It wasn’t a good day to represent the Canadian Grain Commission.
A hostile crowd gave CGC assistant chief commissioner Jim Smolik a rough ride during his appearance at the National Farmers Union annual convention Nov. 21. Smolik was there to talk about variety registration and the new declaration system for Canada’s grain industry.
But NFU members were more concerned about the elimination of kernel visual distinguishability (KVD), as well as proposals to remove mandatory inward inspection and producer payment security from the CGC’s mandate.
During a question period, NFU members accused the CGC of abandoning its legislative mandate to act in the interests of producers. “I support a grain commission that works for farmers,” said NFU vice-president Terry Boehm, who farms at Allan, Sask.
A year ago, the federal Conser vat ive government announced amendments to the Canada Grain Act to refocus the CGC’s mandate. Among other measures, Bill C-39 eliminated mandatory inward inspection of grain shipments between elevator and port. It also eliminated the CGC-administered producer payment security program, which requires mandatory licensing and bonding for grain buyers.
C-39 died on the order paper this fall because of the federal election. However, in a related move, Ottawa eliminated KVD, effective Aug. 1, 2008, through regulatory change. KVD is a visual tool to segregate wheat by class according to end-use.
Under the new system, farmers delivering wheat must declare in writing that their delivery is a variety eligible for a specific class.
The stated reason for eliminating KVD is that it will promote more feed and high-starch wheat varieties suitable for livestock feed and ethanol production.
But the NFU says the end of KVD makes the farmer, not the regulator, responsible for ineligible, unregistered and deregistered varieties.
If farmer are on the hook, legal liability for mistakes will ultimately fall to them, the NFU charges.
“A farmer could lose his farm with the wrong variety and shipload,” said Wilfred Harder of Lowe Farm, Man.
Former NFU president Roy Atkinson, 85, suggested farmers could be charged if wheat were contaminated, either by adventitious presence of another variety in the same field or by accidental mixing within the system.
Bureaucrats must have been smoking “wacky tobaccy” to frame the new KVD policy the way they did, Atkinson said.
Kathy Storey, an organic farmer from Grandview, Man., followed Smolik out into the hall after his address to demand safeguards for farmers delivering grain.
A farmer may have bought bin-run seed from a neighbour in good faith but has no way of actually proving its class on delivery, said Storey.
“You have made me liable for something I don’t know how to prove without any information,” she said.
People have previously delivered deregistered varieties which were then blended with registered varieties, Smolik said. This makes declaration necessary to protect the integrity of Canada’s wheat-grading system, he said.
In response, Storey again asked how farmers are supposed to prove they have what they say they do. “In fixing that problem, you have created a problem for farmers. Now farmers are liable for proving the variety they grow. We need to have that problem recognized so that we can prove what we have.”
Later, in an interview, Smolik said farmers can have their seed DNA tested to verify the variety before they plant it.
He stressed the importance of keeping good records and tracking seed carefully.
Smolik also said the government has so far not decided whether to bring C-39 back during the current session and, if so, in what form.
Stewart Wells, the NFU’s president, was not reassured. “I’m as sure as I can be that it’s coming back,” said Wells, who farms at Swift Current, Sask. [email protected]