by Bill Toews
Manitoba Co-operator, November 20, 2014

Charles Saunders developed “Marquis wheat” in 1904. It appeared to be ideal for Canada’s climate and was tested at the Brandon and Indian Head public research stations. It was subsequently released to farmers in 1909. Within a decade, 20 million acres of Marquis wheat were planted from Kansas to northern Saskatchewan. Today, Marquis wheat is considered to be Canadian agriculture’s greatest triumph.

Farmers are still benefiting from Marquis because the lineage of many current high-quality varieties can be traced back to Marquis genetics.

Approximately 100 years later in 2010, the farmer-elected directors of the Canadian Wheat Board made a decision to move further up the Marquis value chain by investing $65 million in two Great Lakes ships or ‘lakers’ as they are commonly known. This would complement the farmer’s ownership of the Canadian Wheat Board’s hopper car fleet and provide an estimated return on investment of 15 per cent. The lakers would have been paid for by charging $1/tonne to the pools for three to four years and then pay back over their 30-year lifespan.

This business venture was derailed by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz when he unilaterally began transforming the farmer-owned Canadian Wheat Board into a private grain company. He confiscated the farmer’s hopper cars and the farmer’s laker program. The federal government’s decision to christen the first of two lakers “MARQUIS” is an affront to
farmers and to the Marquis name. For a century that name symbolized a ‘triumph for farmers,’ but sadly, Marquis will now also be remembered as something ‘taken from farmers.’

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