Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says his party “respects the vote” of farmers who back the single desk and suggested there won’t be any attempt to impose dual marketing on the Canadian Wheat Board unless a majority of producers vote for it.
“Until farmers make that change, I’m not prepared to work arbitrarily,” said Ritz. “They are absolutely right to believe in democracy. I do, too.”
Ritz made comment following a campaign-style speech at the recent Agricultural Forum when questioned by Bill Nicholson, a former CWB director from Shoal Lake.
Nicholson called on Ritz to clarify his comments about giving wheat and barley growers in Western Canada the same marketing freedom as their Ontario counterparts.
“It was not the federal government that made that choice for Ontario farmers,” said Nicholson. “It was Ontario wheat growers through the democratic structure of their wheat board.”
Prairie farmers, on the other hand, have chosen “over and over again” to support the CWB in seven consecutive elections, said Nicholson.
Ritz responded by saying his government “respects the vote” and noted it has not introduced legislation to dismantle the single desk.
The agriculture minister devoted most of his speech to praising his government’s efforts to help farmers, particularly on the livestock front.
“Overall, the agricultural sector in this country is looking as good as I can remember for quite some time,” said Ritz.
He credited an “aggressive” approach to trade negotiations, saying they have resulted in the reopening of the Russian markets, both for beef and live cattle genetics, and the doubling of purchases by Hong Kong to $110 million. He described negotiations on beef exports to China as “very close” to a final deal.
“On my last trip to Russia, they said, ‘We need some more genetics, we ate the last ones,’” he said, adding that beef exports to key markets rose 35 per cent in 2010.
“Better noises” are coming out of South Korea, even after the recent announcement of Canada’s 18th BSE-infected cow, he said, noting a recent assessment by that country reportedly called Canada’s beef “safe.”
Ritz said duty-free access into the European Union has been achieved after almost two decades of being shut out, and predicted exports to that market will “double and triple” in the coming years.
Those successes have helped boost farm gate prices for red meat, said Ritz.
“We’re seeing that reflected at home,” said Ritz. “Processors, who once enjoyed buying a cull cow for $200 to $300, are now having to add $1,000 to that to be in the marketplace.”
Market watchers often cite a sharp drop in the U.S. herd as the prime factor, as that country is the destination for most of Canada’s beef exports, but Ritz said Ottawa is making good progress on overturning that country’s country-of-origin labelling (COOL) legislation. He said Canada has “better than even” odds of winning at the WTO, and noted that Canada has been able to show U.S. legislators that their processors are being hurt by the rule, too.
Ritz said Canadian livestock producers will also be helped by 19 pilot projects, one in Manitoba, aimed at upgrading the status of provincially regulated slaughter facilities, with the goal of removing barriers to interprovincial trade.
The agricultural minister also put his government on the same side as producers wanting to access cheaper generic pesticides and veterinary drugs, which are available south of the border. Ritz said funding increases have resulted in Health Canada and Pest Management Regulatory Agency approvals for 13 products.
“When we’re importing products treated with certain commodities that we can’t get here that make it cheaper for our trading partners, there’s something wrong,” said Ritz. daniel. [email protected]
– GERRY RITZ