Contrary to the opinion piece published in the Sept. 11 Financial Post (the one Ottawa policy in NAFTA that even Canadian farmers think is unfair), Canada’s grain grading and variety registration systems are never used to prevent American grain from being imported and sold into Canada. In fact, many southern Alberta feedlots regularly import American corn and barley with no restrictions. Our system just does not allow American grain to pretend to be Canadian — and there are good reasons for that.
The American grain trading system has almost no merit or quality standards that apply to either its grain varieties or export standards. It is very much a” buyer beware” system. Any variety of wheat that any entity wishes to bring forward gets automatic acceptance, without any merit considerations such yield or quality, for example. Their export standards are based upon specification only, and every shipment can have different values.
On the other hand, Canada’s system has always focused on the quality and consistency of our grain, allowing our customers to purchase our product with the assurance that every shipment meets rigorous standards.
Every variety of grain registered in Canada must pass through a scientific and peer-reviewed process that ensures it is equal to or better than current varieties, and that it fits within a designated class with similar characteristics.
Customers know they can trust our grading system to provide them with a consistent supply of a proven quality product that meets their expectations with every shipment. Canadian farmers know the registered grain variety they sow will grow well in our climate and that prospective customers will want to purchase it.
Canadian farmers, as well as American, are subject to the provision that any variety of unregistered wheat they grow can only enter the Canadian elevator system as feed quality. This does not prevent any farmer from growing other varieties under an Identity Preserved contract where the product is kept separate and delivered directly to an end-use buyer.
The comments in the Financial Post article that Canadian farmers think the system is unfair, and the quotes from two industry “key players”, do not represent a majority opinion. Neither Tom Steve nor Cam Dahl can speak on behalf of Canadian farmers. Mr. Steve is an employee of the Alberta Wheat Commission, and while he may speak for the AWC, he does not speak for farmers. That is the duty of its elected directors. Mr. Dahl, who is president of an agribusiness-controlled organization more interested in industry profit than what’s good for farmers, has no authority to speak on our behalf.
The three wheat commissions of the prairie provinces owe it to the farmers who pay their bills, and whom they were elected to represent, to declare their positions and stand up for farmers’ interests.
This issue, like so many that involve agriculture, is a complicated one that does not lend itself to simplistic explanations or reckless action. Canada and the United States are competitors in the global grain trade, and each country will do its best to maintain a system that suits its own interests.
Canada’s regulations regarding American wheat delivered into Canada do not restrict American access, but are there to protect the quality and consistency of our peerless grain quality.
Cam Goff operates a grain farm with his brothers near Hanley, Sask., and is vice-president (operations) for the National Farmers Union.