Wheat board decisions must be more open

The Canadian Wheat Board is the marketing agency for more than 85,000 farmers who grow wheat, durum wheat, and barley in Western Canada.
Its role is to market these grains for the best possible price, both within Canada and around the world.
The CWB is one of Canada’s biggest exporters and one of the world’s largest grain marketing organizations, with annual sales of more than 20 million tonnes of wheat and barley to some 70 countries.
The purpose of the wheat board is to help farmers earn higher returns on their crops by selling as a group than they would by selling their crops individually.
It has big selling power that attracts premium prices—and provides the strength to go toe-to-toe with the world-class heavyweights in the grain industry.
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk in government circles about changing the way the wheat board functions. This past spring, a private member’s bill that seeks to allow producers to sell their grain outside of the wheat board was tabled by Conservative MP Gerry Ritz.
That legislation has been met with significant outcry from the western farming community.
In addition, Conservative MP Ted Menzies recently commented to the Agriculture and Agri-food committee, “If and when there is a plebiscite, we would have to have it based on the volume of production, not on the number of permit books.”
This would be a dramatic change from the current one permit-one vote structure that is in place.
As the MP for a port city that processes western grain, I recognize the local impact the wheat board has on our community. It is certainly of concern that this government appears to be discussing potential changes behind closed doors by “invitation only.”
A July roundtable was hosted by the parliamentary secretary to the minister of agriculture to discuss the future of the wheat board; however, the hand-picked participants were mostly large-farm owners who support a dual-marketing system.
Idealists suggest that a “dual market system” would give farmers the choice of how to market their crops.
Realistically, such a system would lead to an open market where the wheat board would be rendered ineffective and the only choice for producers would be to sell to a handful of multinational grain companies who then would control the marketing of all grain.
The wheat board is certain to undergo changes in the global economy, but those changes must be decided by all members—not just a few big players.

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