Here was something you don’t see everyday — at least not in
the last 70 years or so….the president of the CWB (Canadian Wheat Board, for
those out of date), and three leaders of the Western Barley Growers Association
(WBGA), all in the same room, all wearing CWB caps and everyone on friendly
terms. It was almost a life changing moment.
But that was the scene Thursday afternoon at the WBGA annual
conference in Calgary. Ian White, president and CEO of the CWB had just
finished his presentation to producers and industry leaders, and Brian Otto of
Warner, Alta. outgoing WBGA president, Doug Robertson of Carstairs, WBGA
vice-president and Doug McBain, of Cremona, Alta., a director were all wearing CWB
caps and applauding White’s remarks.
At previous conferences, I have seen these three farmers
clap after which ever CWB representative gave a presentation, but I suspect
then it was more about “polite applause”, or clapping because they were glad
In fact I have talked to all three of these barley growers
at different times over the years and they’d get so riled talking about “the
board” and its monopoly for grain marketing, I was afraid they might have
aneurisms. But not this year.
That’s because White, in a very clear presentation told
farmers in essence “it is a new era, and the new CWB is here to work with all
producers in an open market, to help them achieve the best value for their
He talked about price pooling. He talked about
forwarding pricing and futures market marketing opportunities. He talked about
working with all the grain companies to secure handling facilities. He talked
about malt barley production contracts. He talked about good cash flow. He
talked about flexible delivery. He talked about using the strength and
marketing expertise the CWB has developed over more than seven decades so the
their crops. He talked about finding ways to connect with all farmers
— both the old board and non-board supporters — to earn their trust in
this new marketing era. What one hell of a good message.
Unless White is growing something in his Winnipeg backyard
that isn’t barley, it appeared the CWB president was of sound and sober mind.
It was a message of working co-operatively with producers and other industry
players in a new marketing era.
Along with being impressed with his presentation, the other
thought that ran through my mind, is why farmers couldn’t have heard this
message from The Canadian Wheat Board for the past year. The writing was on the
wall after the May 20, 2011 election that the government planned to change the
CWB to an open market system. Instead, since last May, there has been all this
grinding and grief, and fear mongering and whining that the world would come to
an end if the Canadian Wheat Board did not have it’s single desk, marketing
White hasn’t changed. He has been president of the CWB since
2008. What did change, after new legislation was passed, was the old 15-member
board of directors was replaced with a new five-member board. What did change
was the will on behalf of the board to find ways to make an open market system
I didn’t hear White say all the long-time Canadian Wheat
Board supporters were now hooped, that they’d be stranded now with a new CWB in
place. Quite the opposite. The new CWB would do it’s best to provide a wide
range of marketing opportunities for all producers. The new CWB would market
wheat and barley, but may also move into other commodities as well. And why stop at the Manitoba border— they could market crops across Canada.
It was a very optimistic and progressive message in a very
optimistic and progressive meeting. Yes, there are changes ahead, and still
plenty of unknowns of exactly how everything will work, but overall it WILL
work and there will be new opportunities for all producers.
Abraham Lincoln said “most folks are as happy as they make
up their minds to be” and I am not sure who said “where there is a will there
is a way”, but both those old quotes seem to aptly apply here.
Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or
by email at [email protected]