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Apples And Oranges Add Up To Bananas

We ve observed over time that it s become increasingly difficult for civil servants to maintain that blurry distinction between policy and politics.

But there can be no question that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has crossed the line with its marketing freedom website. It was undoubtedly pushed, but the result is the same.

There can be no good come of a government bureaucracy that is transformed into an ideological propaganda machine. Particularly galling is use of a website that exists to provide information as a means of demonizing an institution that has by and large served Canada well, to manipulate statistics in a blatant attempt to mislead, and to rewrite history.

The did you know? section of this site housed within the AAFC website is so silly, it s laughable, until you absorb the insidious innuendo contained in the questionable correlations constructed by its authors.

For example: Did you know & that over the past 25 years, the share of area seeded by CWB grains in Western Canada decreased from 78 per cent to 48 per cent, while the share of area seeded to canola increased by 195 per cent?

Whoa, that sounds pretty bad. But let s think about that for just a second& OK, maybe a minute. First of all, we should be comparing apples to apples, which in this case is the relative increase or decrease in acres. And we should be viewing that in the context of total acres.

The share of area seeded to CWB grains in Western Canada has decreased from 78 per cent to 48 per cent over the past 25 years. That s a drop of 30 percentage points but an actual decline of 38 per cent. But 38 per cent of what? In 1985, wheat, oats and barley occupied 41 million acres, nearly half of the Prairie land base. Oats were removed in 1989 and there are actually fewer acres sown to that crop now than then. But you won t read about that on the AAFC website. Nor does it mention that over the same period, U.S. wheat has also dropped, by about 24 per cent.

As for AAFC s assertion that the share of area seeded to canola has increased 195 per cent over the same period, again, 195 per cent of what? A quarter-century ago, canola still a relatively new crop compared to wheat occupied nine per cent of the Prairie land base or 6.6 million acres. Nowadays, AAFC says it s up to 28 per cent of the Prairie land base. Canola is a good news story by any measure, but more than doubling of world oilseed demand over the last 25 years might have something to do with it.

Does the Harper government really want us to believe that languishing North American wheat acres or conversely rising canola acres, are a result of the CWB? If it s the latter, we should be grateful.

And quite frankly, if, as is implied, farmers flock back into wheat post-monopoly, the canola and pulse industries should be very, very worried. Those acres must come from somewhere, and the way we read it, the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act doesn t contain any provisions for making more land.

Here are some other apples to oranges comparisons that amount to a bunch of bananas. Did you know… that Canadian market share in world barley export markets has declined by more than 65 per cent since the 1980s, while the pulse industry grew to $2 billion in export sales in 2010? That s about as useful as saying a bird hit the window and died yesterday, while the cat caught a mouse. How does one correlate with the other?

Or this one: … that the area seeded to wheat in Western Canada has gradually declined over the past 20 years, while the population of the planet is expected to increase by two billion people by 2050?

And did you know … that the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly on wheat and barley was established in 1943 by the federal government to support the British War effort?

Independent historians hold a different view. Canada, as part of the Commonwealth, was indeed obligated to help feed the war effort, but farmers of the day overwhelmingly supported the legislated mandate to the extent that politicians believed it was political suicide to say no. Besides, the open markets weren t functioning during the war.

Did you know… that the Canadian Wheat Board is the last remaining major grain-marketing monopoly in the world?

So that s a bad thing for sellers? The potash companies, who still have their monopoly, don t seem to think so.

The Conservative government was elected on a promise to end the wheat board s monopoly. It s entitled to make that decision. Like any policy change, this will come with both benefits and costs. The government is trying to tell us that there will be no costs. We already know of one the loss of an independent analytical service within Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

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About the author

Vice-President of Content

Laura Rance

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at [email protected]

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