The End of the Canadian Wheat Board…maybe?

Probably one of the best (and worst) things my dad ever did for me was when he didn’t push me to follow in his footsteps by becoming a farmer.

My great-great-grandfather homesteaded in 1883, taking advantage of the famous Dominion Lands Act that offered 160 acres for $10 which drew so many settlers to the west.  This land has been farmed by our family continually since that time.  Well, at least until I came along… 🙁  Now, my dad still owns the farm but instead of me taking over, he now rents it to a neighbour who farms it instead.

I think my dad knew when I was fairly young that I wasn’t made out to be a farmer – I was more interested in computers than motors, books than tools.  Add in sky-high interest rates, rising input costs, low commodity prices and the writing was even starting to be on the wall for the small family farm, even way back in the 1980’s.

Now, it looks like the slow death of the family farm will be accelerated yet again.  The Harper Conservatives are about to introduce legislation to end the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board,

The idea that a wheat board can survive without the single desk is (an) absolute chimera,” said New Democrat MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre), pointing to Australia, where a similar board went bankrupt three years after becoming voluntary, as an example of what is wrong with this approach.

So we’ve got one monopoly that worked in favour of Canadian farmers and they’re handing it over to another monopoly, the agri-food giants who will gouge and pillage the Prairie economy.”

Prairie farmers will lose clout with grain and rail companies here at home and in markets around the world,” Saskatchewan Liberal MP Ralph Goodale (Wascana) said in a news release.

There’s a slim ray of hope.  The legislation governing the Wheat Board apparently requires a plebiscite  for any significant changes.  The Wheat Board held a mail-in vote and 62% of grain farmers and 51% of barley farmers voted in favour of keeping the Wheat Board.  But the Conservatives are saying they have a mandate to move forward with these changes because they’ve campaigned on doing this and the majority of western Canada still voted for them which gives them their mandate (though their math, as usual, is faulty.)

To bring it back to my original point – although I grew up around farming, I never was immersed in farm life.  And that means I don’t have the level of understanding of farm-related issues that I probably should when topics like major changes to the Canadian Wheat Board come up.

But I do know this.  I, like 62% of farmers who voted to keep the CWB in a plebiscite, am in favour of keeping the Canadian Wheat Board.

Here are just some of the many reasons to keep the CWB:

  • Agriculture can be boom and bust and pooling grain to sell helps everyone get the best price in good times and in bad
  • CWB helps protect smaller farmers who can’t negotiate better prices as well as bigger farmers might be able to in an open market
  • CWB helps ensure food security for Canada
  • CWB prevents evil agri-business companies like Monsanto and Cargill from becoming even more dominant than they already are

(There’s obviously lots of info about this situation out there but I was surprised to see the story hit MetaFilter twice – once on the main site and once on their AskMF section giving a slightly distanced, more inquisitive view of what the impacts will be.)

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