Somehow I just couldn’t share the Aug. 1 euphoria.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not among the crowd who thinks the sky is falling with the ending of the CWB monopoly. The old system had a lot of problems. However, marketing freedom won’t always be a bed of roses either.
Friends texting me from the Stephen Harper-Gerry Ritz event near Kindersley were ecstatic. Pardoning those who ran the border in defiance of the monopoly was icing on the cake.
Makes you wonder what other law breaking will someday be deemed an act of martyrdom. Marijuana use, maybe?
Aug. 1 happens to be my birthday, so it did feel a little strange to be toiling alone at the farm when I could have been at a party with the prime minister. From the television coverage, there were certainly lots of familiar faces in the crowd.
I desiccated a field of lentils and did some work on equipment to get it ready for harvest. I checked weather reports, worried about a possible hailstorm, and I checked canola fields looking for bertha armyworms. Some things don’t change with marketing freedom.
One thing that has changed in a major way is farmer perception of the CWB. How can you hate a voluntary marketing agency?
Somewhere in my closet I have one or two pieces of clothing with a CWB logo that were given to me somewhere along the way. I don’t think I’ve ever worn them in public. That branded you as a staunch single desk supporter.
Now, I could wear a CWB hat or shirt and it wouldn’t be any different than the stuff I already have that’s branded with Invigor, Westeel or Flexxifinger. Of course, it would be even better to have the new CWB logo to make a clear differentiation from the past.
Now that the CWB’s CEO Ian White doesn’t have to navigate political and boardroom minefields, he looks like the weight of the world has been lifted from this shoulders. The number of employees is down dramatically, but the CWB deserves top marks for their new crop year offering.
Handling agreements with elevator companies took a lot longer to accomplish than projected, but the effort has been highly successful. With the addition of Richardson International and a few other deals yet to come, farmers will have extensive access to CWB marketing should they decide to go that route.
And the CWB is offering better initial payments than it did as a marketing monopoly. The government guarantee on initial payments is still in place. The CWB has topped that up going from 65 to 75 per cent of the final expected price.
The Harper government has impeccable timing. With the drought in the United States as well as locations such as Russian and Kazakhstan, grain prices are high. Overall, Western Canada has a pretty good crop as harvest approaches. The grain sector is looking at a great year.
Back in the mid-1990s, the Liberal government of the day had similar good timing when it ended the grain transportation subsidy. A few years later, the grain economy was depressed and producers were lobbying for government assistance.
Good times don’t last forever, but single desk marketing is gone for good. The jury is still out on the role the new CWB will play.
For this year, a 30 to 40 per cent market share is projected. If that kind of success proves sustainable, suitors will be lining up to take it over.