Farmers must embrace free market opportunities

I farm full time at MacGregor, Man. Over the years I have been involved in farm policy issues, particularly grain transportation and marketing. It has become clear to me that the only way for the wheat and barley industry to become more prosperous for farmers and their communities is to embrace free market opportunities, with an active and voluntary CWB as part of the new system.

I am increasingly discouraged with the divergent paths of the main crops in Western Canada. Oats, canola and pulse crops have forged ahead with increased acreage and multimillion-dollar investments in research, value-added processing, and market development by producers, government and agribusiness.

On the other hand, wheat and barley under the CWB-controlled monopoly have seen shrinking acreage, almost no new investment in value-added processing and a decreasing market share of international markets. Clearly this industry structure is not working for farmers. The monopoly is the only major difference in these industries; hence the solution to the problem is creating a voluntary CWB. With sufficient change in attitude and a mindset of innovation, the CWB can provide a real and useful competitive element to the marketplace.

In a new environment of market choice, the CWB still has a role. It has many advantages including worldwide contacts, many loyal farm supporters and a wealth of professional marketing experience. The strongest single element of the CWB is price pooling. It is a service that many farmers want and can continue to use successfully. A fresh look can also be taken here in terms of entry time into the pool, and different pool periods as an option. Government guarantees of initial prices and borrowing will need to be continued.

To fully participate in the wheat and barley market the CWB will also have to offer daily price and basis contracts, not just to Oct. 31, but year round. The previous daily price contract based on the U. S. elevator prices was very successful and should be re-examined.

From these building blocks, the CWB will be able to earn its place by, among other things, providing good competitive services to farmers. One competitive change I would encourage would be paying storage to farmers for contracted grain. The elevator companies now receive storage payments from the CWB and farmers deserve equal treatment.

The CWB can also improve its performance by communicating more openly with the companies that actually receive and ship their grain. At present, elevators cannot plan shipments in a timely, efficient manner and become “plugged” with the wrong grain at the wrong time. Open communication about shipping would vastly improve the supply chain for both farmers and the CWB’s customers.

Under this new marketing structure, a new industry association of producers, a voluntary CWB, government and agribusiness would have to be established to fund and direct market development and research. Such a group could operate somewhat like Pulse Canada or the Canola Council. The Canadian International Grains Institute and the Western Grains Research Foundation would be integral parts of this new group with other new innovations to complement them.

Likewise, successful quality control can be maintained with a voluntary CWB. The biggest single player in producing a high-quality product and maintaining its integrity from seed to delivered product is you the farmer, not the CWB. I believe farmers will continue producing the same level of quality product with a voluntary CWB and should take the credit for doing so. The other elements of the quality control system can continue operating as they do now.

I reflect on what has happened in recent years and what can be. In other areas of the world, such as Australia and Ontario, the strategy I propose has been tried and is working successfully. Wheat acreage in Ontario has soared after the wheat monopoly was lifted and several private Australian companies are now offering pooling programs to compete with the voluntary Australian Wheat Board. These industries are not only working, they’re prosperous and moving forward.

I am confident that by allowing farmers to focus their marketing where they see opportunities will allow the wheat and barley industries to advance and regain the optimism they deserve. Opening up the monopoly while defending the ability of those who wish to price pool are the policies that I believe will allow for the renaissance of the wheat and barley industries.

Change is needed and it only happens if you vote for it. I believe my experience as a producer and former farmer-elected representative give me the background and ability to represent you and effectively modify the industry to serve your best interests.

Ultimately, I have confidence in the wisdom and judgment of western Canadian farmers to reshape the industry and grow the prosperity of their farms and their communities, one truckload at a time.

Thank you to the Manitoba Co-operator for providing me with the opportunity to share my views. I respectfully ask for your support.

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