Minister blames wheat board for farmers' problems
June 30, 2011
Source: Daniel Proussalidis, Toronto Sun
OTTAWA - The Canadian Wheat Board just goes against the grain of federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.
Ritz blames the board for problems that western wheat and barley farmers face.
"What was once Canada's signature crop has fallen behind," he said in a speech to the Grain Growers of Canada in Winnipeg.
"Grain innovation has become stagnant and farmers are more often choosing to grow other crops such as canola, which have surpassed wheat in value."
He also issued a stinging rebuke of the wheat board's claims it helps farmers market their crops better.
"Enough is enough," Ritz told grain growers. "You are smart enough to make your own business decisions. If the board is as effective as it claims to be, you will give them your business freely and willingly."
Ritz promised the Conservatives would use their majority in the House of Commons to make board participation voluntary for western farmers.
The Tories plan to pass a bill in the fall to scrap the world's last major agricultural monopoly effective August 2012.
The NDP and Liberals oppose the move, and the wheat board has planned a non-binding summer plebiscite on the issue. The Grain Growers of Canada back the Tories.
"These changes are going to happen, so the wheat board should not squander time, resources, and goodwill," said Richard Phillips, executive director of the GGC.
As Ritz resolves to do away with supply management for grain growers, International Trade Minister Ed Fast stands firmly behind marketing boards for dairy and poultry products.
"Our government made very clear that we are going to defend supply management," Fast said in a teleconference from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The minister also insisted the policy didn't complicate trade talks in South America.
"We have the ability to try and negotiate around some of the sensitive products that each country has," said Fast. "They certainly have raised the issue with me, but it certainly didn't form the focus of any of my discussions."
Conservative officials added they saw no contradiction between supporting supply management while not supporting the Wheat Board in its current form.
They say that's because the Wheat Board only markets grains, while supply management controls production, spurs innovation and enjoys broad support among farmers.
-- with files from Reuters
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