Thursday, March 29, 2007

Wheat Board loses monopoly on barley marketing

The mantra of free choice seems to be very attractive to farmers. As the National Farmer's Union points out there is really no difference between removing the Wheat Board altogether from marketing barley and the choice option because the Wheat Board will be unable to compete with the large grain companies as it lacks the capital and facilities. The Harper government is dedicated to following the wishes of the US big grain interests that have been fighting the Wheat Board for ages. This is the beginning of the end for the Wheat Board, not that the Liberals were much better since they would have ended up bargaining away the Wheat Board monopoly as well most likely. It is only a matter of time until the Wheat Board becomes a thing of the past just as the Mantoba Wheat Pool and many Dairy Co-operatives. The farmers seem to have given up on the successful farmer run organisations that helped protect them from domination by large agricorps. With Harper the agricorp victory will be complete but then it was evolving that way anyway. Harper is just the Libeerals moving more quickly. It is interesting that no option got a majority but the government in effect picked the largest minority position.

There was less than 40 percent of those eligible who voted indicating that well over sixty percent of farmers dont even have enough interest to vote! Pitiful. It is farm groups that were very active in establishing such progressive institutions as co-operatives, credit unions, and even the first North American medicare system in Saskatchewan. As usual the Alberta vote is most to the right.

Farmers vote to end wheat board's barley monopoly
Last Updated: Wednesday, March 28, 2007 | 1:46 PM ET
CBC News
Western Canadian farmers have voted to end the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly on barley sales.

"It's time to move to more marketing choice, and we want to move to that as quickly as possible," federal Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl said Wednesday in Ottawa.

Barley Plebiscite Results
Retain single desk 37.8%
CWB loses monopoly, farmers can sell to other buyer 48.4%
No CWB role in marketing barley 13.8%
Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
A total of 62 per cent of just over 29,000 farmers who cast eligible ballots in the mail-in vote said they wanted the board out of the barley market altogether, or for the board to be maintained in a competitive market.

Another 38 per cent said they wanted to maintain the status quo.

Of those who didn't want the status quo, about 48 per cent said they wanted to choose where to sell their barley and about 14 per cent said the wheat board should have no role in selling barley.

Strahl said he will now take steps to revise the rules to remove the barley monopoly by Aug. 1.

Instead of amending the Canadian Wheat Board Act through Parliament, it will be done through changing the regulations, Strahl said.

"We're quite sure we can take it out through regulation," Strahl said.

The board's directors have said that without a monopoly, the wheat board will have to get out of the barley market, because it won't be able to compete without government funding for access to ports and grain elevators.

Strahl said farmers have spoken and the wheat board should heed what they're saying.

"They have an obligation to come up with a business plan that addresses that concern," he said.

National Farmers Union president Stewart Wells called the plebiscite "hideously flawed" and misleading.

"I’m not surprised at the outcome, because when you ask a misleading question, you will get a misleading result," Wells said in a news release. "The anti-CWB options, combined together, received 62 per cent, but Option 2 was deliberately misleading and offered farmers an unrealistic expectation."

The plebiscite results showed that the strongest support for the single desk system to continue was in Manitoba (51 per cent) and Saskatchewan (45 per cent), while in Alberta, only 21 per cent supported the status quo.

On the other hand, Alberta farmers were the most likely to support having a choice in where to market their barley. About 63 per cent said they supported that option. In Saskatchewan, the figure for the "CWB plus marketing choice" option was 42 per cent. In Manitoba, it was 34.6 per cent.

The debate over possible changes to grain marketing has been the talk of farm country for months.

Supporters of the government say they've waited for years for the right to decide how to market their own grain and the change will let them take advantage of the best spot prices.

Farmers in favour of the wheat board argue the status quo helps guarantee stable incomes and the best prices.

Even with barley taken away from the wheat board, the board will retain its export monopoly on wheat.

Strahl said earlier this year there's no immediately plans for a wheat plebiscite, but one will be held at some point.

Of the roughly 80,000 ballots sent out, 29,067 were returned. That includes 15,327 votes from Saskatchewan, 9,881 in Alberta, 3,703 in Manitoba and 156 in B.C.

With files from the Canadian Press

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