By Aaron Stuckel
As the first harvest in a post-Canadian Wheat Board monopoly era comes to a close, farmers are looking for different ways to capitalize on the open market. But with an increase in companies who can sell the grain, the possibility of niche markets opening up has become much greater.
Wheat has long been separated into grades based on colour or protein content. But end users are beginning to require more specialized wheat and the need for specific genetic make-up has grown, according to a crop development specialist.
"Because we understand more and more of the genetic make-up of wheat… they are beginning to be able to associate a particular gene and what it does with a particular attribute," said Kofi Agblor, managing director of the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan. "Increasingly, as those barriers are being broken… we are beginning to look at end-use."
Because the CWB dealt large quantities of wheat to only a few concentrated markets, branching out to specialty wheat crops was less feasible, Agblor said. But with the end of the CWB’s monopoly comes the opportunity for small wheat companies to buy and sell specialty wheat tailored for gluten-free food or ethanol production, he said.
But for farmers, the added elbow grease required for keeping different wheat varieties separate would need to be rewarded.
"Everybody would be open to more niche markets," said Brent Bews, who was harvesting the last parcel of his land near Etonia at the time of the interview.
"But, at the end of the day, there has to be a reward there for the farmer to do it, or why would he do it?"
Europe has already diversified its wheat market and has produced gluten-free wheat. But Sarah Clemens, who owns and operates Kneaded Gluten-free Baked Goods in Regina, said that she would be wary of any product that claims to be gluten free.
"You definitely have to investigate everything you eat when gluten makes you sick," she said, even though the need for gluten-free products is growing.
"You can’t just go ‘What’s closest?’ You have to have all of that confirmation."
With the newly opened market still in its infancy, Agblor said there is still a long way to go for niche wheat markets to emerge. However, the end of the CWB monopoly has still made them probable, he said.
"Once you have more players, the chances of someone making a deal become much higher," he said. "So yes, they will find those niches and increasingly what you may see is that we could have other specialty wheat."