by SUSAN MANN
The National Farmers Union warns the future of Canada’s supply management system is in jeopardy after federal Agriculture Minister tabled an Act this week to remove the Canadian Wheat Board’s single desk marketing authority.
“What the government is doing is dismantling these collective marketing structures that were in place to protect farmers and give them market power,” says Kevin Wipf, National Farmers Union executive director. Ontario farmers need to pay attention to what’s happening because “supply management is next in line,” he says.
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz denies supply management is on the chopping block. The national system was created in response to farmers’ demands for stability and profitability at the farm gate, he explains in an email Wednesday. In contrast, the wheat board was imposed only on western grain farmers by government during the Second World War to ensure cheap wheat to Europe.
It’s too early to tell what impact ending the Canadian Wheat Board’s single desk selling authority for western wheat and barley producers will have on Ontario grains and oilseed growers, says Grain Farmers of Ontario chair Don Kenny.
Kenny says he thinks Ontario farmers are following developments because the news is widely being reported. “I think they’re all watching with interest.”
But Don Mills, NFU vice president of operations and an Ontario farmer, says it’s not their first priority. “There are probably Ontario issues that are more pressing.”
Ritz tabled the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act on Tuesday to remove the single desk selling authority of the Canadian Wheat Board by Aug. 1, 2012. Western farmers would then have the ability to market their grain either on the open market or through a voluntary wheat board. The bill calls for an interim board of directors to be established, a new check off to fund research and development agencies and federal support for the Churchill, Manitoba port. The wheat board will have four years to transition to a private company or co-operative.
Ritz says in a press release an open grain market will attract investment, encourage innovation, create value-added jobs and build a stronger economy for all Canadians.
Ritz announced his intention to introduce the legislation in Parliament at an Ontario wheat farm “where farmers already enjoy the freedom to market their wheat and barley products as they choose,” the press release says.
But NFU officials say despite Ritz’s attempts to tie Ontario’s changes to its marketing system to wheat board changes the government is now introducing, the two situations are completely different.
NFU research and policy director Cathy Holstlander outlined the differences in a research paper posted on their website. Ontario farmers decided on their own to shift from a single-desk selling authority to the open market. The change wasn’t mandated by the federal government, as is the case with the wheat board. The transition was completed in 2003.
Moreover, Western Canadian wheat production is ten times bigger than that of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes combined, Holstlander notes. Ontario produces soft wheat used for pastry, cookies and doughnuts and the crop is mostly sold domestically or in the northern United States. Prairie farmers produce hard, red spring wheat for bread and durum for pasta. Most of the western crop is exported. BF