(September 5, 2016) How would you feel if you bought a thousand grams of rice to feed your family and found 25 grams of the bag made up of weed seeds, stems and chaff? What if you complained to the retailer and the leader of China flew in to say your demand for a clean product to feed your family could wait for further discussion? What if the retailer told you that you were scientifically ignorant and that was that?
Most reasonable people would be astounded and offended. Yet this is exactly what has happened on the issue of canola sales during the Prime Minister’s visit to China.
It has long been an open secret that when a grain ship is loaded with canola the companies doing so will normally add weed seeds, stems, and pods to make the 2.5% “dockage” limit specified by the Canadian Grain Commission.
This is a rip-off of both prairie grain farmers and the customers buying Canadian sourced canola from the oligarchy running the international grain trade. Here is why:
Before Harper and Ritz fired the Canadian Grain Commission’s impartial government inspectors their inspections found the vast majority of all the grain rail cars, including canola, came in with less than 2% weed seeds and other foreign material aka “dockage.” In a survey carried out for a manual on how to ship a producer car, it was found that one in ten rail cars graded at zero percent dockage.
Reflecting the fact the now dead farmer-controlled Canadian Wheat Board serviced the high-end niche market for human consumption wheat, durum, and barley, the export standard for CWRS wheat is still 0.4% (four tenths of one percent) for foreign material that can be removed, and 0.3% in malt barley.
At almost seven times more, the canola standard of 2.5% foreign material is a huge difference. How the Grain Commission came to allow this incredibly sloppy export standard in canola is one for the historians but the fact is that now it is a problem because Chinese customers don’t want that level.
It is also a problem for prairie farmers on two levels. Many farmers harvesting canola report that if everything goes well, they regularly have their canola come straight from the combine at a mere one percent dockage. Yet farmers have their grain cheques lowered for cleaning their crop to an export standard two and a half times worse! We also know from impartial Canadian Grain Commission “inward inspections” – unfortunately discontinued by the Harper administration – most rail cars come in at 2% dockage or less.
This shows farmers are not really being charged for cleaning, unless you consider adding weed seeds, chaff, stems, and pods to canola as “cleaning.” This is an issue the Canola Council of Canada and the Provincial Canola Growers Associations have been conspicuously silent on in spite of taking millions of dollars from canola farmers each year to advocate for them.
But it gets worse: those foreign materials in Canadian canola carry microscopic plant pathogens and fungal spoors that create costly problems for prairie canola farmers – problems which the Chinese do not have and do not want to import. Yet when the Chinese announced they would be asking for Canadian canola shipments to meet a standard of one percent dockage, they heard insulting nonsense from industry captured groups like the Canola Council of Canada saying Chinese concerns were not “science based.” Setting aside the very reasonable concerns the Chinese have about plant disease, I wonder what part of the “customer is always right” the Canola Council does not understand?
Of course the private trade likes things as they are. They charge prairie farmers for doing cleaning that really amounts to adding junk to grain shipments and they charge foreign buyers for the same junk added to their purchases.
On a typical 60,000 metric tonne grain ship, that dockage would amount to almost 1,500 tonnes of junk. That is equal to the weight of 384 basic four-wheel drive trucks.
By in large prairie farmers already deliver a canola crop meeting the higher Chinese standard. So it is the foreign grain oligarchy that owns and controls prairie grain from the farm gate to the end-use customer dragging their heels on this standard. The Chinese have allowed Prime Minister Trudeau to save face by delaying imposing this long overdue higher cleanliness standard.
This is not the first time the Prime Minster, and his Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland have received very bad advice from the leftovers of the Harper administration still infesting Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada not to mention industry captured agricultural check-off Commissions.
In the end, the grain oligarchs have very little to lose since they can source canola from anywhere and re-sell it to China. Prairie farmers can only hope that China continues to buy 40% of their export* canola crop and does not change its purchase tenders from “Canadian source” to “source optional” in the future. After being bullied and insulted, who could blame them if they did?
* Note: the word “export” was omitted from an earlier version of this post.