Educating Canada and the world

by Meyer Sosland
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For almost four decades, the Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI) has been informing the world about Canada’s grains through educational programming and technical activities. Since 1972, the non-profit organization located in Winnipeg, Manitoba has worked with representatives from the grain, oilseed, pulse and special crops industries worldwide which participate in CIGI programs and seminars.

"CIGI has grown over the past 38 years from providing technical services and programs to the wheat, durum and barley field crops sector to providing applied research, technical marketing support, technical product support and training for all Canadian field crops," said Earl Geddes, CIGI executive director. "Throughout this period, CIGI has developed an extensive knowledge base through its work with over 30,000 program participants from 114 countries."

The core funding for CIGI’s operations is provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB). Additional funds and support are provided by other sectors of the agricultural industry.

CIGI’s on-site facilities include classrooms, a pilot mill, pilot and test bakeries, a pilot and laboratory-scale noodle and Asian products plant, pilot and laboratory-scale pasta and extrusion plant, a pilot and laboratory-scale pulse processing and specialty milling facility, and analytical services and food quality testing laboratories. CIGI also has a portable biodiesel plant contained in an 8-x-20-foot trailer.


CIGI annually conducts a range of courses, workshops, technical exchange programs and offshore seminars designed to serve the specific needs of customers of Canadian field crops. Some courses and programs are general in nature while others are tailored to suit the specific technical needs and interests of its customers. Programs range from one day to two weeks or more in length.

CIGI said its programs focus on increasing participant awareness and understanding of the end-use functionality of Canadian field crops (grains, oilseeds and pulses), the details of the Canadian quality control system and the intricacies of the Canadian grain handling and transportation systems, as well as grain marketing. They may be customized according to commodity, end use, subject, or for a specific company or region. Programs are held both on-and off-site and in any language.

Programs include a combination of instruction in the classroom, demonstrations in CIGI’s pilot and laboratory scale facilities and visits to industryrelated facilities pertaining to program content, which may involve travel to other parts of Canada. This also gives participants the opportunity to meet with various representatives from the Canadian industry.

In addition to programs for international participants, CIGI said it offers courses and workshops for the Canadian industry such as week-long "Combineto-Customer" courses for producers to increase their understanding of customer quality requirements and, more recently, courses on biodiesel production.

Some of CIGI’s programs are by invitation while others are open enrollment for both international and domestic participants. A more general program, for example, is CIGI’s flagship international grain industry program in which as many as 25 representatives from a number of countries are invited to learn about all aspects of the Canadian agriculture industry through classroom and technical sessions and tours across Western Canada. More specific programs include technical exchanges where representatives from a customer company in a particular country visit CIGI’s pilot facilities and work directly with technical staff on issues of interest to them.

CIGI said its offshore missions involve its staff and other industry representatives traveling to particular countries to deliver seminars and visit customers to offer them technical or market-related information.

In 2008-09, CIGI conducted a total of 84 programs, seminars and workshops and 14 offshore missions.


CIGI said it works constantly to stay up to date on the latest technology and educational programming for its clientele. In recent years, CIGI’s pilot facilities have expanded to broaden CIGI’s capability to develop and implement technology-intensive programs and applied research.

"CIGI is developing a new vision for the organization that will focus the organization as leading the way in offering continuous advances in field crop products to the world," Geddes said. "The products can include food, feed, fiber, fuel, production processes and training advances. This new direction will see CIGI engaging with commercial businesses to provide research and development activities that advance the value of Canadian field crops."

In 2008, CIGI became involved in a new millers’ apprenticeship training program for miller certification. It was designed in conjunction with the Canadian National Millers Association, which approached CIGI to help train millers for the domestic industry.

CIGI started up a portable biodiesel facility housed in an 8-x-20-foot trailer in 2007. This facility has been used primarily for open enrollment courses for producers in communities across Canada as well as for demonstrations at agricultural events. CIGI said this project was initially started out of recognition for a need to help canola producers extract maximum value from their crop by identifying production requirements for an emerging biodiesel market.

