Farmers for economic freedom

Updates from the Canadian Farm Enterprise Network, Canadian Farmers for Justice and the Prairie Centre. Several of the items appearing here originally appeared in an email list operated by Dwayne Leslie at http://www.prairielinks.com.

web posted April 24, 2000

Not available in Canada

By Craig Docksteader

Ever since the Act was passed in 1982, the Wheat Board has been subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Requests for information are submitted to the FOI officer, along with a small fee, and the information is made available from the Wheat Board, within the designated time period. Information requested could be found in files, manuals, databases, mailing lists or publications, and can include working documents, correspondence, or records such as submissions and reports. Over the years, many people have successfully used the system to obtain information from the Wheat Board.

The FOI law ensures that Wheat Board information is released in a timely, appropriate manner. It clearly lays out the process for obtaining information along with responsibilities, timelines and even fines for those who do not abide by the law. It provides producers, politicians, and the general public the necessary mechanism to evaluate the performance of the Wheat Board and ensure ongoing accountability.

There are, however, appropriate limits on what information can be obtained under the law. The Freedom of Information Act specifically states that, "A body corporate... is exempt from the operation of this Act in relation to documents in respect of the commercial activities of the body corporate."

Commercial activities are clearly defined as: "(a) activities carried on by an agency on a commercial basis in competition with persons other than governments or authorities of governments; or, (b) activities, carried on by an agency, that may reasonably be expected in the foreseeable future to be carried on by the agency on a commercial basis in competition with persons other than government or authorities of governments."

If a record contains this kind of information, the Freedom of Information Act requires that the record be made available after the exempt information has been deleted. This prevents the "commercial sensitivity" issue from being used as a smoke screen to hide all kinds of information behind.

Personal information is also protected. You can get personal information about yourself from the Wheat Board, but not about anybody else. This would include specific salary figures as well as information on job performance, evaluations, etc. This exemption ensures that accountability is achieved while protecting personal privacy.

For 18 years the Wheat Board has operated under the Freedom of Information Act. The ability of producers or the general public to obtain information through the FOI process has not spooked the Wheat Board’s customers, nor has it jeopardized the Board’s ability to successfully market wheat. It continues to be a significant player in the world wheat export market.

Regrettably, however, this Wheat Board is not the Canadian Wheat Board. It is the Australian Wheat Board. While the Canadian Wheat Board bureaucrats and directors continue to insist that they could not function under Canada’s Freedom of Information law (called the Access to Information Act), the Australian Wheat Board has operated this way for almost two decades.

Secrecy advocates and lovers of big government like to tell us that bringing the CWB under the Access to Information Act would destroy the Board. In fact, they’ve said it so often that many farmers are now convinced it must be true. The Aussie experience tells us it’s not. Bringing the CWB under the federal Access to Information Act would enhance the Board, not harm it. Those who insist otherwise might be sincere, but they’re sincerely wrong.

web posted April 17, 2000

Species at Risk Act headed in the wrong direction

The federal government’s Species at Risk Act, which was introduced April 11 in the House of Commons, is headed in the wrong direction, according to the Centre for Prairie Agriculture.

"Farmers and ranchers support the protection of endangered species, providing it is done in an effective, responsible fashion," said Craig Docksteader, Coordinator with the Centre. "Regrettably, this law does neither."

"The track record in other jurisdictions has proven that voluntary, cooperative measures work, while heavy-handed, punitive measures do not. You can’t marry these two approaches and come out with an effective law," Docksteader said. "You have to enlist the voluntary support of landowners through education and incentives, not by talking sweetly with a stick behind your back."

Docksteader says that while the Minister’s new endangered species law is significantly better than the one introduced by the Liberal government in 1996, the inclusion of mandatory regulation of habitat will significantly erode the value of other provisions contained in the law.

"By threatening to impose restrictions on the normal use of private property, incentives and compensation lose their effectiveness. Even the remote threat of legal action will prompt some landowners to ensure that no endangered species ever sets foot on their land. Effective endangered species legislation should be voluntary, incentive-based, and non-regulatory."

