Elected CWB directors fail at governance

For the first time in my farming history, it’s near the end of October and all of the wheat I produced this year is delivered and sold.

The CWB exercised authority over farmers’ wheat since 1943. Farmers were required to get a permit book under which grain deliveries were allowed.

The CWB exercised stringent control over these deliveries and thus payment for wheat. The total payment would not be known until almost year and a half after farmers had harvested their wheat.

Can you imagine working in a job where you did not know how much you would get paid until more than a year after you had completed the work?

These policies were based on the organization’s philosophy of control. There was no allowance for beginning farmers, no allowance for lack of storage and no allowance for an individual farmer’s need for money at a specific time.

I met this cute smart gal in the agriculture program at university. We were married in 1981 and decided farming was our future. We fixed up an old house with a wood stove to live in.

Yes, it was 1981, the year interest rates went to 21 percent. My uncle gave me a great deal on some land at just 14 percent interest. We were rich with education, focus and desire. We just didn’t have much money.

There was a drought in 1982 and our crop was small: 25 bushels per acre of No. 1 wheat and 15 bu. per acre of canola. At that time, the CWB was not accepting any wheat at our location and also controlled canola deliveries.

The fall canola quota was three bu. per acre to the elevator and five bu. per acre to the crusher. The only cash we could get was from a small cash advance on wheat and the canola we were allowed to deliver.

We had lots of bills and high hopes of putting in a crop the next year. There was no choice but to go and work in the oilfield.

I saw my new bride about once every two weeks for the entire winter, which wasn’t great for a relationship. We paid lots of interest, and the other bills got paid.

At that time I vowed there had to be a better way for farmers to market their wheat and barley.

When the opportunity came in 2005, I ran for election as a director for the CWB.

Basically, I felt the organization needed to change and meet farmers’ business needs, drop the political agenda and focus on the business of marketing grain.

It became clear through the election campaign, and later at the board of directors table, that there was little appetite for change.

Everything was viewed through the lens of single desk or not. Some will argue that the organization tweaked the policies in the last few years, and it did, but the control remained.

The period of elected farmer directors running the CWB will go down in history as a failed experiment in governance.

Poor decisions and poor governance were the result when board decisions were based on a political philosophy rather than the business interests of a $5 to $8 billion organization and the business needs of the farmers it served.

I resigned from the board of directors in the fall of 2011. I could not stand to see farmers’ money being wasted on a political fight. The federal government removed the monopoly this past August.

By the way, she is still cute and smart and we have been married 31 years.

After 30.5 years under CWB control, this new freedom feels good.

Henry Vos is a farmer and former CWB director.


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