Lack of price info hurts bottom line

Unable to compare | Canadian farmers want a reporting system similar to the USDA, which publishes elevator price data

Prairie grain farmers may have marketing freedom, but they don’t have freedom of information when it comes to grain prices, says a producer from Minto, Man.

Bill Campbell would like the federal or provincial governments to provide a service similar to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which publishes elevator grain bids in some U.S. states.

Canadian farmers would have more leverage to negotiate with grain buyers if they had that kind of information, Campbell said.

“We have been given the right of freedom and choice to market our grain wherever we want, but we do not have access to all the information to make the best decisions,” he said at a Keystone Agricultural Producers meeting held this fall in Portage la Prairie, Man.

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“The companies are only going to pay exactly what you’re willing to sell for…. I would prefer a system where I can compare all grain prices and deliver who I choose to.”

KAP members passed a resolution at the Portage la Prairie meeting that asked the organization to lobby the federal and Manitoba governments for more transparent grain price reporting.

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service reports on elevator cash bids in several northern tier states, including Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska.

Its Montana report provides information on elevator bids for spring wheat, winter wheat, durum and barley. The bids are not specific to a particular elevator. Instead, they summarize grain prices in a certain region, such as northeastern Montana.

Kaye Orton, a USDA marketing reporting assistant, said the elevators are not required to participate. They volunteer the information to the USDA, which publishes the price data.

“It’s non-partisan. We’re not biased, we just report the facts.”

Orton said the USDA doesn’t publish elevator bids in every state because it doesn’t have the necessary budget or personnel. For example, the department doesn’t report on North and South Dakota.

Jim Peterson, marketing director for the North Dakota Wheat Commission, said growers in his state don’t need the service because elevator price information is transparent.

“Most of the North Dakota elevators will post, on their website, what the bids are. And most will put the premium and discount scales for damage, falling number and protein,” he said. “So producers have a pretty good idea (about prices)…. We haven’t had a really strong call from producers that we need a more transparent (system).”

For example, Northern Plains, which is owned by CHS, the largest co-operative in the United States, publishes cash prices at its seven locations in North Dakota.

Canadian producers, on the other hand, have to seek out price information by calling companies because elevator price data isn’t available for every company, Campbell said.

“It’s a frustrating process to get all the information,” he said.

“I realize, wholeheartedly, that it is your grain to market and you can sell when (and how) you want to. But you’d like to know that you’re doing the best that you can. And I don’t think (we) have all the tools in the tool box to do the best that (we) can.”

KAP president Doug Chorney agreed that prairie farmers need more information when it comes to grain pricing.

“I was at a meeting (in October) where I learned that durum in Sask-atchewan is $8 to $10 per bushel and in Montana it’s $12 a bushel. Why is that? Farmers are asking these questions,” he said.

“If we need information about grain transportation, it’s reasonable to expect we need price information as well for farmers.”

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