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Wednesday, 25 May 2011 15:19

Feds set the date for open market grain system

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By John R. Statton - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Mark Aug. 1, 2012 on your calendar.

The federal government has set that date as to when the Canadian grain market will open up to choice for farmers.

“We see the chance here to modernize the wheat board, certainly when we look at the canola industry that has developed across western Canada and the pulse industry, they’re both global players now — and we see our coarse grain sector sliding backwards,” said Gerry Ritz, federal Agriculture Minister in an interview.

“What we want to do is open up the situation so that we can attract investment, encourage innovation, create value-added jobs, develop new varieties and so on, and we just don’t see that happening under that single-desk situation.”

Ritz noted the date was set with respect to different grain groups and the crop period.

The deadline is approximately 15 months away.

“We’re hopeful that we can develop a strategy in the very short term working with industry groups — the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) themselves — as to what the future will look like, and what it’s going to take to get there,” said Ritz.

“Hopefully, this can be in place — the grain groups are telling us they need a transitory time, as have the processors — but they’ve all agreed on the beginning of the crop period of 2012.”

He said the CWB could exist without the single-desk marketing system, and the federal government was open to work alongside it.

“At the end of the day certainly (the CWB) can survive — I don’t see a problem with that — I think they can either reconfigure themselves as a co-operative, farmer share-owned, or a brokerage,” said Ritz.

“However, (if) they decide to move forward I certainly welcome the opportunity to entertain those ideas.”

Freedom in the market place leads to innovation, and binding all grain farmers to the CWB could hinder the industry.

“I hate to see farmers that want to move forward, market their own crops, develop niché industries and so on, held back by those that don’t,” said Ritz.

“I think there’s a role for both, and I think the CWB can continue to be a major player — those that support the board 100 percent say it can’t survive as a single-desk, and I think that’s ridiculous — we’ve seen the modernization of the Ontario wheat board and we’ve seen their acres triple. We’ve seen acreage go up 12 to 15 per cent in Australia, and in Canada we’re seeing our grain acres shrink.”

David Anderson, member of Parliament for Cypress Hills-Grasslands, has long voiced his opposition to the single-desk selling of the CWB.

“I’m excited that we’re finally in a position to begin to make some changes, and to bring some marketing freedom to western Canadian farmers,” explained Anderson.

“It’s been a long fight — for some farmers it has been decades — obviously we want to give people the opportunity to make their own business decisions. There may be some others that want to use the (CWB), and we’re very interested in making sure the board is around for them as one of their options.”

Stephen Vandervalk, president of Grain Growers of Canada, was glad a date was set in order to make a smooth transition into the new system throughout the industry.

“The wheat board is going to need time to transition itself into a company that can compete with other companies — that being said it’s going to be up to the directors themselves, and the staff, whether they choose to play ball, or go home and basically fold the company,” said Vandervalk.

“I think they’re able to compete, and it’s just a matter of whether they think they can compete, and if they’re willing to try.”

However, not all farmers were impressed by the government’s deadline.

“We’re obviously very concerned about it, and feel that the government is being very heavy-handed in their approach,” said Bill Ghel, chair of the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance.

“The simple fact of the matter is that two per cent of the electorate in the 57 ridings in the west are comprised by farmers, so that means 98 per cent of the people that vote in the federal election have nothing to do with the farming — for the federal government to say they have the mandate to make changes to the CWB is completely wrong.”

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