A remnant of the pro-Canadian Wheat Board movement is still alive, and still punching above its weight, even though it’s been three-and-a-half years since the federal government buried the CWB’s single desk monopoly.

The latest example of the vocal minority receiving mainstream attention: “Prairie Farmers Calling for the Return of the Canadian Wheat Board” read the headline on Global’s websites on Monday. The Canadian Press wire story was also picked up by CTV, the CBC and the Regina Leader-Post.

The article stemmed from a pro-CWB meeting of around 50 farmers in Swan River, Manitoba last week. (Swan River is in the riding of Manitoba Ag Minister Ron Kostyshyn, who’s fighting to hang on to his riding for the NDP in the provincial election on April 19th.) After hearing from Kostyshyn and former CWB director Kyle Korneychuk, the attendees unanimously voted in favour of a resolution calling for “the re-establishment of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), and single-desk selling of grain in western Canada.”

Ron Kostyshyn speaking at CWB meeting in Swan River on February 10, 2015 (photo courtesy CWB Alliance)
Ron Kostyshyn speaking at the pro-CWB meeting in Swan River on February 10, 2015 (photo source: CWB Alliance)

The headlines themselves might lead the reader to think Western Canadian farmers seriously want the CWB to return, but that’s not the case. There are tens of thousands of farmers in Western Canada. They managed to get several dozen who still support the idea of the board in a room, but they don’t speak for all stakeholders, and they’re deceiving themselves if they actually believe the government has the political will or mandate to re-establish the monopoly (see David Akin’s tweet and video from the House of Commons below). Most farmers are pretty happy with the ability to market their own wheat when, where and how they want. They saw the headline and thought “really? Those guys are still making noise?”

Related: CWB Name Becomes History as G3 Canada Launches

The thing is CWB proponents, however many there are, have always been well-connected and well-organized, as evidenced during CWB director elections, and in the post-CWB elections for the boards of the new wheat and barley commissions/associations in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. They’re good at rallying the troops. In meetings, at rallies and in the media, the pro-CWB side has been adept at leveraging its network of pro-single desk farmers, friendly reporters, political allies, and unions to maximize their influence and perceived weight.

There were rallies during the final days of the CWB with several hundred people in attendance, but as an ag reporter, it was difficult to find grassroots farmers to interview. There were farmers who were CWB directors, National Farmers Union leaders, labour union reps, CWB employees, NDP and Liberal politicians, and people from the Occupy Movement, but it was hard to find a farmer with a pragmatic point of view arguing to keep the single desk. There were some big turnouts reported by mainstream media, but the numbers of “farmers” involved were overstated.

Diehard: strongly or fanatically determined or devoted:  strongly resisting change (Merriam-Webster)

So here we are, in 2016, still talking about the CWB, at least for a day or two. Most farmers have adapted to the open market just fine and are pleased to market their wheat as they do other crops. Restoring the single desk is not a priority for the federal government — certainly not something worth the effort that would be required in the face of domestic and international opposition. The chances of the Canadian Wheat Board being brought back to life are next to nil. It’s not happening. But as in the past, CWB diehards are good at getting attention.

5 thoughts on “We’re Not Actually Talking About Bringing Back the CWB Single Desk, Are We?

  1. The Cwb is gone. there is no way no
    chance that a wheat marketing board will ever exist
    in western Canada ever again. The Cwb is now dismantled
    and sold off maybe we as farmers should ask were is our
    Billion dollar contingcy fund went?

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    Brendan Sigurdson · Swan Valley Regional Secondary School

    (Swan River, Manitoba, February 12, 2016) More than 50 farmers from the Swan River and Pelly areas of Manitoba and Saskatchewan met February 10th and unanimously passed a resolution calling for “the re-establishment of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), and single-desk selling of grain in western Canada.”

