I’ve been using this space to write about the farm organizations we’re funding. In this issue: wheat.
I’ve already written about the Western Grains Research Foundation, which uses a checkoff of $0.30 per tonne on wheat to fund wheat research. But there are also six new wheat-related groups that have sprung up across the Prairies since the end of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly.
Since August 2012, the Alberta Wheat Commission has been collecting a refundable checkoff of $0.70 per tonne from Alberta wheat growers. This is in addition to the $0.48 transitional checkoff (the Wheat and Barley Checkoff) that all Prairie wheat growers pay to the WGRF and Cigi, for a total of $1.18 per tonne.
The AWC’s mandate is to increase profitability for Alberta wheat growers “through funding innovative research, market development and promotional activities, producer education programs and policy development.”
There are 11 farmers on the AWC’s board — two elected from each of five regions, and one member-at-large. Kent Erickson, the current chair, was previously involved with the Alberta Winter Wheat Producers. Tom Steve, the general manger, is the head of a total office staff of 10, not including two that are currently on leave.
Saskatchewan farmers fund the new Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission through a checkoff of $0.52 cents per tonne. This, plus the transitional checkoff of $0.48 results in a total checkoff of $1.00 per tonne.
Farmers were first elected to run this commission last January. It’s governed by seven farmers, with Bill Gehl as chair. Bill came to the SWDC from the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance and a role at the Saskatchewan National Farmers Union.
I spoke to the Commission’s general manager Harvey Brooks about the SWDC’s priorities. One important thing the SWDC is doing is examining how farmers can be involved in varietal development.
Harvey is very passionate about farmer-driven ag research. “The WGRF has a research report that shows, on average, every dollar invested in producer-funded varietal research returns $20.40 in value to the producer, and even larger returns to the Canadian economy,” he said. “Producers, generally, are very supportive of research,” Harvey told me. “The question is whether or not we have enough capacity in all areas of research of interest to producers.”
What else will the SWCD be working on? “The agronomic side is a real concern,” Harvey said.
The SWDC and the Saskatchewan Barley Development Commission were initially set up under joint management in one office. Then they had an amicable divorce. Now the two commissions collaborate, as you’ve already noticed if you’ve read the cover of this issue, they’re both part of a coalition on grain transportation. They had a joint booth at the Crop Production Show in January, Harvey said, and “we’ve talked about other collaborative efforts.”
Instead of a “commission,” Manitoba has a new Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association. Farmers pay a checkoff of $0.52 per tonne of wheat ($0.50 per tonne for barley). This makes the total bill for Manitoba wheat growers $1 per tonne, including the transitional checkoff.
Chair Don Dewar, told me “We are the youngest kid on the block, and the smallest.” (By the time you read this, there will be a new chair — Don planned to step down at the February meeting.)
In Manitoba, rather than forming two separate groups to manage wheat and barley research, they’ve gone with one. In Manitoba ag research, “we have an awful lot of CEOs,” Don told me. “We’re spending over half a million dollars (annually) in Manitoba. Can we do a better job? I don’t know what the answer is.”
This new Association won’t be tackling ag policy. Don is a former chair of the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), which is already representing farmers’ policy views. And other Association members, Don points out, are members of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers or the NFU.
It’s so much simpler in B.C. B.C. wheat growers pay the $0.48 per tonne transitional checkoff, and also pay one-third of one per cent of their gross wheat sales to the B.C. Peace River Grain Industry Development Council that’s been in place since 1990.
Cereals Canada is a new national group. If you’re growing wheat in Manitoba, Alberta or B.C., some of your checkoff dollars are forwarded on to Cereals Canada’s head office in Winnipeg. They have other members too: crop development companies, seed companies and grain handlers.
General manager Cam Dahl, refers to this as the “three membership pillars.” Crop development and seed companies make up 25 per cent of the board. Grain companies and exporters have another 37.5 per cent of board positions, and farmers get 37.5 per cent of the seats on the board. “That’s the same split as the budget,” Cam said.
Cereals Canada’s priorities are market development, support and innovation. “And then there’s just basic industry leadership,” Cam said. “Ensuring that the industry can speak to our customers and governments with one voice.”
The SWDC is not a member. Cam said that, as a temporary measure, “We have requested that the Saskatchewan government nominate a Saskatchewan producer to represent Saskatchewan producers on our board.”
Harvey Brooks said the SWDC board “has decided to defer a decision on the national grower organizations for the time being.” The SWCD will be under pressure to make a decision. On Jan. 27, the Wheat Board Alliance sent out a press release urging the SWCD not to join Cereals Canada, and berated Saskatchewan agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart for suggesting that they should. In the release, Alliance spokesperson Kyle Korneychuk said: Cereals Canada “cannot reflect the interests of farmers. It has only three western farmers on a Board largely composed of representatives of multinational grain and agro-chemical companies.”