(July 20/15) This year’s spring seeding was largely uneventful thanks to very favorable weather which now appears to be sliding into a less favourable drought in parts of the prairies.  However the headlines have not stopped nor has the damage from our ham-handed but ideologically pure friends in Ottawa.

A pedigreed seed grower tells me that last year’s decision by Agriculture Minister Ritz to kill the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s inspections of pedigree seeded land and give the job to private companies has added an additional 25% to inspection costs on his operation.  We both wondered how soon those private inspectors will become agents of one of the giant agro-chemical-seed companies now that impartial government inspectors are gone.

Speaking of giant agro-chemical-seed companies, Syngenta and Monsanto were reported in merger/takeover talks offering further evidence that competition and the pursuit of shareholder profits may not always lead to more competition and choice.

Of course the great comedy of the spring has been the ongoing COOL (Country Of Origin Labelling) saga between Ottawa and the US over the idea US citizens have a right to know where their meat comes from.  Minister Ritz has promised hell-fire and brimstone will rain down on Yankee wine and other exports to Canada if COOL is not repealed.

CWB Polar Bear

Single-desk CWB Promotional Poster

Now an objective observer might wonder why Canadian cattle growers and Minister Ritz are so opposed to COOL.  Don’t we have the cleanest cattle herd on the planet and isn’t it arguably raised in the cleanest environment on the planet?

Why wouldn’t they want to capitalize on that? After all, the Canadian Wheat Board had a long tradition of successfully using Canada’s wholesome reputation to sell grain.  The single-desk CWB allowed western Canadian wheat and barley farmers to retain the beneficial ownership of their grain from their farms right to the end use customer.  This meant the extra costs of providing quality-assurance to those premium customers were more than off-set by increased sales and premium prices which were returned directly to western Canada’s grain farmers by their single-desk wheat board.

Cattle, however, are different.  Almost all Canadian cattle are processed by just two packing plants in Alberta that have somewhere north of 90% of Canada’s beef packing capacity.  Like grain farmers without the single-desk CWB, cattle farmers surrender ownership of their crop   to the big processors when they leave the farm.  For these processors the benefits of promoting Canadian beef as a premium product apparently do not outweigh the segregation costs that would come with COOL.  So Canadian beef producers are unlikely to see their beef treated as the premium product it most certainly is.  Nor are they likely to see price premiums like Canadian grain farmers got when their single-desk CWB capitalized on our high quality-assured wheat and barley.

It will be interesting to watch the tug of war between big business and consumer interests in the US over COOL in the coming months.  Given the US Congress has just backed industry by blocking labeling of food containing genetically modified ingredients, the outcome on COOL seems obvious.  Whatever happens, look for Minister Ritz to claim he is defending western farmers while handing over control of our food to big business.

While we are on the subject of cattle, Minister Ritz spent much of the winter reassuring dairy farmers that supply management will be defended in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks now nearly completed – at least until this Friday when he started to alter his position with the usual weasel words all too familiar to those who follow politics.  The TPP is another treaty designed to make the world safe for giant corporations to access cheap raw materials from Canada – this time for the Pacific Rim countries.  Dairy farmers may need reminding that it was the same Minister Ritz who broke his promise to grain farmers that they would have a vote on killing the single-desk CWB.

Indebted dairy farmers, perhaps anticipating a fat federal government cheque to compensate them for the value of their dairy quota going to zero, may wish to remember that it is Minister Ritz’s government that has fought the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board tooth and nail to prevent farmers from receiving compensation for the value destroyed with the end of the single-desk CWB.

On the topic of governments, who can forget that two giant foreign government owned entities — G3 group, partly owned by the Saudi Arabian government and COFCO owed by the Chinese government — have both announced plans to consolidate their places in the international grain market with nary a peep out of Ottawa about the implications for Canadian farmers and Canada’s food security.  Apparently it is okay for foreign governments to take control of our grains production through government owned single-desk buying agencies, but western farmers are not even given a vote on keeping their own single-desk marketing/selling agency.

Adding insult to injury Ottawa has seen fit to give the remaining assets of the Canadian Wheat Board to the G3 group for a promise of future investment.  Of course, as the National Farmers Union observed, this investment will do nothing to enhance farm gate prices.

Last but not least, the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board have been allowed by the Federal Court to examine how Minister Ritz’s Wheat Board handled farmers’ money after his appointees took charge half way through the crop year.

It has definitely been an eventful spring with implications for farmers in the west well beyond dusty fields.

One comment

  1. Ritz just keeps bonking farmers on the head to enhance big business!!