Remember when everyone took up bread-baking in the first few months of the pandemic? Whether you were doing the kneading or the taste-testing, you can thank GrainsConnect, a Calgary-based supply chain that connects grain and oilseed growers from Alberta and Saskatchewan to global markets. “All that talk of baking bread? Oh, yeah, that’s Canadian wheat,” says president Warren Stow. “That demand for Canadian grain was significant.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the company, which has more than 80 employees, has worked to ensure that service hasn’t been significantly impacted. And it was well prepared with brand-new infrastructure, which includes touchless elevators, its own rail cars and a fine-tuned contactless-delivery process. While this new way of doing things somewhat disrupts the intimacy GrainsConnect has come to have with its farmers, their connections remain strong.
“We typically have people in trucks driving up and meeting the farmer to engage and pick up samples in order to understand the quality of his grain, the size of his operation and where we can bring value,” says Stow, explaining how the company laid the groundwork in pre-COVID times. “There are a lot of big companies that have been in this space for a very long time and have always had a bit of an adversarial approach with the Canadian farmer. We’ve worked hard to have a different, more simplified approach with the grower.”
GrainsConnect also has a community fund that invests thousands into the very neighbourhoods where it finds its growers, sponsoring school expansions, playgrounds, community centres and so on.
GrainsConnect was formed five years ago as a joint venture between two leading agribusinesses: Australia’s GrainCorp, where Stow was previously a trading director, and Japan’s Zen-Noh. It has come a long way in a short time. In 2018, via a partnership with Parrish & Heimbecker, the company began construction on the Fraser Grain Terminal in Vancouver, which will increase export capacity for western farmers. It will go into full operation later this year and will export up to 4 million tons of wheat, barley, oilseeds, pulses and other commodities annually.
That efficiency, says Stow, is a critical piece of the company’s strategy. “Where we didn’t have a legacy in some areas was super beneficial, like with old infrastructure and labour agreements,” he says. And with the financial resources and industry knowhow of its two heavyweight shareholders, GrainsConnect was able to hit the ground running with a modernized approach to equipment and workplace best practices. “Building something from the ground up has really been the best of both worlds,” says Stow.