Organic processing in Manitoba a bright spot

Farmer Walking Through Field Checking Wheat Crop Finding the right balance between what organic producers grow and what the market has the capacity to absorb is key to the industry’s continued growth. Photo: Thinkstock

The numbers look slim, but experts say Manitoba’s modest processing increases in 2016 miss part of the story.

By Alexis Stockford
Glacier FarmMedia staff

Manitoba had one more organic processor in 2016 than 2015, according to the last Organic Agriculture in the Prairies report, but provincial organics expert Laura Telford says the view might be more optimistic than that implies.

“The report doesn’t release the type of processing. I think what we’re seeing there is an increase in primary processors,” she said, pointing to new grain cleaners as an example. “Especially in Saskatchewan, the large increase, it’s a lot of new operators to support the growing field crop acres.”

Already the largest organic producing Prairie province, acres in Saskatchewan jumped from 893,000 to over a million from 2015-16, according to the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative and Canadian Organic Trade Alliance. That was matched by 33 new organic processors in the same period.

Manitoba, meanwhile, has seen “at least” five new grain buyers, according to Telford.

“That has massive impact,” she said. “It may seem like a small number, but it’s a very big deal. It means that we are starting along that road to reducing transportation. Now in Manitoba, we have local markets for not only wheat, which we’ve had for a long time, but now we’ve got a local organic fababean processor. We’ve got three organic flax processors… those may not be reflected in those 2016 numbers.”

Primary processors have also been expanding services, she added, with the addition of tools like colour sorters.

Manitoba Organic Alliance president Kate Storey says proper market development is key for organics, including the juggling act between processing demand and producer supply.

“Organics is a growth industry and you have to keep balance,” she said. “You can’t have the market outgrowing the production and that’s what we’re seeing. Sometimes production gets ahead of the market and then the prices go down and people get discouraged.”

Telford’s work has been critical in assessing processor needs and bringing more processing capacity to the province, Storey said.

This article was originally published on the Manitoba Co-operator.