Farmers demand revamp of export reporting

Saskatchewan farmers want more transparent and timely reporting of crop exports.

A resolution made the rounds last week at the annual general meetings of a number of commodity groups calling on the commissions to lobby for the establishment of a weekly sales report, similar to what is produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Markets work best when all players have access to the same information and we have a gap in information access in Canada,” said Brent Johnson, a grower from Strasbourg, Sask., who created the resolution.

He noted that the USDA requires sales over a certain set minimum tonnage to be reported daily and compiled weekly. The report provides a “near real-time” picture of the volume of grain being marketed in that country every week.

Johnson, who is also vice-chair of the Saskatchewan Barley Development Commission, said if Canadian farmers had access to similar information in this country it would give them the ability to better gauge market conditions and make marketing decisions.

“This fall, the information on how the market was moving would have definitely affected how I priced this year’s production,” he said.

“We’re seeing a jump in prices and I think many were wishing they maybe could have captured more of that.”

He said the timing is perfect now that federal agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has announced the consultation phase of the Canada Grain Act review.

Johnson said the issue has been circling around the SaskBarley board table for years.

But the inspiration for the resolution came from a Nov. 6, 2020, Twitter fight between Larry Weber and former federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz over the need for export sales reporting.

Weber argued there was a need for more detailed and timely sales reporting. He has been “the guy with a cattle prod” ever since.

“It has been a 10-year journey to get people to listen to why this was important,” he said in an email.

“Markets function best when all parties have access to the same information. When one segment has information that the other does not, price transparency is compromised.”

Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association, said grain companies need to better understand exactly what information farmers are seeking before providing a detailed response to the proposal.

But he noted that farmers need to understand that once a grain company buys their grain on the elevator driveway it becomes their property and there may be compelling reasons why they don’t want to share what happens to that grain beyond that point.

“There could be commercially sensitive information if it’s not packaged and reported right,” he said.

“That would be one of the flags we would probably throw up on this.”

But farmers seemed to like the idea. The resolution passed by wide margins at the canola, wheat, barley, oat, flax and pulse meetings.

Jake Leguee, a farmer and Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission vice-chair, said farmers need better information.

“Other countries such as Australia and the United States have far greater obligations in place for (export) sales reporting,” he said.

“We receive sales reporting information a month and a half after it happens. I believe if you put good, timely information in farmers’ hands, they will have the opportunity to make better marketing decisions (that) directly impacts profitability.”

Saskatchewan Pulse Growers director Corey Loessin said pulse crops are not traded on any futures market.

“Transparency is even more important I would say for our crops,” he said.

Johnson said the same holds true for barley and flax. There are few price discovery tools for those crops.

He said farmers requested increased grain sales transparency during the 2015 Canada Transportation Act review.

“To date we have received no update on this request,” he said.

Allan Kuhlmann, a farmer from Vanguard, Sask., and another SaskBarley director, said more information is better than a little bit, which is what exists today.

“The Americans have a whole lot more information available to make their marketing decisions than we in Canada do, so I think we need to level the playing field a little bit, if it’s at all possible,” he said.

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