CWB prepares for next chapter

‘Business as usual’ | CWB now operates as a voluntary marketing agency and competes for customers

A revamped version of the CWB will enter the new crop year with a clean balance sheet, a streamlined workforce, a revised lineup of marketing contracts and a new corporate identity.

But lingering legal issues surrounding the demise of the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly have yet to be resolved and likely won’t be for months, if not years.

CWB chief executive officer Ian White said it will be business as usual as the voluntary marketing agency enters the new era of grain marketing in Western Canada this week.

As of Aug. 1, the CWB ceased to be the sole marketer of wheat, durum and malting barley produced in Western Canada.

It must now operate as a voluntary marketing agency, competing with the private grain trade for farmers’ grain and oilseed crops.

“Aug. 1 will come and go and basically we are considering ourselves as operating in the new environment (already),” White said last week.

“We have a lot of confidence going forward. We’ve had a lot of indication from farmers that they are now and will be signing contracts with the CWB.”

“We have a clean balance sheet and funding for the transition of the organization into the new environment and we have streamlined our operations and maintained key expertise within the organization so we are ready to go.”

The CWB’s new corporate logo, which is representative of the agency’s new beginnings, was unveiled during a July 31 news conference in Winnipeg.

The CWB also released its first indication of pool returns for the new crop year and confirmed that it will begin offering canola pools.

“We do expect to be providing farmers with a canola pool offering,” White said.

Like most private sector grain companies, the CWB has been marketing new crop wheat and barley for several months.

According to White, some foreign buyers are taking a cautious approach in the new environment and are concerned about issues such as grain quality and reliability of supply.

Others are dealing aggressively.

“No doubt the CWB is operating in a new environment,” White said.

“We are making (new crop) sales to customers and we are finding that there’s already acceptance by the customer base to deal with the CWB.”

Execution of wheat board sales contracts involving grain that was marketed through the CWB’s 2011-12 statutory pools is likely to be completed by late September, he added.

White also said that the new CWB will devise a strategy aimed at ensuring the agency’s viability.

Privatization of the new CWB is scheduled to take place before August 2017.

“I wouldn’t like to (divulge) today the exact strategy but there is no doubt that the CWB has to look (at) how it is going to operate in the future … so a range of options there will certainly be considered …,” he said.

“We’ve said that we want to ensure that we talk to farmers about (privatizing the CWB) at some point in the future and we certainly intend to do that.”

White did not rule out the acquisition of grain handling assets as part of the CWB’s new strategy going forward.

“I think we have to look at all possibilities, including (acquisition of assets).”

In the meantime, single-desk supporters showed no signs that they were ready to abandon their legal fight.

At a July 25 news conference in Saskatoon, Canadian Wheat Board Alliance chair Bill Gehl said legal challenges aimed at derailing Ottawa’s political agenda and retaining the single desk will continue.

Gehl said fundraising efforts are ongoing with strong support from farmers and single-desk advocates across Canada.

“Farmers are not taking this sitting down,” said Gehl.

“We are very much moving forward through the courts and we are not giving up.”

At least four legal actions are before the courts, opposing Ottawa’s elimination of the single desk.

Those actions include a class action suit seeking farmer compensation of $17 billion.

The CWBA is also involved in fundraising efforts to support a proposed Supreme Court hearing.

Farmer-elected directors who were removed from the CWB board room last December announced last week that they will seek leave to have their arguments heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.

“I think that farmers realize that we have a lot to lose here,” Gehl said.

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