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Wednesday, 01 August 2012 14:33

CWB forging ahead with new approach

Written by  Caroline Zentner, Lethbridge Herald
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Winds of change are sweeping across the Prairies as the Canadian Wheat Board's decades-long monopoly on western wheat and barley sales ends, but opinions are mixed on whether those breezes will blow good or ill.


The CEO of the board says his agency is facing the future with confidence.
"There are many reasons for confidence as the CWB forges ahead into this new era," Ian White said Tuesday at a news conference in Winnipeg.
"We will add value to farmers. We have streamlined our operations. We have negotiated new business arrangements that will help us succeed. We are ready to face this new marketing era."
The federal government passed a law late last year to allow western farmers to sell their grain to whomever they choose, whenever they choose. That change kicks in today with the new crop year.
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was in Saskatoon on Tuesday literally counting down the last hours of the wheat board's monopoly. He stood in front of a blue screen that displayed a clock ticking down to midnight.
"Tomorrow the doors to marketing freedom open wide," said Ritz.
The agriculture minister noted that farmers can still market their grain through the board, but now it will be voluntary. Wheat and barley farmers in Western Canada had to sell their grain through the board since the 1940s.
For some farmers the change is not something they want to celebrate.
"It's sad on a lot of different fronts," said Stewart Wells, who farms near Swift Current and is the chairman of the group Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board.
He says more than three-quarters of Western Canadian farmers have said such a decision should have been made by farmers. Now market power, and the wealth that goes along with it, has shifted from farmers to the grain companies.
"First of all you've got a government that is showing no respect for basic democracy," he said. "Secondly, the government has totally corrupted the legislative process in Parliament and abused that process. They may or may not have acted illegally, depending on the outcome of the court cases.
"And then you get all the financial pieces and the degradation of farmers' income and the lack of control. Starting tomorrow there will be no meaningful voice whatsoever of farmers in the Canadian grain trade in Western Canada."
Farmers might initially see increased prices for their crops but Wells said the drought in the United States is masking the financial effects of the change now.
Others hail the occasion as the dawn of a new day.
Rick Istead, general manager of the newly-created Alberta Wheat Commission, said his organization represents about 11,000 wheat growers.
"I think it's a great day for Alberta's wheat producers. I kind of look at it as a new chapter in Alberta's wheat industry and the new commission has an opportunity to, through engagement with its producers, help write that chapter," he said.
The commission will be involved in research, market development, grower education and advocacy.
Ritz noted that the board has a five-year window during which the federal government will "backstop" it financially. But the board also has to come forward with a plan in the next two to three years on how it will move ahead, he said.

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