Thanks for the opportunity to attend and present to you tonight.
One of the first things I should be clear about up front is that I am not a grain farmer; I am a beef producer. But I'm also president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. In our organization, while we don't necessarily represent grain producers directly, a number of our members do. We have groups like Wild Rose Agricultural Producers, Keystone Agricultural Producers, and the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, and there are a large number of grain farmers in the membership of those organizations. So when I'm speaking on behalf of those groups, I'm speaking about some of the key issues that we have heard from our members. And here I'm going to be talking about some of the issues that have been identified in the discussions that took place at our board as recently as last week.
One of the things I quickly learned about when I was elected president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture is the passion on the Canadian Wheat Board issue. There are people who support the board and there are people who feel they should have open market. Each side is very passionate about its views on what is taking place.
I would echo a concern of some of the earlier presenters, though, about the fast pace with which the legislation is moving forward. I think there are a number of groups that could be called as witnesses, and I reference the Western grain producers, who know the specifics of the grain industry and who have some concerns. I think it would be good to engage these groups in the discussion as well.
One basic principle that the Canadian Federation of Agriculture has always supported is the right of farmers to choose the types of systems they want for themselves. Whether it be a marketing system or whether it be identifying research priorities, farmers have to be at the core of the decision-making process. I think this was recognized in prior legislation, when it talked about farmers having a voice in any changes that took place at the Wheat Board. I think it's a principle that should be recognized going forward. I think the proposed changes to the Wheat Board, including the removal of the elected directors, could create some concern in the farm community about having some direct control of the Wheat Board.
We have not taken a position in our organization with respect to single desk or open market. Our belief is that the farmers involved—and those would be the grain farmers in western Canada—should be the ones involved in that decision, and that the decision should be made based on having good information.
That being said, there were a number of key issues that were identified. The current legislation calls for the appointment of directors as opposed to their election. We feel that is an issue that goes against the principle of having farmers controlling the organizations they're involved in. There's mention as well in the legislation of about funding for the Western Grains Research Foundation, the Canadian International Grains Institute, and the Canadian Malt Barley Technical Centre, but there is little detail on how the collection of the planned fees will take place. There is also a sunset clause in there. I think that when you're talking about research and technology, you need to have something with a long-term vision and long-term view. I think that's something that should be addressed in the legislation going forward.
It was mentioned earlier that there are still concerns about car allocation and producer cars. Questions are raised about how these are going to be coordinated and whether smaller producers will have access to those cars.
One of the other issues that has come forward is the issue of security of payment for the grains that are sold. Currently, there is confidence in the Canadian Wheat Board payments coming through. There is currently in place a system of bonding for small elevators. However, I think that one of the things to bear in mind as you're moving forward with this legislation is the fact that Bill C-13, which had been introduced earlier, had talked about removing the bonding requirements. So if you're moving ahead, there's a whole issue around the security of payments for those producers who sell the grain.
On the marketing side, one of the other issues our members brought forward was how we position a Canadian brand for grains. The Canadian Wheat Board took the lead in branding Canadian product and created some high-value markets.
Elevator access is one of the other issues that came forward from the producers who are concerned about whether the new wheat board would be able to have access...or whether it would be necessary to have legislative tools to make sure that access was there.
As I mentioned at the start, CFA does not pretend to be expert on grain marketing, but what we do believe is that farmers should have the right to direct the organizations acting on their behalf. We have an ability to bring forward some of the concerns, and I have mentioned those concerns. We must ensure that producers are aware of impending change, which goes back to the comment about the fast pace at which things are going forward and the need to ensure that producers all across the country are engaged in this discussion.
I look forward to your questions.