Chicken little environmentalism

By Craig Docksteader

Since federal Environment Minister David Anderson introduced his new endangered species law on April 11, the whining hasn’t stopped from environmentalist offices across the country. Spurred on by a sympathetic mainline media, newspapers from Victoria to Toronto trumpeted the moans and wails that the new Species at Risk Act isn’t good enough and endangered species will go extinct because of it. You’d almost think that Chicken Little had come back as an environmentalist.

If there was any credibility to their claims, we might do well to sit up and pay attention. But the fact is, what many environmentalists say about Anderson’s Species at Risk Act is wrong. Although it’s true that the law is a poor one, their wish list would only make it worse.

In a nutshell, the major environmental organizations say the proposed law does not go far enough. They claim that it gives the federal cabinet too much control over whether an endangered species will receive legal protection and whether activities in its habitat will be regulated.

In their view, both of these protections should be automatic and mandatory. If a species is deemed to be endangered, it should be immediately protected by law with no consideration for economic, social or political factors. Whether it is a mammal, a snail, a bug or a micro-organism would make no difference. Furthermore, if the critter wanders onto your land occasionally -- or just might, perhaps, one day wander onto it -- the use of your land should also be immediately subject to government monitoring and regulation.

Because Canadians care about endangered species, this position can be popular. There’s a kinda warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with it because it leaves the illusion of protecting those who cannot protect themselves. In reality, it is more likely to do the opposite. That’s why in spite of those warm, fuzzy, feeings, the minister would be better off to listen carefully to what the hard-line environmentalists are saying and then do the opposite.

The track record in other jurisdictions has proven that when it comes to protecting endangered species on private land, voluntary, cooperative measures work, while heavy-handed, punitive measures do not. The U.S. experience has repeatedly demonstrated that even the remote threat of legal action will prompt some landowners to ensure that no endangered species ever sets foot on their land. It’s not necessarily a case of "shoot, shovel, and shut-up", sometimes its just a matter of plowing the habitat under before the government comes along and tells you that you can’t.

Even the promise of compensation is hollow when you have no choice in the matter and any payments are unlikely to cover actual losses. Minister Anderson has said repeatedly that he doesn’t want the lure of potential compensation to discourage landowners from taking voluntary preventative measures to protect species. Consequently, he’s talking about limiting compensation so it isn’t too attractive. Somebody should tell him that these kind of skewed incentives wouldn’t exist under a voluntary system, no matter how attractive the compensation was.

While the environmentalists’ zeal may be commendable, their strategy is not. They fail to realize that you cannot marry the two contrary approaches of coercion and cooperation and come out with an effective law. Effective endangered species legislation would enlist the voluntary support of landowners through education and incentives, not by talking sweetly while carrying a big stick.

I’m happy to report that the sky is not falling. However if concerned environmentalists continue to push in the direction they are going, they may succeed in dislodging a piece or two.

web posted April 10, 2000

Remembering Grandma

By Craig Docksteader

On Sunday April 2nd of this year, my Grandma Docksteader passed away quietly in her sleep at 94 years of age.

Other than the fact that we will miss her, there was nothing sad about the occasion. She had lived a full and long life, was of sound mind and good health. She did not fear death, but was confident that she was prepared to meet her creator. Her affairs were in order, her garden plot tidy, and her possessions largely distributed before she drew her final breath. It was time to go, and she was ready.

Having been asked to give the eulogy at the funeral, I spent some time talking to family members about their memories of Grandma and reflecting on the life that she had led. We talked about how -- like many others -- Grandma came to Canada in the early 1900’s. With no money to purchase the usual fare, her parents worked their way over on a cattle boat, taking six months to get here.

When they arrived in Calgary in 1910, Grandma was only five years old. As the family moved all their earthly possessions from Calgary to Esther, where they would homestead, Grandma was given the job of driving a team of horses. Life on the prairies in the early years was no respecter of age or gender -- everybody was needed in the bid to start a new life and you did what needed to be done without complaining.

