BUSINESS AS USUAL
MINOR CHANGES FOR WHEAT AND BARLEY GROWERS AS
TRANSITIONAL CHECK-OFF COMES TO AN END
BY LEE HART
Alberta wheat and barley growers will be taking full control of how their check-off dollars are spent next year as the industry moves to a system where each provincial commodity commission collects its own check-off funds.
It is part of a planned administrative move completing a transition following the end of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) in 2012. The actual check-off amount collected today will change, as the new system kicks into gear with the new crop year beginning August 2017.
The new system not only gives each commission full responsibility for checkoff funds, but also forces it to be even more accountable for how those check-off dollars are spent. However, a major shift in check-off dollar distribution is not expected. Funds will continue to be used primarily for ongoing initiatives in variety and agronomic research and development, technology transfer, and market and policy development. The biggest changes are that it will be a single check-off entry that appears on cash purchase tickets, the check-off will go directly to the respective crop commissions—the Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC) or Alberta Barley— and each commission will be responsible and accountable for the distribution of all funds collected.
Check-off dollars were collected and distributed by the CWB during its long era of single-desk marketing. When the CWB was eliminated in 2012, the federal government implemented a transitional two-tier check-off system. The Western Canadian Deduction (WCD) represented the federal portion of the check-off—48 cents per tonne for wheat Prairie-wide; 56 cents per tonne for barley in B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba; and four cents per tonne for barley in Alberta. The cash purchase ticket showed one entry for the federal check-off and a second entry for the commission check-off.
As a result, in the 2016/17 crop year, the Alberta check-off for wheat stood at 48 cents per tonne for the WCD and 70 cents per tonne to AWC, for a total $1.18 per tonne. For barley, it stood at four cents for the WCD and $1 per tonne to Alberta Barley, for a total $1.04 per tonne. AWC is proposing to implement a lower single check-off of $1.09 per tonne starting in August 2017. Alberta Barley proposed to increase its check-off to $1.20 per tonne. The proposal was approved at Alberta Barley’s annual general meeting and will be implemented in August.
The five-year WCD transition period provided growers in each province with time to establish their own commodity commissions to handle collection and distribution of check-off dollars. Alberta Barley had been in place prior to the end of the CWB, and AWC was established on the same day the CWB was officially eliminated. Now Saskatchewan and Manitoba also have fully operational provincial commissions representing both crops.
Since Alberta Barley was already operational when the CWB ended, it also took on the interim administrative role of collecting and distributing the federal (WCD) portion of the check-off on behalf of all western provinces. That job will be handed to the respective provincial crop commissions in August.
Outgoing Alberta Barley chair Mike Ammeter said the transition to a single check-off system collected by the commission is one of those situations “where nothing changes, yet everything changes.”
“The dollar figure really doesn’t change, but now we as a commission are directly responsible to farmers for how that money is used,” said Ammeter, who farms near Sylvan Lake. “It brings the responsibility and accountability back to the organization that represents farmers.”
Ammeter said there has been a good working relationship for many years between farmers and the organizations supported by the WCD, such as the Canadian International Grains Institute, the Western Grains Research Foundation and the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre, so the changes to check-offs shouldn’t disrupt research funding.
“We have a very good relationship with these organizations and I believe our support for their research, varietal development and other technical support will continue. We have a very good relationship with all our research and development partners,” said Ammeter. “I believe it is important to let producers know that a change is happening, and why it is happening, but in some respects, it is also business as usual.”
AWC chair Kevin Auch has similar thoughts on the check-off changes. “I believe the transition is just a natural fit since we as a commission are collecting money from farmers so we are accountable to those farmers and have responsibility for how the money is distributed,” said Auch, who farms near Carmangay. “I don’t see any major changes in the way things are handled, but it only makes sense that the organization that is collecting money from wheat farmers should be responsible to those wheat farmers as well.”