They’ve given up trying to save the wheat board’s single desk, but three leading farm leaders are still fighting to save the board’s assets, including the contingency fund, for farmers.
“I certainly have marching orders from my membership that the assets of the wheat board belong to farmers,” said Doug Chorney, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers.
“The contingency fund monies have to be either transferred somehow to producers or some stake in the new wheat board has to be transferred to farmers reflecting that value. Farmers have contributed to build the assets of the wheat board and we just don’t want that to become a slush fund for the wheat board to operate with, with no restrictions.”
Chorney recently met with his Prairie counterparts — Norm Hall of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan and Lynn Jacobson of Wild Rose Agricultural Producers — to work out a joint approach on the issue.
The new CWB wants to hold on to board assets, including the contingency fund, which can go up to $200 million. The debate over the contingency fund — created from profits on hedging futures and other trading activity — is whether it belongs to farmers or not.
President and CEO Ian White says the assets are needed for the organization to function but Chorney said Ottawa should be providing any required funding because the revamped CWB is “essentially an agency of government now.”
However, his organization is willing to be flexible because it wants the new wheat board to succeed, he said.
“We’re looking for creative approaches to having an ownership structure that reflects that value (of the assets) back to producers,” he said.
The risk is those assets could be lost if the CWB fails and is wound down or sold off to another grain company.
White has said the CWB’s board views farmers as its natural shareholders and wants to discuss how farmers can own the organization, which has five years to either become a stand alone company or co-operative, or be sold or wound down.
The three Prairie farm leaders met with CWB marketing vice-president Gord Flaten and expressed concern that the board has so far only signed grain-handling agreements with two companies — Cargill and South West Terminal.
Jacobson said the board’s pricing options look encouraging, especially its pooling contract.
“This will probably be the only contract where farmers can shop for grade a bit and we’re not actually tied to a grain company if you sign a contract with the wheat board,” he said.
Jacobson said he’d like to see farmers elected to the CWB’s board of directors even before its ownership changes. It’s one way to regain farmers’ trust in the board, he said.
Chorney and Hall said their associations have no position on electing farmers to a government-controlled wheat board.
Presumably it would be a long shot given the bitter battle between the former farmer-elected board and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz over his plans to end the board’s monopoly. Since Ritz essentially fired the farmer-elected farmers through legislation, it’s doubtful he’d agree to letting farmers elect directors to the board again.