Years later, Grandma met Grandpa, and they married in 1933. During those early years and many to follow, Grandpa worked on thrashing crews while Grandma went to work cooking for the crew. Meanwhile, back at home, she had cows to milk, chores to do, and sometimes two gardens to tend, while raising one and later, two children.

Typical of her generation, though, Grandma was innovative. If there was a job to be done, nothing stood in the way. Even off in the bush, with no daycare down the street and yet much work to do, Grandma found a way to keep track of her oldest child who was then less than four years of age. She would tie a bell on him and send him off to play. The tinkling of the bell made him easy to find and served as a warning device when there was trouble brewing. When the bell stopped, it was time to go find the child.

At least one winter was spent living in a tent, with snow piled against the sides to help stay warm inside. Even after the house was built, Grandma used to recall the thick layers of frost that would form on the inside walls during the cold of winter. There were no luxuries, and sometimes the basic necessities were scarce. Life was difficult, demanding, and unforgiving. There were no guarantees, no safety nets, and none of it came easy.

In many ways, Grandma’s life was typical of a whole generation. They came to this land, faced its challenges head on, and carved out a life on the barren prairies -- not only for their generation, but for all those who would follow. They knew what it was to start with nothing and work hard for every nickel. They expected no handouts, yet were always quick to give and help others, even when they barely had enough for themselves. They knew what it was to raise a family with none of the comforts we take for granted today, tirelessly giving of themselves to make a better life for their children and grandchildren.

Because of them we are where we are today. And to them all we owe a debt of gratitude.

web posted April 3, 2000

CWB should leave marketing of organic grains alone

By Craig Docksteader

When the Sniders named their New Norway, AB family farm "Little Red Hen Mills" after the popular children's fable, they probably didn't know how prophetic the name would be.

The story is well-known. An industrious hen discovers some grains of wheat as she is scratching about and recognizes an opportunity. Unable to enlist her neighbours' help, she sets off on her own to work the ground and plant the wheat. When harvest time comes, nobody's interested in pitching in so she brings the crop in herself and mills it. Not until the bread is baked and ready to be eaten does anyone show an interest in her venture. Then, with the risk and hard work finished, everybody wants to share the fruit of her labours.

After 14 years in the organic grain business, Steven Snider and his father Robert are seeing the fable played out in front of their eyes. As Steven puts it, "[organic] wheat has become a particularly valuable commodity, and the Canadian Wheat Board is tripping over itself to 'eat the bread'."

Currently, organic growers of wheat or barley can market their product by either going through the CWB's Producer Direct Sales procedure or delivering directly to a grain company that has a licenced facility certified for organic deliveries. Now the CWB is threatening to compete directly with organic producers by marketing these grains itself and implementing separate pools for organic grains.

If the CWB wants to help organic grain growers, it could easily do so by simply granting no-cost export licences for organic wheat and barley. This is how prairie-grown Pedigreed seed grain is handled, and how wheat and barley is marketed when it is produced outside the CWB designated area. Under the CWB legislation, the directors could authorize that the same process be applied to certified organic grain. The existing certification, inspection and audit process for organic products would prevent non-organic grain from moving across the border under the pretense of being organic.

In a recent response to the CWB's proposals for organic marketing, the Organic Special Products Group (comprised of over 100 grassroots organic farmers from all prairie provinces) listed 18 reasons why organic grain should be eligible for no-cost export licences and excluded from CWB marketing. Among them were the following:

  • Organic markets are different than CWB markets;
  • Organic growers do not utilize or affect the CWB handling and transportation system;
  • Organic sales are traditionally F.O.B. the farm, where the buyer assumes all the risk and costs of transportation and handling;
  • The government's own 1996 Angus-Reid poll showed that 70 per cent of prairie farmers felt organic grain should be kept outside the CWB system;
  • Even the existing level of CWB involvement in organic marketing has proven to be detrimental to the industry.

What organic grain growers have developed is a niche market. Exports of organic wheat and durum for 1998-99 amounted to .09 per cent of total CWB sales. Whereas CWB sales are made up of large volumes, organic sales are mainly made in small lots and must be identity-preserved right up until the customer receives delivery.

