A momentous day and week in Prairie Farming History – but in which way?

To mark this historical week in prairie farming history, I have taken a few days off.

Well, actually that’s just to use up some time I need to take off and I’m running out of summer in which to do it, but it certainly does allow me to sit off on the sidelines and watch these historical occasions in a more relaxed manner than if I was out there running around covering them.

So I missed the unveiling of the new CWB logo on the building a block away from my office near Portage and Main. I missed the CWB’s press conference about the birth of the bold new era yesterday. And I’m missing all the events being held today to mark Marketing Freedom Day.

And that’s really OK, because in so many ways the CWB-monopoly-open market issue is mostly done and past and we’ve all moved on. Most farmers’ minds are like the futures market: a forward-looking device that quickly discounts the impact of future predictable events and then moves on. The CWB-open market thing? Already factored-in and today’s historical events seem already like ancient history – to most commercial growers.

But there are two sets of people for whom this is likely a momentous day.

First, a little bit of a test. Imagine that this clip is about the wheat board issue, and one side here represents the government and one the farmer. The especially harrowing bit is at about 4:50 into the clip.

(From the Battleship Potemkin)

If you see the brutal, marching and shooting soldiers as the Harper government and the poor, distraught and fleeing common folk as the farmer, then you’re probably a CWB-monopoly supporter and think the government’s monopoly-breaking actions have been ruthless, nasty, vicious and awful. For you, this is probably a sad and tragic day and you feel like those trodden-upon people. If you see the heartless soldiers marching on and over the powerless people as the Wheat Board monopoly, and the fleeing, powerless, brutalized mass as farmers forced to submit to the board’s previous authority, this is a glorious day of liberation. (I’ve used this clip and comparison before, but just can’t resist reviving it for this historic occasion.)

To me, it’s certainly a new era and worthy of being noted, but I think its practical impact is far less than the pugilists of left and right would have us think. The monopoly wasn’t really that dominant a factor in farmer returns, whatever either side likes to think. It probably made less of a premium than its supporters like to claim, and probably did less damage than its detractors like to say it did.

The truly historical occasion that I’m most excited by is the rally in world grain markets caused by the U.S. Midwest drought. The spike in all the major grains will mean far, far more than the ending of the CWB monopoly to the situation of the farmer in the next year or two, and it’s history that is still unfolding. Hedging and marketing in this environment will make a huge difference to how farmers do, whereas the changes to the monopoly will be marginal changes. (Not that small margins aren’t important, but the present rally offers far more than a marginal gain.) However, without the CWB monopoly some farmers who have never taken marketing very seriously up to this point need to start getting more involved.

If you’re a sensible farmer, you’re probably focused on managing your crop right now, because we’re just weeks away from harvesting a big one. If you’re listening to the news today, you’re probably thinking about the CWB thing. But make sure you take some time to think about the present market rally and what you’re doing to ensure you guarantee yourself you get some of these historical prices. The end of the CWB monopoly is a historical occasion, but so too is a rally like this one, and historical occasions occur and then pass. Hopefully it will leave you with good memories, and not like that baby bouncing down the Odessa steps.

 

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