Adam Smith, considered the father of modern economics, explained that an invisible hand will guide the marketplace if consumers and producers are free to make their own choices about what to buy and sell. Then the market will settle on an equilibrium that is beneficial to all.
But what if the buyer has more information than the seller? What results is not equilibrium, but an economy tilted in favour of those who have the most information.
That isn’t healthy.
It’s not to say that situation will unfold entirely with the Canadian Oilseed Processors Association’s decision to end its weekly crushing reports, but we can start to see the slope, and it’s slanted against farmers.
The COPA report gave crushing numbers and capacity of utilization — matched against the previous year — of canola and soybeans. These are important technical signals of the marketplace that farmers can use to determine whether to sell or hold their grain.
Farmers can use the information to confirm their market analysis based on the spread of basis points.
It’s the incremental loss that smarts. COPA will still produce a monthly report. Monthly statistics are published by Statistics Canada, and the Canadian Grain Commission produces a report on grain movement.
Yet the timeliness of the weekly COPA canola crushing report made it more relevant. By the time the monthly numbers come out, it may well be that the markets opportunity presented by the numbers has passed.
A COPA spokesperson said the organization decided to streamline its priorities, and the weekly report was a low priority.
The loss of this timely market information puts Canadian farmers at a disadvantage compared to farmers in the United States, who have more timely data.
Ken Ball, a senior commodity futures adviser at PI Financial in Winnipeg, told the CNS news agency that Canada has “dramatically less amount of timely, current, pertinent information compared to what we get on the U.S. markets.”
COPA’s members include Archer Daniels Midland, which is reported to be in talks to buy Bunge (also a COPA member), Louis Dreyfus, Richardson (which recently pulled its funding from oilseeds groups), and Viterra (which was bought by Glencore in 2012).
You can see what’s going on — fewer, bigger companies, less information and pressure to acquiesce through removal of financial support.
Consolidation throughout the agriculture industry should not be coupled with less information for farmers.
At that point, the invisible hand starts to close on producers and crushing takes on a whole new meaning.
The federal government has largely stayed silent on massive mergers in the industry, allowing companies worth tens of billions of dollars to swallow up companies also worth tens of billions of dollars, so long as certain divisions are sold off to maintain some degree of competition.
The age of globalization has ushered in this economic climate, but farmers shouldn’t be handcuffed with less information.
If these giant companies must merge, key markets information must be made available to farmers on a timely basis as part of the stipulations of government approval.
That must be a condition of every merger agreement in the agricultural sector.
Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.