Ironically, it was Bob Roehle, head of corporate communications at the CWB, who said it best when quoted in the March 22nd edition of the Financial Post saying, "I don't know what niche marketing is when you're loading a 100,000-ton tanker." Most organic grain growers would agree -- the CWB doesn't know what niche marketing is and isn't capable of pulling it off.

Turning the CWB loose to take over the marketing of organic grains would be like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Why not just give organic growers the no-cost export licences they need and get out of their way.

web posted March 27, 2000

What's wrong with this picture?

By Kevin Avram

Charles is one of my farmer friends. He and his wife, Shirley, live in a great big house that's perched high on a hill, about 20 miles from town. Their living room has 14-foot ceilings and the east wall of that living room is covered with paintings. They're watercolor and oil paintings mostly. Some of them are beautiful, others less so. The most dominant picture is an oil painting of three horses pulling a plow.

When I was there recently Charles pointed it out to me and said, "What's wrong with this picture?"

Although I looked at it a long time, I couldn't pick anything out. But not wanting to give up I said, "Don't tell me! Don't tell me!" I grew pretty frustrated, but in the end I had to admit that I couldn't see anything about it that was inaccurate or misplaced.

"There's no farmer steering the horses or walking behind the plow," Charles said, seemingly satisfied.

"Argh," I groaned. It was an important lesson. I'd been trying to figure out what was wrong with what I could see when I should have been thinking about what I couldn't see.

About a week later I was visiting with my friend Craig. The subject of the cash crunch in farming came up and the ongoing call there's been for government support. We rattled off quite a list of what's taken place this past while. It included: The BC farmer that drove his old combine to Ottawa; hunger strikes and threats of hunger strikes; sit-ins at the Saskatchewan Legislature; radio talk shows receiving a steady stream of calls about the issue; politicians haranguing each other about it, blaming the other guy for not doing enough. Even newspaper columnists were openly staking out a position of support for government money.

As we talked about it I couldn't help but see parallels between that horse picture at Charles' place and the way many people were reacting to the farm income crunch. Charles' picture was missing what is at the heart of the plowing operation -- the guy who steered and made all the decisions about where to go and what to do. Likewise, the recent debate on the farm income crisis overlooks what's at the heart of prairie agriculture -- the behavior and performance of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB).

For thousands of farmers, almost every nickel they get comes from the CWB. And, each year the CWB lays out tens of thousands of dollars on their behalf in freight bills, demurrage bills, ship loading costs, laker tariffs, pension benefits, severance packages, and literally hundreds of other costs associated with the industry. They also use the farmer's money to pay for every inefficiency that exists in the entire system, no matter how small. Not one farmer in Canada is allowed to see or know the details of these expenditures, yet when it came to a cash crunch, rather than storming the CWB headquarters in Winnipeg wanting to know the details of how $45 billion has been spent over the past ten years, the decision is to immediately lean on Ottawa for money.

Some will undoubtedly argue that Ottawa has a responsibility for the prairie grain industry. Maybe they're right, but that isn't the point. The point is that something's wrong with this picture. Like that invisible man in Charles' horse painting, the most significant aspect of the picture -- that which steers and controls it -- is missing. And until you find out the details of what's going on there, you're never going to know if the right steps are being taken to ensure a healthy, prosperous, and accountable industry.

Kevin Avram is a former director of the Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture, and continues to sit as a member of the Prairie Centre's Advisory Board.

web posted March 20, 2000

Grain marketing around the world

By Craig Docksteader

Over the past couple of weeks, I have spent considerable time reviewing information on the rain marketing and import systems in various countries around the world. Some of the reports are from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service, and some are from World Grain Publication, a magazine which takes an international look at grain, flour and feed. Still other sources include the Canadian Wheat Board, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the McKinsey Report which examined western Canada’s grain handling and transportation system, and a report done for the Western Grain Marketing Panel on "Changing Marketing Systems".

