Hot buttons

Lots of stories I write get no response at all. That’s normal in the news biz.

Some stuff gets a tonne of response. I’ve had two of those recently, both dealing with the Canadian Wheat Board.

I wrote a column about the endless debate over the CWB monopolies and what a tragedy it was that the debate had become merely ideological for many of  those involved, and most farmers had just tuned out. I said even though there had been various studies looking at the CWB’s premiums on sales of wheat – the only issue that should really concern a business-minded farmer – none had adequately given a convincing and global answer to whether the monopoly’s premiums were greater than the costs and impositions to and on farmers. That left the argument increasingly ideological, and now the argument will end by political action, with farmers moving on but not knowing if they were losing something invaluable to them or getting rid of something that was holding them back.

Most people who called me and emailed me said they agreed with my point, but that they saw the other side of the debate as containing the extremists, not theirs. Nobody told me that they thought their particular tribe had missed the point. It was the other guys who politicized things and turned things ideological rather than practical.

The other responses I have recently gotten have dealt with two stories I recently wrote in which I spoke with North Dakota farm leaders and wheat grower folks and got their take on what will happen when the CWB monopolies disappear. I was interested in what they think will be the ground-level impact, and they all told me that they thought there would initial anger at harvest time if North Dakota farmers found Canadian trucks at their local elevators points, and that this might spur protests of some sort. They said there might be attempts at starting a trade action, but two of the three said they thought the issue would fade away quite quickly.

They told me that they thought that there might not be a lot of truck traffic anyway, because once the monopolies are gone Canadian and U.S. elevator prices will level out, as both beginning using the same system. That’s what I expected to hear, and what I believe to be obviously true. Big price spreads won’t exist because they’ll be quickly stamped out by trucks moving one way or the other. Everything will be arbitraged-out.

I have gotten quite a few responses to these stories too. People from the left tend to think that I have proven a point of theirs that there won’t be opportunities to sell into the U.S. People from the right tend to say that prices in Canada will generally rise as a result of the changes, but that they will obviously arbitrage with the U.S.,  so what was the point of the stories?

I wasn’t trying to make any point with the stories, I have told both lefties and righties. I just thought that there would obviously be implications for farmers in North Dakota, and that it would be worthwhile calling a few farm and wheat leaders to find out what they thought they would be. The reason there were two stories was that the first week I could only get through to the head of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, but the next week I talked to the head of the North Dakota Farmers Union and the administrator of the North Dakota Wheat Commission.

So I had no agenda with either story – almost all my stories just begin with a simple question in mind such as: what do Dakotans think of the end of the wheat board, and what will that mean for us – but in these politicized times, on this politicized issue, people sometimes suspect you have a nefarious purpose in mind when you do a story. It’s a product of the polarization that I spoke about in my column.

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