Ritz to press CWB for interim no-cost buybacks

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has pledged to push the Canadian Wheat Board to allow no-cost buybacks for farmers who’d like to market grain ahead of the official end of the single desk.

Ritz told the recent annual meeting of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association in Moose Haw that he would push for such an arrangement or changes to producer pricing options.

Among the growers at the meeting, Curtis Sims of MacGregor, Man. said there is "quite a large volume of wheat" now sitting in bins because farmers are unwilling to sell to the CWB pending the arrival of an open market.

Unless that wheat starts moving soon, a serious "transitional" backlog in shipping movements might result, Sims said.

Curtis Hiebert, a producer at Sperling, Man., said he’s sitting on about 150,000 bushels of hard red spring wheat in his bins.

Currently, a buyback from the CWB would cost him about $1.62 per bushel, which would give him the right to sell to a local elevator, but for only $1.50 more than the CWB is offering.

"I know that the guys selling bins are clapping," Ritz cracked at the WCWGA meeting. "I promise you that we will take a good strong look at that."

Bill Duke, a producer from Kenosee Lake, Sask. and former WCWGA president, said he still has malting barley left over from 2009, when talk of an open market enticed him to hang onto it.

"It’s still germinating 94 per cent and I’ll be damned if it’s going on a permit book," he said.

The CWB would not comment on the question of whether it would offer no-cost buybacks.

One of the CWB’s ex-directors warned such a move could spark legal challenges and U.S. trade retaliation.

"It certainly would be something the Americans would pick up on very quickly," said Bill Toews of Kane, Man., one of the eight farmer-elected directors fired following the passage of Bill C-18, the legislative package deregulating the CWB’s single marketing desk.

Issuing no-cost buybacks, Toews said, could pressure the value of Prairie wheat and barley, reduce the return to the CWB’s pools and make it more difficult for the CWB to secure grain supplies for the remainder of the crop year, which ends July 31.

Furthermore, he said, any sudden surge in wheat exports to the U.S. could spur U.S. farmers to try and block imports of Canadian wheat through NAFTA — a possibility when or if a surge of imported produce is found to be produced by a change in government policy.

"I think (the WCWGA) have to have some fun and a bit of a hurrah and bait people and try to make an impression, but the consequences could be pretty serious," Toews said.

— Daniel Winters and Allan Dawson are reporters for the Manitoba Co-operator. The full version of this article appears in the Jan. 12 issue.

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