The Grandview-area farmer who first suggested exploring a voluntary marketing program for canola through the Canadian Wheat Board says he still thinks it’s a good idea.
But he isn’t surprised farmers refused to support it.
Larry Bohdanovich brought forward the resolution at the Manitoba Canola Growers Association’s (MCGA) annual meeting in 2006 asking it to “explore alternative markets and methods both domestically and exports for the betterment of its members.”
It passed without a dissenting vote. But it wasn’t until last month the MCGA surveyed western Canadian canola growers through newspaper advertisements and online to see how much canola they’d be willing to market through the CWB.
The MCGA wanted at least 200,000 tonnes. Farmers offered just 75,000.
“Both (Saskatchewan and Alberta canola grower) associations threw cold water on it,” Bohdanovich said. “I’m suspicious that the industry sees this as a very big threat to its margins and its business.”
MCGA director Butch Harder said he believes some strong CWB supporters shunned the idea fearing that if the experiment succeeded, a so-called “dual market” for wheat and barley would seem more credible.
“I know people who didn’t send the survey in because they didn’t think the board could offer enough and it would be a slippery slope,” he said.
The CWB itself, which seemed lukewarm to the idea, said from the start that without a single desk it couldn’t extract more money from the marketplace.
MCGA vice-president Ed Rempel said in addition to giving canola farmers access to price pooling, a CWB liaison could have helped farmers expand the use of producer cars and improved producer car access to Vancouver. It might also have attracted new crushers to the Prairies that don’t have grain-gathering abilities. Those opportunities are now lost, he said.
Bohdanovich thinks marketing canola through the CWB might reduce the canola basis, translating into higher farm gate returns. He wonders if the major canola exporters, which also own crushing plants, are getting the best prices.
In early 2006 canola prices were under $5 a bushel and crush margins were high. Canola prices are stronger now, but the basis is wide and crush margins are good, Bohdanovich said.
Even though marketing canola through the CWB was to be a voluntary pilot project, some farmers were openly hostile. Some of the two dozen farmers who phoned Rempel to oppose the experiment have a “pure hate” for the CWB, he said.
“After two or three weeks of taking calls, if somebody asked me what was the one thing that left the largest impression on me, that was it,” he said. “It wasn’t a large number, but there is a very dedicated group of people who find the notion of the Canadian Wheat Board as offensive as anything in their lives.
“It overwhelms almost everything else.”
The MCGA survey asked how many tonnes farmers would commit to sell through the CWB. Some respondents said they grew thousands of tonnes, but would offer none to the CWB.
About the same number asked for their canola checkoff money back to protest the MCGA’s initiative, Rempel said. The money funds the MCGA’s administration, but most goes to research and market development.
Rempel said he doesn’t think the controversy has tarnished the MCGA’s reputation. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that more canola growers now might attend the MCGA’s annual meeting, he said.
“It was a very good demonstration of democracy as far as I was concerned,” Harder said.
“I have often said it’s hard to stumble if you’re sitting on your ass.
“I am somewhat surprised that those who claim they support a dual market didn’t support this. When push comes to shove, this tells me people really don’t support a dual market.”
The exercise is moot now anyway, Bohdanovich said. The newly elected majority Conservative government has promised to abolish the CWB’s single desk. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says the CWB can function in an open market. Bohdanovich disagrees.
“He was an ostrich farmer and he’s still got his head in the sand,” Bohdanovich said. [email protected]
“I’msuspiciousthat theindustrysees thisasaverybig threattoitsmargins anditsbusiness.”
– LARRY BOHDANOVICH