Shhh… Don’t Tell The Canola Council

We want to believe those promises of good things to come Western Canada’s way once the Canadian Wheat Board is outa’ the way.

We really do.

According to Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz, the CWB monopoly is weakening our clout in world wheat and barley trade.

“What was once Canada’s signature crop has fallen behind,” Ritz told the Grain Growers of Canada, citing declining acreage and global market share.

You have to admit, the free market gospel sounds pretty good – more competition for farmers’ grain, more research and innovation, more processing and more jobs for rural communities. We’ll even have more young people farming!

“I see a future for investment in western Canadian agriculture. I’m told that there is already a steady stream of inquiries from a wide variety of firms wanting to invest in a commercial market in Western Canada, once the single desk is gone. Under this new commercial system I see job creation and the revitalization of rural communities,” says Brian Otto of the Western Barley Growers Association.

“I see a future where competition for farmers’ grain will drive marketing costs lower. Canadian maltsters will need to sharpen their pencils… Canadian millers will have the opportunity to develop niche contracting programs… Minor classes of wheat will find new, robust markets…

“I see a future where farm entrepreneurs establish and grow significant… businesses, vertically integrating in a way that only makes sense from the farm.

“Imagine, growing wheat and selling bread!” he says.

And from Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Canadian Grain Elevators Association: “The reality is that the new environment of marketing choice will open the door for many new job opportunities, as there will be increased investment in processing and research.”

Sobkowich says at least seven oat-processing facilities were built since oats went to the open market in 1989. That might have had something to do with the end of the Crow and skyrocketing U.S. demand for oats as a cholesterol fighter, but let’s not quibble.

Sobkowich points out that canola-processing capacity in Canada has increased 72 per cent over the past four years. Pulse crop acreage and processing have also increased.

Following all this logic, all the credit for these developments (or some might say blame) should go to the wheat board. According to these folks, if it wasn’t for the wheat board, Prairie farmers would still all be growing wheat, durum and barley.

One columnist even made mention of Manitoba farmers’ rising passion for soybeans. “Soybeans, isn’t that a U.S. crop?” he mused, in a column saying farmers have voted against the CWB with their seeders. Fusarium and the ability of soybeans to withstand prolonged soakings in the Red River (Valley) might have had something to do with that, but again, let’s not quibble.

Freed of the CWB, farmers are all going to flock back to the crop that put Western Canada on the global grain map.

Though if that’s the case, the Canola Council of Canada can kiss goodbye its 15 by 15 goal (15 million tonnes by 2015). The pulse crop industry had better put some of its customers on notice too.

Let’s do some math.

Canadian wheat market share has been running about 13.5 per cent. To get back to 20 per cent, we would need to bump up production by about 7.5 million tonnes. Average yield is about one tonne per acre, so that’s about 7.5 million more acres. Unless we find another province to grow wheat in, where will those acres come from? Certainly not barley, which will also be freed from the shackles of the CWB. So it has to come from canola, oats, pulses and special crops, which had a total of about 27 million acres last year.

That extra 7.5 million acres of wheat will take quite a chunk out of that, but that’s OK. Meeting the canola council’s target of 15 million tonnes was already prompting farmers to push their rotations. They won’t have to now.

Oh right. We forgot. We won’t need another 7.5 million acres after all. Getting the wheat board out of farmers’ way will also attract lots more private-sector research and investment. We’ll soon have wheat yielding like corn, so we won’t need extra acres. The U.S. has never had a CWB, and it doesn’t have any wheat like that. In fact, its yields are lagging behind the rest of the world. But we don’t want to rain on the parade.

The only downside we can see is that all the rural coffee shops will go broke because farmers will have nothing to argue about, or they’ll be too busy milling their wheat into flour and selling their own bread. And our own future is pretty dim. Without the Crow or the CWB to write about, farm newspapers will run out of stories.

No, the world won’t come to a crashing end if wheat moves to an open market. But if you believe getting rid of the wheat board will boost Western Canada’s wheat production and prompt a burst of value-added activity, we know a good truck for sale: V-10. Excellent mileage… [email protected]

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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