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Boost for agricultural jewel: $1-M Viterra contribution shows value of institution

$1-M Viterra contribution shows value of institution

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Canadian International Grains Institute baking staff examine dough properties after mixing with western Canadian wheat in a pilot bakery.  On Tuesday, Viterra Inc. and Cigi announced that Viterra is investing $1 million to support Cigi in its ongoing efforts to promote Canadian field crops to customers in domestic and international markets.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Canadian International Grains Institute baking staff examine dough properties after mixing with western Canadian wheat in a pilot bakery. On Tuesday, Viterra Inc. and Cigi announced that Viterra is investing $1 million to support Cigi in its ongoing efforts to promote Canadian field crops to customers in domestic and international markets. Photo Store

The Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI) has received a $1-million boost from Viterra Inc. that will serve as a springboard in its efforts to re-capitalize one of the jewels of the Canadian agricultural industry.

Kyle Jeworski, CEO for North America of Regina-based Viterra -- the bulk of which was acquired last year by the Swiss commodities firm Glencore Xstrata Plc -- said the $1-million, no-strings-attached contribution is an investment, not a donation.

The only concrete effect of the million-dollar largesse will be the naming of large meeting room at CIGI's Main Street facility as the Viterra Knowledge Centre.

Industry sources say if a company such as Viterra is willing to make such a commitment, it signifies the value CIGI has to the industry.

CIGI is a not-for-profit organization that works with all the agricultural industry stakeholders to promote the best utilization of Canadian field crops. Among other things it operates a flour mill, pasta plant, bakery and Asian noodle plant in its downtown Winnipeg facility.

It also provides customized training programs and technical expertise for customers around the world.

Over that last 12 months, it delivered more than 44 programs to more than 1,200 people from 35 different countries.

But its funding reality changed dramatically with the end of the Canadian Wheat Board's marketing monopoly in 2012 and Earl Geddes, its CEO, said the organization has now outgrown its facilities and is being forced to turn away work.

Geddes said Tuesday's announcement of the Viterra investment is the first of what he hopes will be more to come. He said CIGI has not yet finalized its plans or gone out to the industry looking for capital but it's getting ready to.

Viterra approached CIGI on its own volition

"This is a tremendous boost for is to move the momentum forward on this," Geddes said. "There will be pitches to others. It has not started yet. But there are a couple of long-term partners we are talking to about different things."

One of the things Geddes and his board are talking about is the possibility of relocating to a new facility to deal with under-capacity issues and some outdated technology. He said it would likely cost between $10 million and $12 million to do that and there are several options currently being considered.

There had been talk in the past about an the creation of an ambitious centre of excellence co-housing several agricultural research facilities, possibly located at the University of Manitoba's Fort Garry campus.

But the talk on Tuesday centred on CIGI remaining downtown.

Mayor Sam Katz, on hand for the Viterra announcement, referred to CIGI as an "invaluable asset" and one of the city's best-kept secrets.

CentreVenture CEO Ross McGowan was also in the room for the announcement, further signalling the general intentions to keep the facility downtown.

In the past, CIGI received about 40 per cent of its funding from the Canadian Wheat Board. That money has largely been replaced by project funding from the federal-provincial cost-shared Growing Forward 2 program and a check-off program of 15 cents per tonne of all Prairie wheat sold.

Since the restructuring of the wheat board, Geddes said CIGI has been doing much more fee-for-service work with the private sector and the demand has been growing much faster than the 40-person facility has been able to cope with.

Jeworski said that's why Viterra was keen to take a leadership role.

"We looked at how we have utilized CIGI and the value it has brought to the company and the industry," Jeworski said. "We need to support CIGI in a very meaningful way. This gives CIGI good footing for them to continue to deliver the services we think are invaluable to the industry."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2014 B4

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