For two very cold and icy days in April, a delegation of eight people representing the Prairie Oat Growers Association went to Ottawa to meet with several key Government agencies, members of Parliament, and industry to share the success story of Canadian Oats and discuss the current challenges being faced by the oats sector.
The Prairie Oat Growers Association (POGA) is a voluntary organization of prairie oat growers established to promote the interests of Western Canadian oat growers. It uses producer funds for oat research and market development to enhance the profitability of oats for the grower and increase its value to the customer. Canadian oat growers produce more than 3.5 million tonnes of oats annually and ship over half the world's exports of the crop each year.
During these two days, twenty-three meetings were held with primary messaging focusing on seven key points:
1. The Benefits of Oats
Oats have a great role to play in healthy diets, sustainability, and farm incomes, they are a nutrient-rich grain high in beta-glucan, making them a heart-healthy choice that has been proven to reduce cholesterol.
2. Market Access
POGA has been doing well with the Mexican market programme and is now looking to China and India and is hoping for market access funding to support development in these two markets.
The USA is Canada's largest purchaser of oats, representing about 90% of annual Canadian oat exports.
3. Grain Transportation
The 2013/14 rail crisis caused trading partners to go elsewhere for their grain in Canada. The Government of Canada has a goal of increasing agri-food exports to $75 billion annually by 2025. This goal is impossible if farmers cannot reliably transport their goods in a timely and dependable manner.
4. Canadian Grain Commission
The Canadian Grain Commission fees have been too high. POGA strongly recommends that fees should be lowered, and the built-up surplus should be used to reduce fees further until it is drawn down.
5. National Food Policy
Diversification of oat consumption is needed. Consumers need to see oats as more than just oatmeal and understand that oats can be used for breakfast, lunch and dinner – in North America and abroad. This includes outreach to food processors, retailers, and consumers.
6. Oat Research
POGA’s mandate is to increase grower profitability by tackling issues right from the start of the research cycle and carrying through production. A continued presence in the public sector in plant breeding must be sustained. Currently there is only oat variety researcher for Western Canada in the Canadian Government. A successor needs to be assigned to facilitate ongoing public sector involvement.
Oats are great for rotations. Due to improved farm practices, such as minimum tillage and precision agriculture, there is great potential to use oats to improve soil health. Cereal crops take up more CO2 from the atmosphere than is emitted during production.
The POGA delegation is extremely grateful to Minister of Agriculture, Lawrence MacAulay, all the Members of Parliament, and staff for taking the time to meet with us and discuss the benefits oats and our shared commitment to solving the challenges currently facing the oat sector in Canada.