Although the reports cover a wide range of information and touch on many issues, one dominant theme surfaces repeatedly: Over the last ten years the agricultural industry around the world has been undergoing significant -- and at times radical -- changes to make it more productive, efficient, and competitive. Whether because of discontent with mediocre productivity or because they were forced to make changes as a result of political realignments or economic realities, country after country has been taking steps to improve their position in the agricultural marketplace.

Almost without exception, the steps to improve the agricultural industry have involved moving toward a deregulated, market-oriented agricultural system. In some cases, outright privatization of grain import or export systems has been embraced. Following are some examples of this trend that is taking place around the globe:

Argentina: Deregulation and privatization of the grain industry began in 1989. In the early 90’s the Argentine National Grain Board’s monopoly on grain exports was terminated, and exporting turned over completely into private hands.

Australia: Australia has privatized their Wheat Board and implemented a dual domestic market, where the Wheat Board competes for farmers’ business with the private grain trade. The Australian Barley Board has also been privatized and has no export monopoly.

Brazil, Columbia and Mexico: All three countries privatized their grain import systems in the early 90’s.

Egypt: Egypt privatized its grain import functions in 1992.

Indonesia: In Indonesia, wheat imports are no longer controlled by the state agency BULOG, but have been turned over to the private sector.

Japan: Grain policies in Japan have been gradually moving toward more market orientation for some time, and recently announced that it will be allowing millers to import some wheat directly from exporters, rather than going through the government-controlled Japanese Food Agency.

Morocco: During the past decade, the Moroccan government privatized nearly half of its 114 state companies and, in 1996, adopted laws allowing the private sector to import wheat, barley and other grains directly.

South Korea: In South Korea, the government has been moving gradually towards greater market liberalization. Grain import functions have been privatized.

The list could go on: Jamaica, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Israel, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Spain, Bangladesh, Portugal, Ghana, Turkey, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Bulgaria, Philippines, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Ukraine, Venezuela, and even Russia are downsizing their government involvement in agriculture and moving towards a more market-oriented system. The trend is clear and the results compelling: The agricultural industry becomes more efficient, more productive, and more competitive the further it is removed from government monopolies and over-regulation.

web posted March 13, 2000

Grain marketing in Nova Scotia

By Craig Docksteader

Ninety-five percent of all wheat produced in Canada is grown in the western provinces and marketed under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Wheat Board. Another four percent is grown in Ontario and marketed under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Wheat Producers Marketing Board. The final one percent is split up between the remaining provinces and falls under a variety of marketing schemes.

The smallest of these wheat producing provinces is Nova Scotia. From 1988 to 1997, total wheat production in Nova Scotia, consisting of both winter and spring wheat, averaged only 7.2 thousand tonnes per year. In comparison, during the same period, Manitoba's wheat production averaged 4,152 thousand tonnes per year, Alberta 6,789 thousand tonnes, and Saskatchewan 14,145 thousand tonnes. No matter which way you slice it, Nova Scotia is an extremely small player in the marketplace.

With only a fraction of market share, some prairie producers would view Nova Scotia producers as extremely vulnerable in the marketplace. Popular mythology would say that without the strength of numbers, they have no market power and risk being trampled by large corporate interests. They should band together, establish a position of solidarity, and perhaps even unite with other Canadian grain growers to present a single, powerful marketing force.

Actually, such an arrangement wouldn't be all that difficult to pull off. It's simply a matter of extending the Canadian Wheat Board's "designated area" to include Nova Scotia. Section 40 of the CWB Act already makes provision for such a move, by allowing the government to apply the Act to wheat produced outside the existing designated area. The change could be made by regulation, and doesn't even require debate or voting in the House of Commons. Producers in Nova Scotia would then have single-desk selling, compulsory pooling, and government guarantees on initial payments.

There's only one problem, though. Nova Scotia wheat producers don't see it this way. In fact, Nova Scotia has been moving the opposite direction, away from centralization and greater government control, toward privatization and more producer control.

