Sask Wheat remains an ideological battleground

Of all the crop commissions serving producers on the Prairies, Sask Wheat is probably the most politicized, and that’s continuing with the current director election.

Wheat and barley commissions were established in each of the three Prairie Provinces to help fill the void when the Canadian Wheat Board’s marketing monopoly was removed. Sask Wheat remains a battleground for many of those old arguments.

Ten candidates are vying for four board positions. If you’re a Sask-atchewan wheat producer, you should have received a yellow election envelope in the mail.

Unfortunately, most eligible producers won’t vote. We might rant and rail on coffee row, but somehow, it’s too much work to read candidate biographies, do a bit of thinking and cast a ballot.

This is true of all commission elections. It’s somewhat understandable when all the candidates are saying roughly the same thing. It’s tough to judge them by their bios and their rather general comments about forwarding the specific commodity.

But wheat, particularly in Sask-atchewan, is still an ideological battleground. That’s why so many producers are running. If you read the information for each candidate and do a bit of reading between the lines, most of the candidates are in one of two camps.

If you’re new to this farm politics thing, here’s a primer. Think of it as the National Farmers Union on the left of the political spectrum and the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association on the right.

You don’t hear much from the NFU these days except an occasional editorial piece such as a recent one from former president Stewart Wells waving a warning flag that we must continue to keep American wheat out of Canada to preserve our stellar international reputation.

The WCWGA on the right of the spectrum remain business-oriented free enterprises. WCWGA executive director Robin Speer recently left the organization to take a communications job with CN Rail.

Hard to believe you’d ever see someone from the NFU do that.

The NFU was dead set against ending the CWB monopoly. For years, the WCWGA fought for marketing freedom.

Many farmers are somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum. Most have adapted to the open market for wheat and few would opt to turn back the clock, even if that was possible.

But there’s a solid core of left-wing evangelists with a chip on their shoulders and a belief that farmers must be protected from big, bad businesses. That core is alive and well within Sask Wheat.

That’s why Sask Wheat has refused to join Cereals Canada. Apparently, farmers shouldn’t be working in concert with grain companies to promote our products on the world market.

Many of the Sask Wheat candidates, along with directors not up for election this year, subscribe to the NFU view that American wheat imports pose a threat to the Canadian system.

In reality, there’s virtually no threat and if you want to continue exporting wheat and durum to the U.S., reciprocity is required.

Sask Wheat deserves some accolades. The organization is co-operating with the other wheat commissions on research projects and their fusarium risk map is a great tool for producers.

However, on many issues, Sask Wheat is much further to the left of the political spectrum than a majority of farmers. Those with NFU leanings obviously have supporters that understand the importance of voting.

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