WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - The Canadian Wheat Board will hold a farmers’ vote on the future of its grain-trade monopoly in a late-hour bid to stop Ottawa from opening up the trade to competition.
The Wheat Board said on Tuesday that the farmer vote on whether to retain the world’s last major agricultural monopoly, will take place over the summer. It will not be legally binding.
Farmers in Western Canada are now required to sell wheat and barley for export or human consumption to the Wheat Board, although they can sell other crops to anyone they choose.
The law that governs the Wheat Board requires a plebiscite by farmers before excluding crops from the monopoly. The federal Conservative government, however, plans to pass new legislation this autumn to end the grain monopoly as of August 2012.
“Our preference would have been a fair and binding federal plebiscite,” said Wheat Board Chairman Allen Oberg, an Alberta farmer. “We now call on the government to listen to farmers and respect the results of this plebiscite.”
The Conservative government held a nonbinding farmer vote in 2007 on ending the Wheat Board’s barley monopoly. A majority wanted the monopoly to end, but the government did not pass the necessary legislation before the ensuing general election.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who is traveling abroad, could not be reached for comment.
Ritz has said repeatedly that the Conservatives’ strong election support in rural areas of Western Canada has given the government a mandate to drop the monopoly.
A group of Canadian farmers, meanwhile, has asked the Federal Court to review government plans to scrap the board’s monopoly, arguing that Ottawa must let farmers decide.
Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board said it filed for the judicial review on Monday.
Canada is the world’s top exporter of spring wheat, durum and malting barley.
Other farm groups have long called for the Wheat Board monopoly to end, saying they can get better prices for their crops by making their own deals with grain handlers in Canada or the United States.
Reporting by Rod Nickel; editing by Peter Galloway