WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Almost 70 percent of farmers in Western Canada want the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly on barley to end, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said on Thursday, quoting the farmer-run agency's own polling data.
When asked to choose between the CWB, an open market, or a "dual market" with the CWB as an optional player, a combined total of 67 percent of farmers chose either the open or dual market, a spokesman for Ritz said.
"Western Canadian farmers have made their demands for barley marketing freedom loud and clear," Ritz said in a statement.
The minority Conservative government has been trying to give farmers the option of selling barley through the CWB or directly to maltsters or export markets, ending a monopoly that the CWB and its supporters say gives them marketing clout.
Opposition parties have said they back the CWB and will vote against a government bill that would open up the market.
The CWB plans to release the 2008 polling data on Friday, and would not comment on what it contained on Thursday.
"It seems that Minister Ritz is being fairly selective and narrow in his interpretation of our annual producer survey results," said Maureen Fitzhenry, a CWB spokeswoman.
The poll results confirmed a government-run farmer plebiscite from last March, which showed a combined total of 62 percent of farmers wanted changes to the CWB's mandate.
Last year's CWB farmer survey showed 42 percent of farmers wanted an optional CWB, while 19 percent wanted an open market, and 36 percent chose the CWB.
"We want to understand to what extent people believe in the existence of the 'have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too' option," Fitzhenry said.
The CWB and its supporters have long maintained the agency could not compete without its monopoly because it does not own handling facilities.
When asked last year to choose between the current system and an open market -- a question that monopoly supporters have said is fairer -- 48 percent of farmers chose the status quo and 46 percent chose an open market.
The results of the either/or question this year were not available on Thursday.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Peter Galloway