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CWB candidates’ debate broadcast

Single-desk selling versus a dual market dominated a discussion between the five candidates running for Canadian Wheat Board director in District 10 broadcast on Radio Southern Manitoba Oct. 29.

Incumbent and single-desk supporter Bill Toews argued the focus should be on single-desk selling versus an open market.

“There is no model for a dual market,” the Kane-area farmer said.

“The idea that you can have a wheat board function in a manner that it does now, or better than it does now in an open environment, is just nonsense.”

Single-desk supporters contend being the only seller of western Canadian wheat, durum and barley in export and domestic food markets gives the CWB the ability to earn more money for farmers than would exist in an open market.

But Rolf Penner of Morris, Curtis Sims of MacGregor and Barry Reimer of Killarney see the CWB as the only buyer. They all said prices for CWB crops would be better in an open market and that the CWB could function and provide services such as price pooling as it does now.

“Look at Manitoba Pork (Marketing Co-op), it’s marketing more hogs now than it ever did under the old monopoly structure,” Penner said.

That turns out to be incorrect. When the Manitoba government ended single-desk selling for hogs in 1996, the Manitoba Hog Producers Marketing Board marketed virtually all the three million slaughter hogs sold in the province. Now Manitoba Pork Marketing Co-op markets about one million head or 25 per cent of the four million head sold annually. Almost all the rest are sold through vertically integrated hog production companies. Manitoba Pork Marketing has a smaller share of the market post single desk, plus markets fewer hogs in total even though total marketings have risen.

Toews said the Ontario Wheat Producers’ Marketing Board, which lost its sales monopoly in 2003, is on its “last legs.” It marketed just six per cent of the Ontario wheat crop during the 2007-08 crop year. And of the 87,751 tonnes it handled only 10 per cent or 8,700 tonnes were pooled.

Sims said Australia is making a dual market work and it can work here.

“In wheat we seem to think all of the wisdom exists exclusively in one building downtown,” he said “They might be smart (at the CWB), but not as smart as everyone else put together.”

A lot of prices were thrown around. Penner said in Bottineau, North Dakota Oct. 28 the winter wheat price was $1.77 a bushel higher than the CWB’s fixed price.

Toews said last crop year the CWB wheat pool earned $1.50 a bushel more than the weighted average price in the United States, putting an extra $560 million into pool participants’ hands.

Penner claimed the figures were misleading because they included all grades and classes, but Toews said they were adjusted to make a fair comparison.

Harvey Vaags of Dugald said there are so many prices around people can find ones to back whichever side they’re on. The CWB has made many positive changes, but can still improve, he said.

“I think the wheat board can probably do a little bit of dual marketing, but we have to maintain the single desk to keep it (CWB) the way we’ve had it over the years,” Vaags said.

Vaags admitted he didn’t know how to do that, but added he was willing to listen to ideas.

Reimer promised an open market will generate prices like “most people who have a nine-to-five job couldn’t even imagine.”

The only problem farmers will have is paying income tax, he said.

“This is going to go back into my community,” he said. “So I’m doing this for myself and for other farmers and the community itself.”

The Keystone Agricultural Producers and Radio Southern Manitoba sponsored the hour-long broadcast. [email protected]

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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