In November 2007, CIGI received C$1 million in funding for major equipment upgrades to its facilities. The project was funded by government and industry through the Canada-Manitoba Economic Partnership Agreement; CIGI; Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives; and CWB.

Numerous pieces of equipment have been installed, including a research grade Clextral lab-scale twin screw cooking extruder, the first of its kind to be installed in North America. This piece of equipment has allowed CIGI to expand its capability for investigative work in areas such as healthy snack foods and breakfast cereals using a variety of commodities, as well feed for aquaculture.

Other facilities that have opened during the past decade include the pulse processing facility, which opened in 2005 and enhanced CIGI’s ability to demonstrate work with commodities such as peas, lentils, and chickpeas, and a test bakery, which was added in 2002 and features specialized equipment for small-scale baking.


CIGI said it develops new courses on an ongoing basis to meet specific customer or industry needs.

"CIGI’s programming has always been based on meeting the needs of various Canadian field crop industry sectors or customers," Geddes said. "New programming ideas may come from the results of an applied research project, a technical investigative mission into an off-shore market, through ongoing contact with industry or from customers of Canadian commodities. Courses can range from large, broad-based programs like our flagship International Grain Industry Program involving participants from many countries, to a specific technical exchange for a company, to domestic programs for Canadian producers and other industry members.

"The goal is always to leave participants with invaluable knowledge that they can introduce into their operation as soon as they return home," he said. "CIGI’s edge in training is its currency of knowledge. When identifying new programming, the focus is always on offering something that is unique, timely and relevant to today’s issues."

CIGI not only has skilled technical staff on site to support domestic and international customers, it also has access to more than 400 Canadian industry representatives who assist CIGI in delivering its programs by sharing their time and expertise with program participants. As a result, participants can experience different aspects of the Canadian industry first hand at other locations across Canada.

For example, participants may meet with plant breeders at a university research site, producers on their farms, and grain handlers at primary elevators and terminal elevators. CIGI said participants are able to experience the Canadian industry from farm to port when they attend a program, no matter what country they are from or what language they speak.

Programs may be offered to a group from many countries or may be customized specifically for one company or even one individual.

"Over the past number of years, CIGI has expanded from conducting programs primarily for invited participants on behalf of sponsoring organizations to also holding open enrollment courses customized to reflect the needs of industry," Geddes said. "This evolution has provided CIGI with a greater means to share its expertise with as broad an audience as possible.

"These courses have covered a range of topics from biodiesel production to milling technology to Asian noodles. Over the next few months we’re looking forward to offering more new courses such as online introductory and advanced courses in biodiesel production, providing us with the opportunity to reach out to people via the web."


While CIGI provides programs, technical support and end-use evaluation for domestic and international customers on behalf of the CWB, it has also extended program and research activity and technical support to other organizations such as the Canadian Soybean Council and Grain Farmers of Ontario. In the past decade, applied research has been conducted on a broader range of commodities, such as pulses, soybeans and eastern Canadian wheat, and enduse products.

Traditionally, CIGI has focused on pan and artisan breads, noodles and pasta, but in recent years end-use activity has also featured processing of tortillas, pita bread, bagels, Asian products such as steamed breads and snack foods.

CIGI noted that it has also offered technical support for projects in the areas of health and nutrition and development of new commercial products. Efforts have been made to use commodities known to offer health benefits such as food barley and pulses in traditional foods such as muffins, pasta and various bread products.

"Using innovative and collaborative approaches, CIGI’s mission is to engage in practical research, provide technical marketing support to our strategic partners and their customers, and provide technical product support, education, and training to other industry members throughout the world," Geddes said. "Our ability to achieve this mission in support of the Canadian industry comes from the experience and expertise CIGI staff has gained over the years from working with program participants representing all facets of the grain industry throughout the world. This currency of knowledge is what distinguishes us in the marketplace."