No – I am not going to Tuesday Morning Commentary – or for that matter Tuesday Evening Commentary – it just has been a very busy week already and all of these thunderstorms raise heck with my satellite internet. As everyone in Saskatchewan is aware, we are having extreme weather systems circulating across our province. Hopefully no one ends up in the path of a tornado or one of these vicious hailstorms. There is one thing about Saskatchewan weather – wait an hour and it will change. For the third spring in a row, spring seeding has turned into a trying event for me and many thousands of other farm families. Spraying of crops is in the same category. The days that the wind isn’t blowing, there is probably some type of precipitation happening. It is better than drought.
As per the notice everyone received yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend Andy Schmitz’ 19th Annual Farming For…Profit Conference in Moose Jaw. Andy had asked me sometime ago to be a panellist with other farmers in our area on the topic of the CWB and the good and the bad of that organization and its relationship to making a living as a farmer. It was great to once again mix and mingle with long-time friends from the University of Saskatchewan College of Agriculture, people in the grains industry and fellow farmers and try and get a sense of where the industry is going after 70 years of the CWB monopoly coming to an end. The Wheat Board has been very easy to criticize over the years and I have done my share in the 42 years since I planted my first crop. The CWB as an organization before the addition of farmer-elected board members in 1998 could be a very large bureaucratic organization with all of the evils that this entails. I believe, however, that the move to a voluntary marketing structure was inevitable and therefore both the Board and the government should have been planning a transition that would leave in place a strong farmer-directed organization which could compete in the market place.
That has not happened and in the rush to satisfy ideology and political promises, a whole host of issues which impact the Board’s financial viability and therefore the farmers’ viability is in question. It was interesting while sitting on that panel to raise these issues and then get feedback from the conference attendees during the course of the day and that evening of the bbq. I must say, I was extremely pleased with the reception I got from my views which I expressed during the panel discussion. I received a general feeling from such diverse groups as the Grain Handlers’ Union at the west coast to people in agricultural economics and from other farmers that they still want a public dialogue about what has not been done properly. Most participants that I talked to still believe that things can be fixed before this thing runs off of the rails totally because a good business plan was not in place prior to the dissolution of the monopoly.
After listening to a number of speakers who talked about the mountains of paperwork and paid advisors that American farmers have to deal with on an annual basis in order to try and get fair value for their crops, I am much appreciative of some of the contracting options offered by the CWB in the last few years. The spring wheat, durum wheat and malt barley markets are far more diverse than most of the other crops which we currently contract. 84-95% of canola grades #1. Its only uses are oil for human consumption, oil for industrial purposes and meal for livestock feed. When you stack that up against contracting the many dozens of different grades and uses of wheat, you quickly begin to understand the complexities of this world-wide market. I am afraid Minister Ritz in his zeal to get rid of the Board has not done the necessary homework to make this transition as fruitful as possible. And certainly the people who were sitting as elected board members did not take the opportunity to properly present sound alternatives for the new reality.
A number of these individuals also attended the conference and in fact, three former board members appeared on a panel. They are all sincere gentlemen with sincere beliefs. But if they were truly representing the farmers of western Canada, they would have been preparing alternative business plans that were well thought out to be presented in the eventuality of the Conservative government carrying out its stated policy of breaking the monopoly. That would have been a far better solution than endless fooling around in our court system. It doesn’t matter if you are a socialist or a free enterpriser, you need a good business plan. And it doesn’t matter how big your airseeder is, you are still a small player in a very big picture and western Canadian farmers need to stick together so we get the widest variety of marketing choices and the widest variety of people to sell our products to. Grain companies are famous for looking after themselves and will continue to do so.
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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.