Quality control stumbling block on road to market freedom

Farm leaders aren’t surprised to hear that at least one significant buyer of Canadian grain has had problems with quality and consistency.

In fact, the problems appeared almost to be expected.

“We knew it was going to be a problem, and lo and behold, it is,” said Ed Rempel, president of the Manitoba Canola Growers Association.

“All I thought was, ‘oh, oh, we got exactly … what we bargained for.’ ”

Long-time Keystone Agricultural Producers member Rob Brunel felt the same way.

“It was not thought out,” said Brunel about the implications of removing CWB’s marketing monopolies.

“It was like, ‘we want to get rid of the monopoly, so we did.’ But what’s the chain reaction of effects down the line?”

Rempel and Brunel were reacting to a presentation by Derek Sliworsky of Singapore’s Prima Group at the recent Cereals North America conference. Sliworsky said Canadian grain has been deviating recently from its usual tight quality and consistency standards.

The 2013-14 marketing year was badly disrupted by rail delays and the massive size of the crop, but Brunel and Rempel said they think that merely highlighted flaws in the post-single desk marketing system rather than being the sole source of the problems.

Rempel said most farmers are happy with “marketing freedom” brought by the end of the CWB single desk, but many farmers worried that ending the monopoly would also remove a critical element of Canada’s ability to deliver what it promises.

When it was the single desk, the CWB was the effective overseer of the cereal grains logistics system, which could act as a “czar” to ensure that grain companies got the right grain from the right areas to port at the right time.

Without the board, individual grain companies now operate on their own without the ability to co-ordinate and blend from the entire prairie region.

“The wheat board could just make sure that what was required and what was demanded in the contract was what was supplied at the correct time,” said Rempel.

“We’ve lost that function.”

Brunel said the political desire to break the wheat board monopoly wasn’t matched by a commitment to fill all the gaps created by that deregulation, so it’s not surprising to see problems develop under the stress of last year’s crop and logistics problems.

“To me it boils down to a stumble in that policy change from the elimination of the monopoly,” said Brunel.

“They never thought it through (about) who’s going to do it afterwards.”

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