In 1997, Nova Scotia's provincial government privatized the operations of the Nova Scotia Grain Marketing Board. Now called East Coast Commodities Inc., the corporation operates as a voluntary grain marketing agency offering services such as cleaning, weighing, drying, storage, forward pricing, spot pricing, risk management, marketing, and -- for those who prefer it -- price pooling.

For almost three years, ECCI has had to earn the business of Nova Scotia wheat producers by competing head to head with other grain buyers. Producers are free to pick the marketing agent of their choice or sell their grain themselves on the open market. Those who prefer the cooperative pooling approach to marketing have access to this option, while those who prefer to go it on their own can do so as well. It's an arrangement that is commonly referred to as “dual marketing”.

For some prairie farmers, this approach flies in the face of everything they've been told about grain marketing: It should weaken, not strengthen producers' market position; it should result in lower prices, less options and poorer service, as farmers supposedly compete against each other to sell their product.

In actual fact, if dual marketing doesn't work, it should have failed first in Nova Scotia. Not only is it the smallest wheat producing province in Canada, but local grain buyers can easily source grain from New Brunswick, Maine, Ontario, Quebec, the U.S. and even Western Canada. Nova Scotia farmers should be banging on the doors of the CWB asking to be let in.

But they're not. They're going the other direction. Maybe that tells us something about dual marketing.

web posted March 6, 2000

Fixed price contracts

By Craig Docksteader

The Canadian Wheat Board recently announced that it will be introducing payment options for prairie farmers for the 2000-01 crop year. The new program, called the Fixed Price Contract, lets farmers fix a price or a basis for their wheat before the crop year begins. This means that instead of waiting 18 months to see what the CWB pool returns will be, farmers can lock in a price when the crop is still in the ground. Or, if they prefer, they can lock in the basis and later commit to a futures price prior to delivery.

At first blush, it sounds like a good idea. The CWB appears to be modernizing and responding to the needs of prairie farmers. More payment options means more flexibility. According to the CWB, this will allow producers to better manage risk and cash flow on their farm.

Furthermore, for those who are quite content with the current pooling system and payment method, there is no need to fear. The new plan does not replace the existing process, and "will not have any impact on CWB pool accounts". According to the Board's press release, the three pillars of the CWB -- including price pooling -- remain intact.

For producers who want substantive change, however, the plan falls short. While it may have significant optical value, it will have little practical value. The price that farmers receive for their product under this plan will have nothing to do with what the market is doing at the moment, and everything to do with what the CWB thinks their final pooled price will be. While a similar plan under the Ontario Wheat Board sets the cash price according to the Chicago Board of Trade price, the CWB is going to arbitrarily "fix" theirs to the mid-range of their Pool Return Outlook.

This means the program will not likely allow a farmer to realize any better return than what could be achieved under the existing pooling system. It virtually guarantees a lower price in exchange for the benefit of knowing what the price will be and getting paid sooner. This might be what the CWB calls risk management, but it's not what producers had in mind.

In fact, at no time over the last few years has there been any significant demand for more payment options from the CWB. Most of the wide-spread dissatisfaction with existing CWB policy has been focused on the need for marketing options, not payment options. If producers have choice in who markets their product, they'll have more payment options than 100 bureaucrats can dream up at an all-night board meeting. If the CWB was made voluntary, prairie farmers would immediately have access to the best risk management tools in the world, without having to implement cumbersome and costly programs at farmers' expense.

It would appear that the CWB is trying to implement a system which emulates both a cash market and a futures market. The problem is that because the monopoly blocks any local market signals for wheat, you can't have a cash market because you have no signals to give you a cash price. And if you have no cash price, you can't have a true basis. Whereas basis normally provides invaluable market information, the CWB's basis amounts to nothing more than the total of your deductions from the sale price of your wheat. It's kinda like calling a steer a bull. You can call it what you like, but it's not going to be able to do the job it's supposed to.

web posted February 28, 2000

Let’s get out of here

By Craig Docksteader

I never expected to hear it from the National Farmers Union. In a recent presentation to the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, the NFU made the case that agricultural subsidies in Europe (EU) have not caused the farm income crisis by encouraging over-production.

