Canola Survey Asks The Right Question

We’re all rational people here, right? I would hope that if one of us has a new idea, we should be able to bring it forward and debate it, discuss its merits, and reach some kind of a logical conclusion. It all sounds simple enough. So why is it that the minute there is any mention of the Canadian Wheat Board in the discussion, that all sanity leaves the room? Just put those three innocent letters, CWB, in any headline and you are guaranteed a tirade of biblical proportions. Why can’t it remain a rational discussion?

The Manitoba Canola Growers Association recently circulated newspaper ads with a survey to gauge the level of support among farmers for a voluntary canola pool to be administered through the CWB. Reaction was swift and vocal. The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association fired off a release stating, somewhat tongue in cheek, that they would support it if they got their standing demands to dismantle the CWB as we know it. No surprises there, but thank you very much for your intelligent input.

What did surprise me was the viciousness of the attacks coming from the self-proclaimed “farm commentators.” As a freelance writer of “opinion” pieces, I am fully aware that not all reporting is done impartially or without interjection.


But what happened to respecting the sensibility of the 64 per cent of the active farmers who support single-desk selling? Are these commentators so determined to increase their own ratings and readership by instigating the riot, that they can’t report on a simple request for information?

“The survey is flawed…” comes the first battle cry. Maybe it is. It’s a survey. So what? Some of the questions may not have been the first ones to come to my mind either, but in the end, it does ask the single pertinent question, “How many tonnes of canola would you be interested in having the CWB market on your behalf?”

In terms of gauging the demand, isn’t that the fundamental question that needs to be answered? If this was a plebiscite or a vote, I would agree that it should be worded differently, but it’s not. It’s a survey and it does the intended job.

Farm leaders are people too. In this case the MCGA executive has taken an idea put forward by its members and done its due diligence by acting on it. The fact that they are doing their job shouldn’t open them up to attack and public ridicule by everyone who thinks they have an axe to grind with the CWB. It’s a proposal that seeks to see who would want to participate in a voluntary canola pool. In hindsight, I’m sure they are wishing they had established who wanted to pool first, and who would administer the pool second.

“The Canadian Wheat Board has no experience in canola marketing.” True, but as an agency, it has also been marketing grain longer than most ag commentators have been alive. I’m guessing the traders may have made a few foreign contacts over the years. To suggest that they can’t switch grains and still be effective marketers is ludicrous.


This week a press release came across my desk that stated domestic demand for canola is softening because the line companies have sourced ample stocks to see them through to the end of the crop year. Any change in seeding intentions or inclement weather may change that outlook, but it is entirely possible that we have seen the peak in this market. How many farmers still have that truckload or two of canola in the back of the bin?

Would it be so incredulous to suggest that this might be a good time to clear some domestic stocks into another export market? If our current purchasers are comfortable with where they are, how do we increase the competition in the market unless we add another way to clear supplies? If each farmer interested in keeping prices up, were to voluntarily commit 20 per cent of his production to an export pool, would that not help to bolster prices? The proposal is for a voluntary pool. Nobody has said you have to sign up your entire crop.

Last year’s production numbers were not exactly stellar. Record acres were left unseeded or affected by wet weather in major canola-producing areas, and yet here we are in mid-April with demand softening. Between biofuel and food crushers, movement has been good. But what does this tell us about where the price is headed when we have another big crop? Does it make sense to leave the export of stocks totally at the discretion of the same people who are crushing it domestically?

The one legitimate concern amid this entire debacle is the potential for trade retaliation (warranted or not) by the U.S. With the ready rail and highway access to crushers in the northern states, we don’t need a pooled account being sold into that market anyway. Possibly, the solution is to designate the pool to offshore exports exclusively, and in the process, develop new markets. There are issues to work out, but until we have an intelligent debate on the subject, those solutions will never be found.

Farmers don’t need a commentator to tell them what their opinion should be. We all have our own. What we need is accurate information and reporting to help us formulate those opinions. When I see comments like, “So why not get the CWB to take over canola completely. Why not let them do away with the crushing industry in Western Canada…?” being made by people who claim to be journalists, I have to say that does nothing for the debate. It is not what the MCGA, or anyone else has proposed, nor does it do anything in terms of constructive criticism.

Maybe the real reason for the backlash we are seeing to this survey is fear. Fear of the unknown? Perhaps. Maybe the real fear is in the formal presentation of a voluntary pool. If it can be made to succeed, then maybe the idea really has merit.

If it fails, then it dashes the rhetoric of the pro-open market forces to rubble. Either way, it will succeed or fail on a voluntary basis, by people making their own decisions on how to market their own grain. Ask yourself if there is room for one more marketer in this industry, and then fill out your own survey on your own terms. Les McEwan farms

near Altamont.


Whyisitthattheminutethereisany mentionoftheCanadianWheatBoardinthe discussion,thatallsanityleavestheroom?

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