WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Ottawa plans to end the Canadian Wheat Board’s marketing monopoly on spring wheat, durum and barley crops simultaneously in August 2012, the board’s chairman said after meeting with Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz on Tuesday.
Ritz made his first-ever visit as minister to the Wheat Board’s Winnipeg head office for a brisk 30-minute meeting to directly inform the marketing agency of the government’s plans to scrap its monopoly on western Canadian grain.
Ritz has previously said the Conservative government intends to pass legislation to end the monopoly in August 2012, but the grain industry has been anxious to learn details of the change --- such as whether marketing of all three crops will change at the same time.
“That was clarified as well -- that wheat, durum and barley will be treated on the same timeline,” said CWB Chairman Allen Oberg in an interview after meeting with Ritz.
After the meeting, Ritz said August 2012 -- the start of the 2012-13 crop marketing year -- will be the “logistic end” of the monopoly. Asked if that means the monopoly will end for all three crops at the same time, he said more discussions are needed with the board and other groups.
“We have some more consultations with the industry, whether it’s the farmers themselves or the (grain) companies. At the end of the day, the legislation will reflect that and move forward.”
Canada is the world’s biggest exporter of spring wheat, durum and malting barley.
Western Canada’s grain industry has operated since World War 2 under a marketing monopoly that requires farmers to sell wheat and barley via the board, unlike other crops such as canola.
Farmers who oppose the Wheat Board have long urged the government to end the world’s last major agricultural monopoly, saying they want the freedom to find the best possible prices. Other farmers who support the CWB say the clout of its single marketing desk brings them the best, most reliable returns.
Three companies, Viterra Inc, Cargill Inc and Richardson International Ltd, handle most of Western Canada’s wheat and barley and could buy directly from farmers if the monopoly ends.
Ritz said after the meeting that the Wheat Board can survive as a strong “optional entity” to buy farmers grain.
Oberg doubts the CWB would survive.
“It would be creating a brand new grain company and would face the challenge of no capital base and no (grain-handling) assets.”
Oberg said the Wheat Board asked Ritz to hold a farmer vote to decide the monopoly’s future as current legislation requires.
But farmers had that input in the May 2 general election, Ritz said, in which Canadians elected a majority Conservative government and supported the party in most rural, Western areas.
Oberg said it’s premature to say if the board would seek legal action to stop the change.
Reporting by Rod Nickel; editing by Rob Wilson