 about growing for quality. Scott Shiels with Yorkton-based Grain Millers and Mike Gallais with Best Cooking Pulses also addressed the group. Photo: Lorraine Stevenson

Organic Day panel talks specs and critical crop management for meeting buyer quality requirements

By Lorraine Stevenson
Organic Biz staff 

Mike Gallais knows quality when he sees it, and he’s impressed with what organic growers deliver.

“I can tell just by looking at the (organic) samples,” said the co-owner of Portage la Prairie based Best Cooking Pulses. “They always look better.”

Growers make that difference by taking the time to swath instead of straight cut that field of beans or peas, because shade in the swath ultimately boosts crop colour.

That’s just one way growers can help boost end use quality, said Gallais, who was in Brandon speaking to Organic Day held in conjunction with Ag Days January 19.

Other speakers joining him on a buyers panel also shared their observations and recommendations on what growers can do to produce quality crops — and why it matters.

We’re not growing crops. We’re growing ingredients to go into the food industry. – Mike Gallais

It’s critical to always have in your mind that crop in your field is ultimately food on someone’s plate, Gallais said.

“We’re not growing crops. We’re growing ingredients to go into the food industry,” he said. “As processors we have to have quality.”

Everything from variety choice to field selection to how you harvest and store your crops affects end quality, said other speakers.

“We are always talking to farmers about what they’re doing and who they’re doing it for,” said Scott Shiels, grain procurement merchant with Grain Millers, an international company that manufacturers and sells both conventional and organically produced consumer food products.

“You’re growing food, not crops,” he said. “The world wants quality food products.”

Shiels’ talk covered a wide range of end user needs from his company’s perspective. He emphasized the importance of using certified seed whenever possible. Variety selection for both good agronomics and milling quality is “an absolute must” and so is careful attention to field selection, he said.

Grain Millers is the world’s largest organic oat processor, producing about 25 per cent of all at product in North America.

Groat colour is what they care about, said Schiels.

“If we’ve got dark groats… because it’s laid in the swath too long and sprouted, its inconsistent product for the consumer and that’s no good,” he said.

Weed contamination is also a bigger issue for farmers than a dockage discount, Shiels said. Weed seeds can be higher in moisture than the grain itself, and that can lead to everything from staining the grain, or giving it undesirable odours, to being a host for mycotoxins. They recommend cleaning grain along with drying it prior to storage, he said.

And right along with picking the right field is rotation, which is super critical for organic farmers anyways.

“In field selection you don’t want to want to pick a field with a lot of wild oats in it, because you’ll likely end up with either high clean up or not even salable product,” he said, adding for organic growers, its even more important that they understand matters like testing protocols, safe handling and storage recommendations.

Hemp is a key example of a food crop with exceedingly high quality requirements, because it’s minimally processed, said a representative for Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods also on the panel.

They’re counting on farmers to help them meet those high requirements, said company agronomist Jennifer McCombe.

For example, there are things farmers must be vigilant about to ensure that inner seed colour is protected. Farmers need to take pains to avoid sprouting in the crop in the field because sprouting cracks the seed, causing oxidization and affecting seed colour. Being too aggressive with a grain dryer or heating in the bin can have the same effect, she said.

As processors of what’s essentially a raw food, they’re also very focussed on food safety and always on the look out for the presence of yeast, mould, or bacteria. They need farmers to pay strict attention to the moisture content of their crops, she said.

“It needs to be less than nine per cent for processing and cleaning as well as safe storage,” she said.

The three panelists all agreed growers can be optimistic as the 2017 growing year begins. Demand still exceeds supply for organic product, they said.

“Every year we’re running out of supply,” said McCombe. “That’s where we are at with the market. It’s an exciting opportunity. We are seeing a lot of growth.”

The buyers panel was video recorded and will be posted online at a later date.