Grain industry has other priorities

Western Canada’s checkoff-funded wheat commissions didn’t have much to say about a proposal to end the maximum revenue entitlement (MRE) and the grain-grading system when asked for comment last week.

“Our directors are busy seeding so we haven’t discussed it,” Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association general manager Pam de Rocquigny said in an interview May 30. “I really have no comment.”

Harvey Brooks, general manager of the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission, echoed de Rocquigny.

The Alberta Wheat Commission is studying the proposal, but changes to the MRE are unlikely in the near term given recent changes to the Canada Transportation Act, commission general manager Tom Steve said in a phone interview.

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“We’ll be looking at the issues raised about grading, which seem similar to some of the things we have raised,” he said.

“I have a lot of issues to deal with like market access so this paper isn’t on the top of my list,” Cereals Canada president Cam Dahl said May 30 in a phone interview.

The Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) supports the MRE, KAP president Dan Mazier said in a phone interview May 31.

“Farmers might give up the MRE for open running rights,” Mazier said, alluding to a policy that would encourage rail competition by allowing railways to run on tracks owned by their competitors.

The fact that it costs $1,000 more to ship a car of soybeans to Thunder Bay because soybeans until now weren’t included under the MRE, shows farmers will pay a lot more to ship grain if the MRE ends, he added.

“There were a lot of half-truths and misinterpretations and unsubstantiated opinion,” in NAGGG’s paper, Cam Goff, a Hanley, Sask., farmer and second vice-president of the National Farmers, said June 1 in a phone interview.

The NFU supports the MRE, he said.

The farm organization also wants a review of railway costs suspecting farmers are overpaying because the grain-handling system is more efficient than it was in 2000 when the MRE formula was established.

“If we go with specs we’re at the mercy of every grain company at every (elevator) point,” he said.

Levi Wood, president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, wasn’t immediately available for comment. However, in a Feb. 25, 2016 news release the WCWGA expressed concerns about phasing out the MRE.

“Increased competition among railways, as well as expansion in the livestock and processing sectors, is essential before any real discussion takes place of the MRE being done away with completely,” the release said.

The WCWGA has advocated for using grain specifications instead of grades.

Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association, wasn’t immediately available for comment. However, in the past he has said grain companies support the wheat class system because it makes grain handling, storage and transportation more efficient.

Canada’s wheat-grading system is not arbitrary, as claimed by the NAGGG, Remi Gosselin, the CGC’s manager of corporate information services said in a phone interview May 30.

“Grades are a tool for defining quality and relate to end-use quality that affects processing such as flour volume or the texture of cooked pasta,” he said.

Grades allow buyers and sellers to compare prices of grain of similar quality, Gosselin said.

Under the Canada Grain Act farmers who suspect an unfair grade can get the CGC to grade it and its grade is final.

Some grading factors are based on visual characteristics, but they are tied to scientific tests. Standard samples are prepared for inspectors as a guide, he said.

Contrary to what the NAGGG alleges, the CGC didn’t flip-flop on switching from grades to specifications, Gosselin said. Grain can already be bought and sold based on specifications, Gosselin said.

However, last fall the CGC did announce over the next few years it will investigate ways to use more machine testing in the grading process.

For example, instead of visually inspecting wheat for sprout damage to determine its bread-making capability, a machine could be used to measure the alpha amylase content.

“The goal is to use more effective, precise, user-friendly tools,” Gosselin said. “But we need to balance the costs against the benefits and ensure machine testing reflects reality in the end for farmers and grain buyers.”

About the author

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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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