WHO WILL SPEAK FOR WHEAT AND BARLEY FARMERS?
BY TOM STEVE
Farmers could be forgiven for being a bit perplexed by the recent proliferation of farm organizations in Western Canada.
Unless you are immersed in the world of agri-policymaking, you may need a manual to keep up with all the groups and the work they do on your behalf. New provincial wheat and barley com- missions have sprung up, along with two national councils—Cereals Canada and the Barley Council of Canada. So, why is this happening?
When the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) lost its single-desk powers in 2012, the marketing changes were just part of the story. It signalled a fundamental shift in who controls wheat and barley varietal research, market development and policy advocacy.
Not that long ago, farm policy in Western Canada was largely shaped by the CWB and the Prairie wheat pools through their farmer delegate bodies. The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association (WCWGA), the Western Barley Growers Association (WBGA) and United Grain Growers represented the right; general farm organizations such as Wild Rose Agricultural Producers and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture occupied the middle; and the National Farmers Union (NFU) weighed in from the far left.
The disappearance of the pools and the CWB as voices for farmers has left a void and paved the way for a “new order” in the wheat and barley industry. What the end-state model will look like is still to be determined, but provincial crop commissions and their national organizations are poised to assume much of that responsibility.
Check-off commissions are certainly not new for crops like canola and pulses, but prior to the passage of the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, wheat and barley research and market development decisions were dominated by the CWB. Alberta charted a more independent course by forming the Alberta Barley Commission over 20 years ago. Commissions were also set up to advance winter wheat and soft wheat, and these groups later spearheaded the development of the Alberta Wheat Commission to represent all wheat classes.
What is currently being debated is how all of these groups will collaborate and who will do what.
The provincial commissions, who collect and administer the check-off dollars, will obviously carry a lot of weight and are ultimately accountable to wheat and barley producers. The new national councils, with significant funding from the commissions and industry, will serve as national voices for wheat and barley.
As the commissions and councils become established, existing farm lobby groups are contemplating how they fit
in. The Grain Growers of Canada, for ex- ample, has established itself as a national voice for grain and oilseed producers in Ottawa, so how does it collaborate with Cereals Canada and the Barley Council? Where do the WCWGA, WBGA, NFU and general farm organizations fit in the new environment, and is there room in the tent for all of them?
Another issue to be tackled is the future of wheat and barley varietal development, and specifically of the Western Grains Research Foundation. It funds a good portion of public breeding through a federal check-off that is set to end in 2017, and has a board of directors representing no less than 18 farm organizations.
Not to be overlooked is the Canada Grains Council, a national body that includes representatives from producer groups, grain companies and processors.
Where we go from here is the obvious question—and one that will be debated during this winter’s farm meeting season and beyond. The good news is that change creates opportunity, and farmers have been given a mandate by their provincial and federal governments to shape the future of the wheat and barley industry—and make history in the process.