Efforts continue to get the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) to set up a three-year pilot project to market canola on a voluntary basis, but it’s a slow process.
“We have a committee that wants to go ahead with this or put it to rest,” said Butch Harder, a director with the Manitoba Canola Growers Association (MCGA) who is on a subcommittee exploring the idea.
The idea has been kicking since 2006 when association members, then facing depressed prices and high crush margins, passed a resolution calling on the group to “explore alternative markets and methods.” But support for the idea dwindled until last year when Harder and fellow directors Dale Gryba and Ed Rempel were asked to pursue the idea. Last February, the CWB gave the MCPA a report on where it might be able to add value to canola marketing. That report hasn’t been made public.
“We’re all aware if the wheat board did a project on canola they couldn’t offer us the same benefits they could under a monopoly situation,” Harder said. “But they might be able to offer us something in terms of producer car shipping and may be some efficiencies (selling and exporting wheat and canola to the same destination). And some farmers just like the idea of pooling. They don’t want to watch the markets every day.”
Whether pooling would be possible in an open market hasn’t been determined, Harder said.
Canola prices are strong now, but some farmers still suspect grain companies, which also own canola-crushing plants, don’t have as much incentive to seek high export prices because it cuts into crush margins, Harder said.
The subcommittee met last month with representatives from the Saskatchewan and Alberta canola growers associations and CWB officials in Winnipeg to discuss the idea. Their fellow canola growers said they would take information back to their boards for discussion, Harder said.
“We don’t know if there is enough value to be of interest to canola growers,” said CWB spokeswoman Maureen Fitzhenry.
“It’s them that would have
to decide whether the value we think we could provide is enough. If farmers want us to try and do something, we want to try and see what we can do for them.”
The CWB has always said its main value to farmers comes from single-desk marketing, which allows it to capture premiums in certain markets, exercise marketing discipline, and reap benefits of market promotion.
If the board was to successfully market canola, it could provide ammunition to critics who want to strip it of its monopoly as the sole seller of western Canadian wheat, durum and barley destined for export or domestic human consumption, said Harder, a former CWB director.
On the other hand, it might lead some farmers to view the CWB and its single-desk powers more favourably.
The MCGA has also written Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz seeking his support for a pilot project, but hasn’t received a response.
Under the CWB Act, adding or removing crops requires farmers’ approval through a plebiscite. However, marketing canola voluntarily through the CWB could be done under the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act.
“We don’t want to put out any false expectations,” said Harder.
He also stressed that it’s his association pushing the CWB on the issue, not the other way around.
“If anything, I would say the wheat board was very hesitant to come up with a rough plan,” he said. “Like I said, there are certain things they could deliver and certain things they couldn’t deliver.”
But making it easier for farmers to ship canola in producer cars would be a benefit, Harder said, as grain companies are reluctant to receive producer cars at port because they want to earn money handling the grain at their country elevators.
Farmer-owned inland terminals also support the proposal because they could handle canola in their facilities and have the CWB take delivery at port and do the marketing, Harder said. [email protected]
– CANADIAN WHEAT BOARD SPOKESWOMAN, MAUREEN FITZHENRY