(January 25, 2014) January 25 celebrates the birth of the great Scottish poet Robert Burns and all things Scottish.  Since people of Scottish origin played such a large role in Canada’s history it is no surprise they played an important role in the development of grain and grain marketing in Canada.

Wheat growing in North America was made possible by the work of Sir Charles Saunders, Canada’s Dominion Cerealist, who followed up on the work of David Fife to develop Marquis Wheat.

My favorite story of the Scots and the Canadian Wheat Board comes from just after its formation in 1935.  Canada had huge stores of wheat which it could not sell after the collapse of the economic system in 1929.

After his appointment as the CWB’s first Chief Commissioner, James R. Murray started an aggressive campaign to promote Canadian wheat in Europe.  In 1936 he sent Assistant Commissioner George H. McIvor to London, England to meet with the Scottish Canadian newspaper baron “Max” Aitken, better known as Lord Beaverbrook, to seek his help in promoting the sale of Canadian wheat.

McIvor had strict instructions, relayed from Prime Minister King, under no circumstances were they to run down any other country’s wheat.

The Morris history of the CWB explains the meeting.  After McIvor had presented the press baron with a paper outlining the virtues of Canadian wheat – a paper incidentally that has vanished along with thousands of other documents since the Harper appointees now running the  Wheat Board have dismantled the CWB library:

Winnipeg Book Burning by Ottawa

Winnipeg library tossed in dumpster by Ottawa

Beaverbrook read over [the material prepared by the CWB] and remarked that it appeared to be all right.  McIvor then carefully explained that if used in the paper the material should be used as written or not at all.  “You can leave everything to me,” said Beaverbrook.

The next morning when McIvor and his assistant were having breakfast they were greeted with the following blaring headline in Beaverbrook’s Daily Express:  “Warning to housewives, Within A Few Weeks Millions of Bushels of Argentine Wheat Will Be Pouring Into This Country:  Watch Out for Holes In The Bread.”

This opened the door to Canadian wheat in Europe.  It continued the successful work of the Canadian Wheat Board to establish our reputation and market niche for reliably supplying the highest consistent quality of milling wheat and durum around the world.

With the chaos at Canadian ports this year and the moves by Ottawa to take Canadian wheat breeding away from farmers and give the genetics to the private sector, Canada has now lost its reputation as a reliable supplier of milling wheat and, if things run true to form, Canada will soon lose its distinction for growing the highest quality milling wheats in the world too.

One of the traditions in celebrating Robbie Burns days is reciting his poem The Louse about parasites – a problem with which western farmers are now becoming familiar.

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