    Kyle Korneychuk, spokesperson for the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance, an independent and non-partisan prairie-wide farm group noted: “The fact a farm meeting of this size could unanimously pass this resolution is a strong indication to Ottawa that farmers are now feeling the loss of the CWB in their pocketbooks.”

    Korneychuk thanked the Manitoba Minister of Agriculture Ron Kostyshyn and elected Rural Municipal (RM) Councillors from both provinces for their support at the meeting. “Farmers respect those who consistently support them as this Minister has demonstrated.”

    Responding to a study by Dr. Richard Gray of the University of Saskatchewan showing farmers lost about 6.5 billion dollars in the past two years; Agriculture Minister Kostyshyn said he is “very concerned about the financial situation of farmers since the loss of the CWB.” The Minister also expressed concern about the future of the rail line to the Swan River valley as well as the rail line to Churchill. RM councillors expressed concerns about the recent closures of elevators and the long-term implications for the rail line.

    The meeting, chaired by Minitonas, Mb. farmer Walter Kolisnyk, heard presentations from the Hon. Ron Kostyshyn, Wheat Board Alliance organizer and Swan River grain farmer Ken Sigurdson , and Kyle Korneychuk a farmer-elected Director of the Canadian Wheat Board who was dismissed, along with his colleagues, when former Agriculture Minister Ritz passed legislation ending the Canadian Wheat Board. Last year the Harper government transferred the remaining assets of the Wheat Board to a company jointly owned by the Government of Saudi Arabia and Bunge, one of the world’s largest private grain traders.

    Sigurdson pointed out Professor Gray’s study when compared with the single-desk CWB’s annual audited statements shows that with the single-desk system prairie farmers received over 90% of the port price and now without the single-desk farmers are only receiving between 40-60% of the port price for their wheat.

    Using Manitoba Crop Insurance data, Sigurdson calculated the loss to the Swan River Valley to be more than 70 million dollars over the last 2 years. “This money is lost to farmers and the community and transferred directly to grain handling companies and railways,” he said.
    Kyle Korneychuk explained the CWB coordinated logistics to move grain from the farm gate via rail to port then usually arranged ocean freight direct to end-use customers. He noted “this integrated single-desk system allowed us to provide a high quality branded product into the world market. It allowed us to return almost the full value of the world price to farmers. Farmers only paid for the CWB’s operating expenses but now they pay for the private trade’s operating expenses and the profits to foreign shareholders and grain company owners.”

    Korneychuk went on to observe that under the system controlled by grain companies fusarium and other blending programs are no longer being provided and protein premiums are now small and infrequent.

    Ken Sigurdson predicted that when short term Federal subsidies to the port of Churchill end next year, it will be the next casualty caused by the end of the single-desk CWB. He noted that although the port remains a strategically valuable national resource, it is at risk of losing its economic reason for existence: grain movement.

    Sigurdson observed the single-desk CWB was the economic lynch pin which made prairie grain production viable by ensuring the efficient movement and reliable delivery of high quality-assured grain to customers and guaranteeing that farmers received the premiums customers paid. “To get the advantages of the CWB there is no other solution than to reinstate the CWB single-desk selling system” he concluded.

    1. I agree , we need something similar to the single desk seller . Without protien premiums to several areas . Farmers cannot produce enough wheat, to make wheat a viable product . Not everyone farms in the red river valley , or Certain parts of Ontario ,where record breaking yields continue to grow . In many areas , increased inputs ,such as fertilizer ,results in excess straw or lodging often lowering yield potential . The elevators are taking hundreds of thousands of dollars out of farmers pockets . Last year ,many elevators even took it upon themselves, to lower the protien payments to 14.5 from 15.5 , until enough farmer pressure forced them to pay higher . Although ,this is still far below the amounts that were paid per % , when the cwb was in place . We need some independent monitoring system , since both the government and other agencies are not concerned about Canadian wheat producers . P.s . Where did our assets go that producers owned and as the previous farmer mentioned where did that contingency fund money go . We want it back .

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