As my short note on Monday indicated, I once again had the opportunity to attend the Farming for Profit conference hosted by Ag Economist Andy Schmitz. Andy is a guy from Central Butte, Saskatchewan who attended the University of Saskatchewan getting his various agriculture and economic degrees along the way.
During my government years, Andy was working out of the University of California at Berkley and was often called upon to work with us when designing various farm-related issues. He is now working out of the University of Florida but remains very involved with the family farming and ranching operations at Moose Jaw, Chaplin and Central Butte.
This conference has always been set up to provide a free flow of thoughts, ideas and potential solutions for the various components of agriculture and as the title indicates, try and come up with new and innovative ways to make a profit in the farming game. Although I certainly have not attended all of them over the last 20 years, I have always followed the subject matter discussed and know that Andy has always had his heart in the right place by trying to better Saskatchewan’s agricultural community.
Once again, I had the opportunity to address the conference as a panel member and then enjoyed the feedback from those in attendance. This year there were a number of interesting topics including the original panellists from the very 1st conference in 1992 which dealt with the crisis in agriculture at that time. These panellists were the Honourables Grant Devine, former Premier of Saskatchewan, Lynda Haverstock, former Liberal leader and Darrel Cunningham who was then the Minister of Agriculture under the NDP. It was interesting to listen to their recollections of events from that period and how the world has unfolded since that time.
There was a presentation from Farmers of North America and their ongoing attempts to build a nitrogen fertilizer plant so that farmers can capture some of the premiums in the fertilizer business. There were also presentations by Professor Schmitz and Professor Moss on the impact of the US ethanol program on agriculture in general and in particular, on the prairies. There was an excellent presentation by Professor Tom Wahl from North Dakota State University on the impact that a booming oil and gas sector is having on North Dakota and its impact on the agricultural community.
All in all, this sounds like a fairly rounded type of conference that you would think would be a magnet for people from both Federal and Provincial levels of government as they think about agricultural policy for Saskatchewan into the future. There has always been a strong contingent from the agricultural economics department at the University of Saskatchewan who in my view, have always done excellent analysis of Saskatchewan’s challenges and opportunities. I was amazed to learn that employees from both levels of government no longer attend this conference and it was even suggested to me by one individual who has attended every one of them that these people are no longer allowed to attend.
I find that type of attitude by our governments to be very disturbing. It is truly a sad day when people in government who are designing public policy for the elected politicians do not want to hear all sides of the equation when thinking about future courses of action. The material which is presented to our public policy makers should be well balanced and not slanted in one direction.
In my presentation I touched on the fact that the costs involved in the transportation of grain are going up fairly dramatically with the sudden change in marketing from the Wheat Board system to the open market system. In this new marketing environment, there is no way for farmers to determine if there is collusion amongst grain companies when they set their transportation costs for the movement of grain. We all know and suspect that there is collusion amongst oil companies when gasoline prices all change within a matter of a few hours at service stations all across our communities and yet government doesn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. The oil companies do it because they can.
I raise the issue because we are still early in the new marketing environment and I believe there is some way that farmers should be able to determine whether this is happening in the grain marketing system. Almost all of our companies currently here buying grain are privately owned and do not reveal their internal financial operations. When you see basis levels i.e. transportation costs all changing to the same numbers within a day or so, it really makes you wonder what is going on. Those transportation costs all end up being born by the primary producer. Under the old system, we knew what those were. Today we don’t. I ask the question…..why not?
Because next Monday is Canada Day, the next Monday Morning Commentary will be sent out on Tuesday, July 2nd. Have a great weekend and drive safe.
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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.