WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Fewer Western Canadian farmers support the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly on wheat and barley sales than did a year ago, according to an annual poll released by the farmer-run agency on Friday.
For wheat, 57 percent of farmers said the CWB should keep its government-granted monopoly on sales to millers and export markets, while 39 percent said the market should be open.
Last year, 61 percent of farmers supported the monopoly, while 35 percent wanted it to end.
For barley, 52 percent of farmers said the market should open, with 40 percent wanting the CWB to retain its monopoly on sales to maltsters and export markets.
Farmers were split last year, with 48 percent supporting the barley monopoly and 46 percent wanting it to end.
“If you look at the 10-year average, the numbers haven’t changed much,” Larry Hill, chairman of the CWB’s board, told Reuters.
Hill said recent increases in cash grain prices have caused some dissatisfaction with the CWB’s pooled prices, which give farmers returns based on sales made through a whole year.
But a federal government’s “gag order” has restricted the CWB from doing more to explain its prices, Hill said.
“Our opponents have been going full-blast, so that may have an effect as well,” Hill said.
The CWB and the federal government will square off over the gag order in court on June 16.
The CWB had C$4.95 billion ($4.85 billion) in revenue last year, making it one of the world’s largest grain traders.
Its monopoly powers on sales of Western Canadian grain have long been an irritant to international competitors. Canada’s minority Conservative government also wants to dismantle the CWB’s “single desk.”
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said the poll supports his plans to make the CWB optional. “There is no longer any doubt how strong and deep support for barley marketing freedom now runs among Western Canadian farmers,” Ritz said in a release.
The CWB has said it could not compete in a dual market because it does not own handling facilities.
In a second set of questions, when offered the additional option of a dual market, 41 percent chose a dual market for barley, while 26 percent preferred an open market and 27 percent supported the CWB.
For wheat, 45 percent of farmers picked the dual market, with 12 percent wanting an open market and 42 percent the CWB.
The government said the question shows a combined total of 67 percent of farmers want “marketing freedom” for barley and 57 percent for wheat.
But Hill rejected combining the results, and said he believes farmers want the CWB to find more flexible pricing options while keeping the clout of the monopoly.
“This poll says, ‘Keep looking,”’ said Hill, a farmer from Swift Current, Saskatchewan. “What this poll doesn’t say is, ‘Get rid of the single desk.”’
The survey of 1,300 farmers was done in early March.
Farmers showed strong support for a new malting barley program designed to track cash markets, Hill said. The program has been rejected by most maltsters and grain companies.
Most also said farmers should decide the CWB’s future, not the federal government.
* CWB farmer survey here full_060608.pdf
Reporting by Roberta Rampton; editing by Rob Wilson