In their brief, the NFU demonstrated how, according to crop production statistics, there is no observable relationship between subsidy levels and production rate increases. While wheat production over the last twenty years rose significantly in heavily subsidized EU countries, it rose at comparable rates in relatively unsubsidized countries such as Australia and Argentina, and to a lesser degree, Canada. Production in the U.S. over the same period actually fell, in spite of it being the second most-heavily subsidized country.

The NFU’s position represents a significant departure from the approved Canadian Wheat Board line that foreign subsidies are one of the key factors pushing up worldwide grain stocks and pushing down prices. CWB CEO Greg Arason has been preaching this message at every opportunity, complete with an impressive audio-visual presentation of stats and graphs. These slides have popped up at other farm meetings across the prairies, as CWB directors attempt to explain the prairie cash crunch and deflect criticism from federal policy on grain exports. Now, after checking the numbers for themselves, the NFU appear to have discovered that EU subsidies may be no more than a convenient scapegoat for more significant problems right on our own doorstep.

For farmers who want constructive changes to prairie agriculture rather than the usual bandaid proposals, the unbalanced focus on international grain subsidies has at times been irritating. Instead of cleaning up their own backyard, politicians and bureaucrats have been happy to focus attention on policies in the EU and the US, content to merely tinker with the problems created by their own public policy.

So while an inefficient grain transportation and handling system continues to suck money out of farmers’ pockets, federal and provincial politicians appear content with shuffling the same players like some kind of shell game instead of making substantive change. While industries everywhere are investing in "vertical integration", where the players claim more of the value-added chain, the CWB is blocking prairie farmers from doing the same and spending millions to encourage the export of more raw product which is sold below the cost of production. While farmers are looking for options and choices in marketing and risk management, a significant portion of the prairie grain industry is shackled by archaic federal laws which insist government can do it better.

Regrettably, however, the NFU’s insight into the current farm situation breaks down before it gets this far. Having rightfully dismissed foreign subsidies as the primary cause of the farm income crisis, they turn their guns toward their usual foe, the free market. "The market is failing farmers..."; "...farmers are making too little because others are taking too much..."; "There is no shortage of money in the agri-food system there is merely a maldistribution of money." Every player in the whole industry gets blamed for causing the income crisis by price-gouging and leaving the farmer without enough to survive on.

Perhaps without realizing it, the NFU put their finger on the primary problem in prairie agriculture -- a lack of choice for producers and subsequent lack of competition between those who want farmers’ business. Regrettably, however, their proposed solutions are the very root of the problem. They advocate more regulation, less privatization, more government control and less freedom. In a nutshell it amounts to more of everything that got us to where we are, which results in less of everything that would get us out of here.

Somehow I don’t think we should go down that road again.

Craig Docksteader is Coordinator with the Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture, Inc. "Where Do We Go From Here" is a feature service of the Prairie Centre.

Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture, Inc.
#205, 1055 Park Street
Regina, SK
S4N 5H4

Phone: 306-352-3828
Fax: 306-352-5833
Web site: http://www.prairiecentre.org
Email: prairie.centre@sk.sympatico.ca


The CFEN needs your help! The battle against the Canada Wheat Board can only continue with your support.

Canadian Farm Enterprise Network
Box 521
Central Butte, Saskatchewan
S0H 0T0
CANADA

Write the following and demand free market rights for Western Canadian farmers!

The Canadian Wheat Board
423 Main Street
P.O. Box 816, Stn. M.
Winnipeg, MB
Canada
R3C 2P5

Telephone: (204) 983-0239 / 1-800-ASK-4-CWB
Fax: (204) 983-3841

Email Address: cwb@cwb.ca

Ralph Goodale
Minister Responsible for the Canada Wheat Board
Department of Natural Resources Canada
21 - 580 Booth Street
Ottawa, ON
Canada
K1A 0E4

Telephone: (613)996-2007
Fax Number: (613)996-4516
Email Address: rgoodale@NRCan.gc.ca

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