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Ritz Rips CWB Over Barley Pool Closure

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz slammed the Canadian Wheat Board over its decision to close down its bulk barley pool in the interests of keeping prices high for those already in the program.

“I’m very concerned when I see them put out a press release saying they’re closing the bulk barley pool because they don’t want to destroy the high price they’ve got,” Ritz told the House of Commons agriculture committee on Feb. 10.

The board was forcing farmers to now sell their malting barley via CashPlus, a CWB program that offers an upfront cash price, he noted.

“If the wheat board is not offering a pool, they’re going against their mandate, so I have to have that discussion with the wheat board,” Ritz said.

The board made its announcement to close the bulk barley pool in a statement Jan. 29, saying bulk exports of western Canadian malting barley would be sourced mainly through cash purchases for the remainder of the crop year.

Ritz did not elaborate, but appeared to object to the idea that while those farmers who had sold into the pool would be getting a good price, those who would have to take cash would not be getting nearly as high a return.

The minority Conservative government has regularly clashed with the board over the CWB’s monopoly on marketing wheat and barley from Western Canada. The government has promised to try to end the barley monopoly, though it does not have the votes in Parliament to do so.

The CWB, explaining its decision to end the barley pool, said in its statement: “This strategy will help protect relatively high current pooled values for farmers’ designated barley, given recent international market price declines.

“The cur rent CWB Pool Return Outlook for Special Select two-row malting barley is $5.50 per bushel (including average freight deductions from Saskatchewan), a projection well above last year’s record-high $5.13 a bushel.”

CWB CEO Ian White said at the time that by using CashPlus for the rest of the year, that could help give added price certainty for farmers, whether they sold through pools earlier or secured a cash value now.

The CWB sold “considerable” tonnage of malting barley early in the current pool year, he said, when prices were $2-$3 higher, before a large volume of mostly European barley landed on the market.

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