Farmers want more competition for their grain and want to see a viable CWB, says the president of Keystone Agricultural Producers in Manitoba.
However, many of them are upset that the organization has bought major grain-handling assets without talking to them first, he added.
“The wheat board shouldn’t proceed without some accountability to the farmer,” said Doug Chorney, who only found out about CWB’s purchase of Mission Terminal and other facilities when it announced Nov. 26 that the deal was done.
“Maybe it’s a brilliant opportunity. Maybe it’s a perfect decision. But acquiring assets, farmers haven’t necessarily agreed to that.”
However, many farmers who fought hard to break the CWB export monopoly think the CWB has made a necessary move that was inevitable if the organization wanted to stay viable.
“I wish we could have found a different way to use the equity that we left in the wheat board from past generations, but it’s better than going to the government for money,” said Gerrid Gust, chair of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association.
“It’s a great opportunity. The wheat board has the chance to become a real commercial entity.”
The CWB’s purchase of Mission Terminal in Thunder Bay, Ont., an export facility in Trois-Rivieres, Que., and a Quebec stevedoring company from Upper Great Lakes Group will instantly transform the former marketing agency into a grain company if the deal is completed as planned by the end of this year.
CWB will own Mission’s grain elevator in western Manitoba and its ownership stake in producer car loading facilities in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
CWB won’t reveal how much it is paying. The money comes from retained earnings and from financing through commercial lenders.
Chorney said KAP doesn’t have a position on how CWB should transform itself, but it believes whatever it does should first be discussed with farmers.
Many farmers believe they have a right to be heard on the decisions about CWB’s future, especially since the federal government scrapped the organization’s previous farmer-elected board of directors and installed an appointed board.
“Everybody has been awaiting this appointed board of directors to announce their plan, (farmers have) not been hearing anything, then they see assets purchased and the continuing use of contingency funds to bankroll their operations,” said Chorney.
“I’m hearing from farmers that there are a lot of questions. We need more transparency here, we need to see the plan and we need to see what they’re doing with farmers’ money.”
WCWGA president Levi Wood said his organization is happy to see CWB enact a plan to become a real grain company that won’t be beholden to its competitors.
“They’ve been in the unfortunate situation where they’ve had to have their competitors handle grain for them,” said Wood.
“We always hoped that it would be a strong standalone player in the market.”
Wood said he had hoped the government would divide CWB money and assets between farmers, but since it wouldn’t do that, creating a sound new grain company is second-best.
“If they’re going to take the money in the CWB and use it to strengthen its position and become a grain company, I think it’s a good move.”
Chorney said Manitoba farmers want to see more competition between grain companies and the CWB to be viable, but they are leery of capital expansion plans that not only use hard-earned farmer money but also bring additional financial risks.
“They’re not just spending our money but leveraging our money to get more debt to finance their capital expansion plan,” said Chorney. “That’s wrong. This is farmer money.”