By Jonathan Tremblay

In 2014, ‘agriculture’ doesn't just mean farming. Farmers still till the field, but they are part of a worldwide multi-billion dollar industry that also involves economists, geneticists, manufacturers, researchers and even agriculture communicators, to name a few. Here in Saskatchewan, agriculture means opportunity, with a booming sector that has harvested record crop after record crop while this province becomes increasingly known for agricultural research and innovation. Last year, Saskatchewan exported more than $11 billion in agricultural products, more than any other province. Saskatchewan exports half of the world’s lentils and more than a third of the world’s durum wheat, something most of us would be surprised to learn. They say Saskatchewanians aren’t that good at tooting their own horn; so, agriculture communicators in Saskatchewan have the duty of telling the story of Saskatchewan’s agriculture here and abroad.

In Regina, the headquarters of Viterra are proof that Saskatchewan is very much the epicentre of the Canadian agriculture industry. “Viterra’s headquarters are ideally positioned in Regina, in the heart of western Canadian grain production,” shares Peter Flengeris, Manager of Corporate Communications for Viterra. “It keeps us connected to our Prairie roots and our farm customers.” The company provides handling, processing, distribution and transportation services for grains such as wheat and barley and oilseeds such as canola and flax.

Once known as the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, ‘Viterra’ has been around for nearly a century, providing all kinds of services to Canadian grain farmers. Today, Peter is excited to be part of a company that is expanding internationally, giving Canadian grain even more visibility: “In my role, I’ve had excellent opportunities to manage and support a wide variety of global and regional strategic communications initiatives. This has allowed me to gain unique and valuable experience in several areas including corporate acquisitions and divestitures, reputation and change management, and stakeholder engagement.” Peter has been with Viterra since 2004, having seen mergers, acquisitions and several reorientations in corporate strategy. The last few years have been especially exciting, and challenging, for the communicator: “Higher world population, changing dietary preferences and declines in farmable land are contributing to greater demand for the food ingredients grown in Saskatchewan and Western Canada. These trends present a great opportunity for Viterra to tell its story and its role in connecting farmers’ commodities to area of need around the world.”

The past year has notably seen the acquisition of Viterra by Glencore, a Swiss-based natural resources company. Peter says that transparency, internally and externally, was the communications theme of this transitional period: “We placed emphasis on two-way communication that encouraged our employees and customers to share their feedback, opinions and thoughts, and strived to address concerns rapidly and openly. Tactics we implemented included issuing an employee bulletin on a weekly basis to keep employees informed on the latest news and provided ongoing updates on the status of the transition. We used a dedicated email inbox as a forum for employees to ask questions and provide their feedback. We also had managers and senior leadership across the company communicate directly with employees and customers on a regular basis, to provide the latest information and field questions. This particular tactic worked well as it allowed us to address specific regions within our asset network, and provide tailored messaging that addressed the unique needs of stakeholders by location.” The work is still ongoing, as Peter continues to deepen his change management skills.

Peter leads a rewarding career in agriculture, but many would be surprised to learn that he does not have the traditional Saskatchewan upbringing on the family farm. “I think one of the most important messages to get across to communicators and professionals in other fields is that you don’t have to have a farming background to enjoy a rewarding career in the agriculture industry. It’s an exciting time to be in agriculture, and there are many opportunities to participate in this dynamic industry.” Born and raised in Regina, Peter holds degrees in History and Journalism and has been an IABC member for four years. He joined the board of directors of IABC/Regina in 2013 as Co-Vice President of Communications and also volunteers for United Way, KidSport and last year, on the 2013 Grey Cup volunteer committee. Peter lives in Regina with his wife Carla and daughter Theodora.