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February 2018

Brewing up innovation

At a glance
The team

The Saskatchewan Barley Development Commission in partnership with University of Saskatchewan PhD candidate Tetiana Zmazhenko, supervised by Dr. Jill E. Hobbs 

The challenge

Canada is losing ground to international competitors in the barley market

The solution

Investigating how Canadian barley producers can better market their products to international buyers

The outcome

A report outlining the marketing strategies of Canada’s competitors

What’s next?

A strategy to improve the acceptance of new varieties in the value chain and closing the innovation gap between Canada and their international competitors

As Canada’s fourth largest crop, barley is an important part of the national agricultural landscape. It’s a key component in beer production, which generates 5.8 billion in the economy, and much of it is exported to international markets. Nine out of 10 barley farmers rely on exports for a significant part of their income.

Barley production, however, has declined over the past 15 years, as Canadian farmers lose ground to international competitors. International beer producers have a thirst for new varieties but Canada’s adoption process is slower than competitor countries. Australia and Germany bring new varietals of barley to market in five to seven years. In Canada, the same two strains have dominated the market for the past 20 years. 

The Saskatchewan Barley Development Commission (SaskBarley) decided to combat the problem head-on. They approached the University of Saskatchewan and found the Mitacs Accelerate program and PhD student Tetiana Zmazhenko. Tetiana has advanced degrees in economics and management studies but considers herself an innovation scientist:

“I don’t have a favorite industry but I do love the process of innovation creation and diffusion - each step of the way is unique and fascinating.”

Tetiana interviewed industry leaders, such as Molson Coors, to identify gaps in the Canadian supply chain. She also analyzed the marketing strategies of competitor countries. In Australia, new barley varieties are not released until end users have run large-scale trials to ensure the strains will work in their products. Everyone, from grain producers to brewers, works together to market the new varieties. In Canada, the current supply chain does not have a formal process to organize end-user testing of new barley varieties. This gap, along with the absence of a dedicated body to push forward barley marketing efforts, creates a communication disconnect between growers and brewers.

Jill McDonald, the Executive Director of SaskBarley, says Tetiana’s report provided them with a valuable tool. “The research is now a key discussion piece among our value chain, from growers to end users. It’s been very much a catalyst for moving the conversation forward. It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep our country competitive on the international stage.”

SaskBarley and other partners are now collaborating on a strategy to improve the acceptance of new varieties within the value chain. They hope to close the gap between Canada and the rest of the world’s barley producers in the adoption of innovation. Tetiana’s findings provide them with a jumping off point to improve Canadian economic prospects on the world stage.

Tetiana is looking forward to continuing to promote innovation in the barley market. She says, “I feel as though it will be easier for me to find a job now because I met a lot of people through this project. They know who I am and have seen my skills in action.”

Jill McDonald agrees. She says industry partners hope Tetiana will stay in the agricultural field. “We had very positive feedback. The overall experience was great and we will definitely be on the lookout for opportunities to team up with Mitacs in the future.” 

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Saskatchewan for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec and Research Manitoba.

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: