Alberta cleaning house

by on Apr 28, 2016 in Blog | 3 comments

ALMA first to go

(April 28, 2016) The recently tabled Alberta budget contained some pleasant surprises for farmers and some cost savings for a government dealing with falling oil prices that have exposed almost 40 years of financial incompetence by its predecessors.

In keeping with Premier Notley’s undertaking that appointed boards and commissions will be reviewed, the first steps were implemented with the budget.

Several destructive and ideological based commissions were discontinued, their appointed Boards dismissed, and staff redeployed to what one hopes are more positive pursuits.

The most notable elimination is the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA).  This agency boasted a budget of $28 million a year and a staff of 25.

ALMA was one of the of the three institutions, along with Alberta Agriculture and the Government’s Ag Financial Services  that put together Alberta’s grandiosely titled “Alberta Livestock and Meat Strategy.”  This document was a cowboy welfare wet dream – however, for export oriented grain farmers and Alberta’s cow/calf producers it was more of a nightmare.

In one of its later reports ALMA and company identified eliminating the Canadian Wheat Board as a method to reduce costs to cattle feeders.  The same report also identified eliminating Kernel Visual Distinguishability (KVD), which was a very effective and cheap way to identify grain varieties as another way to lower animal feeding costs.  As we now understand, the Harper government’s adoption of both these measures came at the expense of prairie grain producers.

Absurdly the organization also funneled money into something they called “Lean Manufacturing” to research automation technology for the meat packers.  Given there are only two firms (Cargill and JBS) that process some 90% of Canada’s beef, this thoughtful gift from Alberta taxpayers and ranchers to two of the world’s largest companies must have come as a pleasant surprise to them.

The Alberta strategy also included other measures to “focus on the development of high yielding varieties” and the establishment of an “Alberta Feed Grains Center of Excellence.”  High yielding varieties are already being more than adequately addressed by the Western Grains Research Foundation and a quick Google search for the Center of Excellence shows it was apparently more vapor-ware than real.

However, the money wasted by this organization was very real and the damage it has done to Canada’ reputation for high quality export grain and beef cannot be denied.  The announcement by Earls Restaurants that they had given up their three and a half year effort to source enough certified antibiotic and growth hormone free beef from Alberta for their restaurants demonstrates the wisdom of eliminating ALMA and reviewing the collection of agricultural boards and commissions that collect tens of millions of dollars from Alberta’s farmers and ranchers each year.

International Women’s Day 2016

by on Mar 8, 2016 in Blog | Comments Off on International Women’s Day 2016

Violet McNaughton

Violet McNaughton

On March 8th we celebrate International Women’s Day. It reminds this writer of how important women have been to agriculture on the prairies and the pivotal leadership role they played in establishing modern Canada.

Creating grain farms on the prairies was hard work and for the most successful settlers it was a team effort that relied on women and men working equally hard though not always at the same jobs.   Take for example the massive threshing crews whose work to bring in the grain at the harvest is so often highlighted at summer fairs across the prairies at places like the Birch Hills Threshing & Family Fun Day in Saskatchewan or Pioneer Days in Steinbach, Manitoba.

While it was mostly male crews that tossed the bundles into the thresher it was the women who made sure that the crews were fed and as often as not played a key role in organizing the farming operation and doing field and yard work during the rest of year as well.

International Women’s Day is a good day to recognize prairie farm women not only worked hard on the farm but organized and worked equally hard to extend democracy and social and economic justice. It was the Saskatchewan farm women who supported one of the very first attempts at Medicare in Canada.

One of their leaders was Violet McNaughton, who farmed with her husband, near Harris, Saskatchewan. They were both members of their local Grain Growers Association, one of many farm organizations dedicated to securing economic justice for grain growers. This is an organization where women took an equal role before the province of Saskatchewan would give them the vote.

Violet McNaughton, with the support of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers, was one of the women who organized petitions and campaigned for Saskatchewan women to get the right to vote. Some historians contend that McNaughton was such a formidable organizer and intellectual force that in fact it was the Grain Growers Association that had the support of Violet McNaughton!

With the help of the equally formidable Manitoban Frances Beynon, who campaigned for women’s suffrage in her own province, was an anti-war activist, and the women’s editor for the Grain Grower’s Guide paper, McNaughton organized the Women Grain Growers Association which drew its membership from farm women across Saskatchewan. The Saskatchewan Grain Growers gave this organization $500 in start-up money – about $10,000 in today’s money. When it came to supporting women’s equality they put their money where their mouth was.

Together Beynon and McNaughton joined other farm women from across the prairies to support the Famous Five who finally ended the abomination of relegating women to the legal status of horses and other chattels.

Farm women and men often had extremely limited access to health care including doctors and midwives. McNaughton campaigned for accessible medical aid and argued governments should pay for that health care.   McNaughton and the Women Grain Growers got both the Saskatchewan Grain Growers and the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities to pass motions supporting their campaign for medical aid. With this support for their campaign it forced the provincial government to pass legislation that let municipalities enact taxes to cover medical aid costs. Municipally funded nurses, doctors, and hospitals were the beginnings of the foundations of Medicare.

In spite of the fact contraception and birth control was illegal at the time, McNaughton and her supporters, also promoted “family planning.” This contributed to our contemporary, although still controversial in some quarters, understanding that women have the basic human right to control their own reproductive system.

So on International Women’s Day we should remember and applaud Violet McNaughton, Frances Beynon and their fellow farm women who began the campaign – strongly supported by the grain farmers of western Canada – to build the social and economic justice that would ultimately lead to so much that defines Canada today.

You can read previous International Women’s Day posts on this site from 2012, and 2013, and 2014.

For your viewing pleasure

by on Feb 29, 2016 in Blog | Comments Off on For your viewing pleasure

(February 29, 2016) Just in case readers are tired of the Oscars, for those of you with high-speed internet connections here are two videos that are of interest.

The first is a 14 minute video produced by the Canadian Wheat Board about 1990 or so which explains the history and operation of the Board in a dry but factual way.  All steak with very little sizzle as the marketers would say.

 

 

The second video is a 7 minute interview from December of 2014 with Dr. James Nolan, an agricultural economist with the University of Saskatchewan.  In it he talks about the so-called grain transportation mess.  Sounds very dry but for grain farmers it would easily qualify as a horror movie.

Not that Dr. Nolan is very scary, but what he says certainly is if you are a prairie grain farmer.  In a very careful academic explanation, he says that without the CWB we are now getting around 40 to 60% of the grain cheque and the grain handling companies are taking the rest.  Near the end he says his economic models show that as grain companies eat each other up we can expect to get about 20%.  Yikes!

 

 

Dr. Nolan did this interview shortly after we published our finding “Grain Companies Take Excess Profits” which you can read by clicking hereGrain-Companies-take-excess-profits-CONTEXT1.pdf

 

Later Dr. Richard Gray, also a University of Saskatchewan Agricultural Economist published a long paper detailing the same thing which you can download by clicking here

Basically Dr. Gray says we could have been $3.25 billion better off each year if we had kept the single-desk.  Given the last year of operation of the farmer-controlled single-desk Wheat Board generated a little over $7 billion in sales, Dr. Gray’s findings show the grain companies are taking about fifty percent of the grain cheque. Now farmers are only getting around 40%, which is quite a come down from the 90% or better they were accustomed to on wheat and barley.

As one reader said to me on this subject, “most farmers now get it that 90% of any given number with the Wheat Board is better than 40% without it.”

Lastly a thoughtful gift from Minister Ritz to some of his more dedicated followers:  you can see a copy of the announcement by clicking on this link:

News has it this organization will be holding its annual convention in New Orleans, Louisiana this year:  our tax dollars at work once again.

What’s the Wheat Board and why do farmers need it back?

by on Feb 23, 2016 in Blog | Comments Off on What’s the Wheat Board and why do farmers need it back?

Elevator and grain cars(February 23, 2016) First, let’s be clear.  The Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) was not a monopoly, or supply management, nor was it a socialist institution imposed on the powerless west to help a bunch of illiterate immigrant farmers as some would have you believe.

The CWB was more than just its office building, rail cars and grain ships.  The CWB was the most successful of capitalist institutions designed to work for prairie grain farmers in a globalized economy and compete with the other four grain companies that trade essentially all the other grain in the world.  The only reason it could do so was because it was the exclusive dealer of prairie wheat and barley.

The CWB had the legal authority to be the only seller of western Canadian wheat and barley for export and domestic human consumption.  While some call it a franchise and others call it an exclusive dealership, most called it the “single-desk.”  That meant all the grain processing industries in Canada and around the world who wanted quality assured wheat and barley for export or domestic human consumption had to purchase from the CWB.  Because the CWB presented a united front to the buyers on behalf of western grain growers we had market power to get the maximum value of our crops.

Compare that to now where farmers must go cap in hand to the big international grain companies hoping they are getting a better price than their neighbours or hire grain brokers to do it for them.  The CWB gave farmers 90% of world price or more while now we are lucky to get 60%, a loss to western Canada of at least $3.25 billion each year.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Our single-desk CWB was something uniquely Canadian which has been copied and renewed by others all over the world including in the US.  It provided quality assurance to customers giving western farmers an unrivaled international reputation for honesty and delivering premium quality grain.  For many years it was among Canada’s top ten net-foreign exchange earners.  Yet it never made a dime in profit and most years cost its farmer-owners nothing to operate.  It was the only grain marketer in the world that published an annual independently audited statement that laid out exactly what it got for selling grain and what it spent for doing that.

Many competitors hated the CWB and used the US government to launch 14 unsuccessful international court challenges against the Board, usually claiming it was undercutting prices, claims which turned out to be completely false.  This is also exactly what the Auditor General of Canada found when she was invited, by the farmers elected to run the CWB, to do a full audit.

There are two kinds of grain farmers on the prairies.  The majority are the successful ones who were supportive of the CWB.  The benefit farmers gained from the CWB was proportional so the larger the farmer the more they gained.  Successful smaller farmers also supported the CWB on principle, although many of them were too busy to actually worry about the details.Cartoon04

The other kinds of farmers are the minority.  Often embittered, this group is usually heavily in debt, often insolvent, attempting to grow their way out of debt by borrowing more money to rent more land, equipment, and inputs to grow their operations.  They can be described as the “know how, but don’t know why” group.

The farmer-owned single-desk Wheat Board took an undifferentiated product grown by thousands of farmers that is almost worthless unless it is amalgamated into the 30 and 60 thousand metric tonne lot sizes customers want;  branded it, promoted it, and then sold it for premium prices around the world.  To put that in context, a typical rail car holds a mere 90 tonnes of wheat and the CWB arranged to send some 350,000 of them containing identity-preserved wheat and barley to port each year.  The CWB returned the money to the people who produced the grain through a price pooling system that made sure all farmers received the full value of the crop over the year regardless of when they delivered their grain for sale.

Prairie farmers delivered their grain to 326 inland terminals across the prairies.  Then the CWB contracted with the railways to move the grain to deep water ports.  Just a handful of those inland terminals would store the whole of Ontario and Quebec’s annual wheat production.

The CWB chartered the ships to carry the grain, and made sure the ships got filled on time and on budget.  In the 14 years the farmers ran the CWB it never paid net costs for late shipments and never bungled a sale.  Last year, without the CWB, late fees (demurrage) topped $75 million. Cargil terminal

In CWB directors elections typically 80% of the Director positions went to farmers in favour of the single-desk.  Now that the results of the experiment comparing the CWB to the speculative market are in, even the debt-blinkered crowd is starting to see that 90% of any number is better than 60%.  No doubt their bankers are starting to understand that too.

We need the single desk back.

Parliamentary Dance

by on Feb 18, 2016 in Blog | Comments Off on Parliamentary Dance

Pride-And-Prejudice Country Dance(February 18, 2016)  On Tuesday we were treated to the usual Parliamentary Question Period dance.  Unlike those classic dance scenes in costume drama movies like Pride and Prejudice where the whole community works in synchronization, Question Period is more like crazed zombies interrupting a square dance while the Speaker of the House tries to keep order.

It was like that when the Leader of the NDP rose to ask the Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay when he would re-establish the Canadian Wheat Board.

Mr. Mulcair was doing his job by raising a very serious issue for western grain farmers.  The evidence is now in that the private grain companies have taken $6.5 billion from grain farmers in the last two years.  As usual in Question Period the Conservatives were heckling.  It was not much of a surprise to see the former Harper Ag Minister sneering via Twitter about the effrontery of western grain farmers wanting natural justice to be done by restoring what was seized from them without due compensation or the vote he promised.

It would not have been unreasonable to expect Minister MacAulay, whose Prime Minister is already noted for un-muzzling scientists and promising evidence based policies, to respond positively to making it so farmers get back the roughly 60% of their grain cheque now being taken by the private oligarchs.

One sure sign the grown-ups are back in power is the ease with which the Agriculture Minister confounded the questioners on both sides of the issue.  Yes, he said, the Wheat Board had been sold  – apparently reminding the Conservatives that for this Minister a contract is a contract and he would not be seizing assets, no matter how they were disposed of, from G3 which is the combo of Saudi Arabia and Bunge one of the world’s giant private grain companies. But that is really all he said.

In the past, when confronted with the same economic structure as we see today both the Liberals and the Conservatives tried every conceivable combination of regulations and reforms to make the defective international grain market work without bankrupting western farmers.  After many things were tried and failed the single desk was the only thing that remained viable.  The Wheat Board’s marketing responsibility was renewed every five years by Parliament. Finally in 1967 all parties unanimously endorsed and supported a permanent single-desk, orderly marketing organization known as the Canadian Wheat Board.  It was the only way for farmers to have a level playing field in the international market.

Since then nothing has changed and the evidence is the same today as back then.  The only question is how long will it take for Minister MacAulay and the Liberals to look at the evidence?  How many farmers must get hurt?  How many domestic processors will be driven out of business by subsidized off-shore production and how long will Canadians tolerate eating bread and pasta from grain grown in parts of the world that are amongst the most heavily polluted on earth?

If we are talking about evidence based policy, a new single-desk marketing agency can be created.  We can name it whatever we want.  What we care about is that it gets premium prices for Canadian grain and supports local food.

Family Day hits keep coming for prairie farmers

by on Feb 16, 2016 in Blog | 5 comments

CWB cookbook 1995(February 16, 2016) Another family day domino fell this week with the report that a major Canadian food retailer was replacing pasta manufactured with prairie durum with pasta imported from Turkey of all places.

It should be remembered that with the single-desk Wheat Board pretty much all the pasta consumed in Canada was made with prairie durum. The Wheat Board had a policy of keeping competition among durum purchasers alive by equalizing freight costs for processors.

This meant more wheat and durum was milled and made into flour and pasta on the prairies than in the same grain growing areas of the United States. It also meant that the big eastern flour and pasta plants in Ontario used prairie wheat. It was a very profitable premium market for prairie farmers and took somewhere around 20% of our annual production of wheat and durum wheat.

This Wheat Board policy meant that essentially all the bread, pasta, and most of the beer in Canada was made with prairie wheat and barley. As this organization warned in 2011 “the end of the Wheat Board means the end of local food.”

Now the Wheat Board is gone along with its policies encouraging local processing. Combine this with very cheap ocean freight and it is apparently more economic for eastern retailers to buy Turkish pasta than it is to purchase locally produced pasta made with prairie durum. Ocean freight on 4,800 nautical miles from Turkey is apparently cheaper than dealing with the uncertain and unreliable private trade to acquire grain 3,300 miles away on the southern Canadian prairies.

Some Canadian pasta processors have complained this Turkish pasta is subsidized, and that may well be the case. However that ultra cheap ocean freight may also mean that sourcing wheat from the Ukraine, which is a mere 600 nautical miles away is now more economic than importing even heavily discounted prairie durum.

Speaking of Canada’s southern prairies, it was three years ago, on Family Day, that the giant American firm, Archer Daniels Midland announced it was closing its flour mill at Medicine Hat, in the center of prairie wheat country, and consolidating operations in Calgary.

The family day hits from the abusive and short-sighted Harper regime just keep on coming for Canadian families and the prairie farmers who work to feed them.

Some farmer funded Commissions living large

by on Jan 25, 2016 in Blog | 1 comment

(January 25, 2016) After Harper and Ritz killed the Wheat Board their ideological cousins in Alberta and Saskatchewan set up new farmer-funded Commissions to look after farmers’ interests.  Three years ago Alberta created the Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC) while Saskatchewan’s Wheat Development Commission (SWDC) has been up and running for a bit more than two years as has the Saskatchewan Barley Development Commission (SBDC).  All of them were modelled on the venerable Alberta Barley Commission (ABC).

Edsel Living Large

Another farmer funded trip – May not be exactly as illustrated

Manitoba took a more economical route by establishing a combined wheat and barley commission in mid-2014.  It has not been running long enough to establish a pattern of expenditures.  So for now, we can focus on comparing the corporate cultures of the four check-off organizations in Saskatchewan and Alberta.  Since the Alberta Wheat Commission’s (AWC) 2015 audited statement is not available as of January 21, this article is based on all the 2014 Audited Statements.

Readers may recall that in both Alberta and Saskatchewan every farmer who grows wheat and barley pays a production tax (innocuously called a “levy”) which is given to the relevant Commission.  Alberta farmers paid the AWC $6 million, and the ABC $2.7 million for a total of just over $8.7 million in 2014.  Saskatchewan farmers paid the SWDC $6.3 million and the SBDC $820 thousand for a total of $7.2 million dollars that year.

In Saskatchewan each levy paying farmer receives a ballot in the mail to elect the Commission’s Board of Directors.  On the other hand, in Alberta all it takes to get elected is a car load of friends showing up at a remote meeting – elections are not conducted with mail-in ballots so that they are accessible to every farmer who pays the levy.  It comes as no surprise there are stark contrasts between the democratically elected Commissions in Saskatchewan and Alberta’s crony models.

Living Large:  Staff

According to its audited statement Alberta’s Wheat Commission supports a staff complement of 12 people, five of whom are shared with the Alberta Barley Commission which has an additional 4 staff of its own.  The Wheat Commission spent $539 thousand on salaries while the Barley Commission spent $764 thousand.

In contrast the 2014 Saskatchewan Wheat Commission had just four staff and spent a mere $156 thousand on wages and benefits while SBDC spent $89 thousand on service contracts for the equivalent of just one and a quarter full time staff.

Living Large:  Publications

Much of the Alberta Wheat Commission staff seems to be devoted to telling growers just how great the AWC is with a ‘grower relations’  person in addition to two communications people, one of whom is also given the title of ‘events coordinator.’

In the AWC’s audit if you add up the lines for Communications $296,278.00, Meeting $169,588.00, and Administrative $161,712.00, these amount to $627,578.00 or about 20% of their Budget Expenditures.  If you add in the very broad Market Development category of $813,373.00 a whopping 40% of the AWC’s expenditures go to these items before a single seed is planted or scientist funded.

Presumably a good time is had by all, but just in case farmers footing the bills missed going on that last Asian junket the AWC/ABC produces a glossy magazine published four times a year.  It costs a tidy $60,000.00 per issue plus the staff time of both a managing editor and a sales and production coordinator.  Advertising off-sets only about 8% of the magazine’s cost.  At this point farmers paying the AWC/ABC check offs might be wondering if paying for this magazine and effectively subsidizing companies advertising to them is really the best use of their money.

This reflects the Alberta Conservative tradition of lavish spending on propaganda.  Under Premier Ralph Klein and his successor administrations the government’s “Public Affairs Bureau” censored all Government-issue communications from Cabinet Ministers down to the lowliest dog catcher.  Dubbed variously “the Ministry of Truth” or “Edmonton’s Pravda,” it was said to cost more and have more staff than the same department in the White House for the President of the United States.

So it is no surprise the corporate culture of the Klein era carries over into the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions.  In fact the top check-off commissions in Alberta took a total of $31 million dollars from Alberta farmers in 2014.

Contrast this with the lean but not mean staff at the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission.  In 2014 the SWDC Board of Directors increased their staff from three to four with the hiring of a Research Program Manager.  A good hire since the whole point of these commissions was to fund agronomic research.

SWDC publishes three simple newsletters a year heavy on text and agronomic information about things like the development of wheat cultivars resistant to fusarium and evidence-based responses to economic and customer quality concerns.

Allison Redford

Alison Redford

Living Large:  Travel

Speaking of Alberta corporate culture, the dizzying international travel of the Alberta Wheat Commission people reminds this writer of the Alison Redford era in Alberta – except she mostly flew around Alberta.  In 2014 AWC staff and directors traveled to Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, England, Spain, Italy, Germany, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates.  Perhaps this travel schedule explains why the Alberta Wheat Commission spent less than one third of its expenditures on research.

In contrast the wild bunch at the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission toured research facilities like the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan, and the Kernan Crop Research Farm in Saskatoon.  They also took a southern trip but it was to the Semiarid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre near Swift Current, Saskatchewan.  This shows the SWDC is laying the ground work for supporting real world research into wheat at recognized scientific institutions on the prairies.

Without a complete house cleaning and forensic audit of the activities of the various Alberta check-off commissions, it would at least be refreshing to see the new Alberta Government revamp the Alberta commissions and enforce democratic elections which are open to all farmers not just the ones who have the free time to travel to distant meetings to get elected by their friends.

 

A parting gift

by on Jan 23, 2016 in Blog | Comments Off on A parting gift

(January 23, 2016) I got the news this week that one of my favorite publications is no more. G3, the joint venture between Saudi Arabia and Bunge, which acquired the hard assets of the farmer-controlled Wheat Board, has announced they are sending out their last Market Outlook Newsletter.

Written by the remainder of the Wheat Board’s marketing staff, this is the wonderful newsletter that in February of 2014 blew the whistle on the private grain companies ripping farmers off for billions of dollars between the Vancouver port price and the prices they were paying farmers on the prairies. CWBA published an analysis of this, issued a news release and has updated the material from time to time and will be again.

A few weeks after we issued our news release, Dr. Richard Gray, an eminent agricultural economist from the University of Saskatchewan came to the same conclusions and issued a damning report which he updated in August of 2015 showing the grain trade took an extra $5 to $6.7 billion over the past two crop years from western farmers as excess profits.

The last issue of the Market Outlook Newsletter again showed the integrity and dedication to prairie farmers typical of the CWB’s employees as they put a small gem into their farewell Newsletter confirming once again just how critical the single-desk and orderly marketing really is for western Canada’s farmers.

Look at the gem I bolded and underlined in the quote below. CWB staff has again let the truth of the matter slip out:

“The weak Canadian dollar has sheltered some of the sluggishness in the grains and oilseeds futures markets. A similar trajectory has been experienced by many of our competitors for grains and oilseeds export market share. In fact, farmers in the Black Sea region and South America have seen locally denominated prices reach near or absolute record levels.”

Seeing this we must ask:  are western Canadian elevator prices at the same record highs we see in other countries with declining currency values? They certainly should be with the Canadian dollar now down by 30%.

However, the answer is a resounding “no.” Translating our prices into US dollars shows we are now getting depression era prices for our grains.  Somebody isn’t getting paid all that they’re owed and you can bet it is not the grain companies.

So thank you to the anonymous CWB employee for having the integrity to once again tell the truth.

Their final news letter quote said: “There is no real ending” and western farmers will not let the story stop here.

2015 – The year we cut off ideology

by on Jan 13, 2016 in Blog | Comments Off on 2015 – The year we cut off ideology

Cutting the weeds(January 13, 2016) Over the past year Canadians cut off a number of things, most notable of which were neo-conservative governments in Ottawa and Alberta. For some the shell shock has hardly worn off.

2015 also marks four years since the Harper administration created mighty and lasting grudges on the prairies by killing the Canadian Wheat Board in an undemocratic and legally dubious process. At this distance a number of things have become painfully clear:

The farmers’ share of the international grain price is down by at least half and likely more. Agricultural economist Dr. Richard Gray of the University of Saskatchewan has published several papers demonstrating that farmers ought to have at least 50% more dollars from their grain sales than the middlemen of the private trade are giving them.

– The annual audits of rail performance carried out by the Canadian Transportation Agency in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 crop years show the claim of the grain trade that poor railway performance is causing high basis levels is false. In fact the low prices farmers see are really the result of excess profits taken by the grain trade.

– Prairie farmers have gone from being major exporters of grain with direct relations to end-use customers through the Wheat Board to being held captive in a domestic market by just a few giant grain handling companies and their agents.

– Canadian farm debt has now topped $90 billion dollars. Many economists thought when we broke the $50 billion mark that level was unsustainable. Anyone looking at the amount of unsold machinery sitting on dealer’s lots across western Canada or reading of the further consolidation of farm equipment dealers and manufacturers knows something is broken.

– It is not possible to remove more than half of the wheat and barley revenue from western Canadian farmers, double the farm debt level, and have the west remain as prosperous as it has been.

– The real grain price situation for farmers got substantially worse in 2015. Grain is priced in US dollars and because the Canadian dollar has lost 30% of its value the domestic grain price for western farmers should have increased accordingly – if there was really such a thing as a market – but it did not.

Instead the price for number one wheat in Manitoba is effectively $4 US a bushel, a price not seen for decades, and if you adjust for inflation, it is a price closer to great depression levels than ever before.

Free market farmers touted modest Canadian price increases as proof things got better without the CWB. The numbers show they are living in a fool’s paradise. As Dr. Gray observed of 2014/15:

“Yes, (western) farmers had a good year, but that doesn’t take away from the fact they could’ve been several billion dollars better off.”

Certainly the results of planting rather than cutting off ideology are still plain to see in the Alberta Check-off commissions. At last report the Alberta Wheat Commission was planning to investigate what grain was actually selling for at port. Something they announced with much fanfare last year as well.

As said here before, the actual sales price the private trade gets from end-use customers are amongst the most closely guarded secrets of the grain trade. These sales prices have only a casual relationship to port prices, and reports of port prices are unreliable at best. I can only assume the worthies on the Alberta Wheat Commission have been watching too many James Bond movies and plan to skulk around grain company headquarters listening at keyholes.

So in many ways 2015 was a recap of 2014 with the usual suspects’ ignoring the loss of money to prairie farmers and the ominous growth of farm debt. We can only hope 2016 sees the continued cutting off of the ideology planted by the Harper regime over the past nine years.

Optimism for 2016

by on Jan 1, 2016 in Blog | Comments Off on Optimism for 2016

stop sign smile(January 1, 2016) This Canadian New Year brings much hope for western grain farmers.  The Prime Minister has promised to demolish the Harper legacy “brick by brick” and has already started to do so by un-muzzling Federal scientists.  His administration is even looking at re-opening the prison farms which the Harper Conservatives closed with their typical contempt for cooperative rural values and skills.

A joyful graphic celebrating this reminded me of the courageous Manitoba university student, Bridgett DePape who used her position as a Senate page to hold up a “Stop Harper” sign in 2011.

Alberta farmers say "Stop Harper" - respect our vote

Alberta farmers say “Stop Harper” – respect our vote

One of my favorite pictures on our Facebook page is of farmers in east central Alberta taking time out from loading wheat into their producer rail cars to do the same thing a few weeks later. Courage and integrity can wear many clothes, from the finery of a Senate page to work clothes on a dusty rail siding. 

In the 1950s when there were a lot more people in rural Canada a favorite scam of American hucksters was to travel to the small towns and farms on the southern Canadian prairies offering to put a petrochemical sealer on home roofs.  The sealer was usually a mixture of used motor oil, grease and a bit of saw dust which disappeared not long after the money and the Yankee hucksters were gone.  People soon figured out the scam and the Canadian border was closed to the scammers from the south.

Canadians, like Albertans have finally expressed their judgement on the equally mendacious scammers of the American tea-party variety who managed to highjack the Progressive Conservative Party and even our country for a time.  We now expect both our Prime Minister and the new Alberta Premier to dismantle this legacy brick by brick.  As Premier Notley remarked in her New Year’s Address, “elections have to mean something.”

Last year the farmers of the CWB Alliance voted to reaffirm the mandate of this organization to work towards the restoration of a single-desk grain marketing agency for western Canada. With the results of the Federal election and the election of a strong and stable NDP government in Alberta that goal now appears much closer than it did this time last year.  Progressive Liberals and the NDP have always supported the single-desk Wheat Board and even Saskatchewan’s Conservative premier supports single-desk marketing when it comes to potash.

Restoring orderly marketing and Canada’ place as an honest food supplier will not be easy, and the Liberals will be bombarded with many bogus arguments.  However we know that sooner or later the facts are always friendly to orderly marketing though a single-desk whether it is for commodities like wheat, almonds, or potash.  Our biggest issue will be effectively engaging with the new administrations in Ottawa and elsewhere.  I know there is no shortage of courage or will in the farm community for the job ahead.