Members of Saskatchewan’s general farm organization are crying foul over recent changes to the Western Standards Committee.
The WSC is an influential committee of the Canadian Grain Commission that reviews grain standards and grading issues in Western Canada.
Norm Hall, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said changes to the WSC’s underlying structure will give primary producers less say in how grain, oilseeds and pulse crops are graded and give elevator companies and exporters more influence.
A decision made by the WSC could potentially cost prairie farmers tens of millions of dollars in a single year, he added.
“What they did was downsize the producer’s (influence) and increase the industry’s,” said Hall.
“The CGC was designed to protect agricultural producers, partially from the industry … but now, it seems to be turning the other way.”
The WSC comprises 26 members and includes representation from across the industry: farmers, grain companies, end-users, government representatives and commodity groups.
It also has four sub-committees that propose grading changes related to wheat, oilseeds, pulses, and barley-oats.
Membership on the sub-committees has been altered significantly.
For example, farmer representation on the WSC’s wheat sub-committee has been reduced from six members to two, while industry representation has increased from four members to seven.
Hall said grading changes that favour farmers are far less likely to see the light of day under the new structure. For example, grading standards that reward farmers for producing wheat with better milling qualities are far less likely to be approved or considered if the subcommittees are dominated by exporters and elevator companies, while grading discounts associated with bleaching, shriveling, dimpling and discolouration are more likely to be adopted.
“The grain companies sell grain by technical standards so why shouldn’t they be buying it on technical standards as well,” Hall said.
Farmer Garth Burns, who chaired the WSC’s pulse sub-committee, said he received a letter from the CGC in early August informing him that he would no longer be sitting on the WSC’s pulse sub-committee.
“They’ve taken all the input away from the agricultural producers …. (so) it’s all industry driven now,” said Burns.
“It’s pretty bad … especially when the mandate of the grain commission is to look after the primary producer.”
Elwin Hermanson, chief commissioner with the CGC, said the changes were designed to make the sub-committees smaller and more effective.
“Part of the problem was that these committees were gradually getting larger … to the point that they weren’t as effective…,” Hermanson said.
“You could argue … that producers are not represented the same way they used to be on the subcommittees. I would make the argument that we’re getting closer to what the initial purpose and vision was for the committees and that to be effective, this is a better model than what they were gradually evolving into.”
Grading recommendations made at the sub-committee level must still be approved by the WSC, which selects 12 of its 26 members from producer organizations, he added.