I'd like to thank the committee for allowing me to come to speak to you tonight.
Western Canadian grain and oilseed and pulse producers are some of the most innovative, progressive, and adaptive people I know. We've seen the continued growth and value added in our oilseeds, pulses, and other specialty crops. Now, finally, with the passage of the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, I know we will see and explore the same opportunities in wheat and barley.
By finally being allowed this freedom, these producers will see a profitable future for their businesses and more prosperous rural communities. But a majority of the directors of the current Canadian Wheat Board want to derail the idea of moving forward and of allowing us to be progressive, innovative business operators in the production of our wheat and barley, just like canola and pulses.
I'd like to speak on a number of intertwining items. First is the total lack of listening to what all of farmers within the Canadian Wheat Board jurisdiction have been telling the Canadian Wheat Board for years. Second is how that lack of listening by a majority of this board has affected the relationship with our federal government. Third, because of this, and coupled with the lack of respect for their fellow directors, these single desk directors at the Canadian Wheat Board have grossly disenfranchised themselves from reality.
On the failure to listen to all western Canadian farmers, I'll quickly go back to 2007 when we had the barley plebiscite. The results came back in favour of allowing marketing choice. At that time Chairman Ken Ritter commented, “The results of the barley plebiscite announced today are not overly surprising. The CWB has been surveying farmers every year for the past 10 years and these results appear to be consistent with our annual findings.”
I had a chance as a director to go back and look at all of our surveys up until the survey published last June. Not once was there ever support for marketing barley under the single desk. Where was there any listening to barley farmers during all those years?
Our malting sector made it clear in 2007 that there would be no new builds or investment in the existing facilities until the single desk was gone. Yet I'm happy to say that will soon be changing. I was pleased to be in Alix, Alberta, yesterday to hear of Rahr Malting Canada's expansion plans and their commitment to build long-lasting partnerships with producers to ensure quality barley for Rahr and, therefore, quality malt products from Rahr to their customers.
The Canadian cattle feeders have recently said that growth and varietal development, along with clearer market signals in barley, will increase the usage and acres once the single desk is gone.
What's really next for barley? Could we see increased food fractionation for health benefits? How about a higher starch variety of barley for the biofuel industry?
I'm also happy to hear that durum producers are excited to hear about a new pasta plant in the west.
Thinking back to our producer surveys, we've seen growth in the number of younger farmers--we categorize them as under 45--who want more marketing freedom. The Wheat Board has to look at its future as well. Who will be producing grain in the future? It will be these people. We have to address the needs of these younger farmers.
We've seen farms getting bigger, with the majority of them supporting an open market. Statistics Canada figures show that there are roughly 20,000 commercial grain producers in western Canada. So why did we send out 66,000 ballots in a plebiscite when there are only 20,000 commercial producers in the west?
A good quote comes from Mr. Oberg himself. At the Senate agriculture committee in 2006, he said that if a plebiscite were held “it should be all inclusive. The Canadian Wheat Board Act presently defines voter eligibility as any producer capable of growing the six major grains....”
The question of a dual market has been asked for years in our Canadian Wheat Board surveys. The results have shown a strong majority wanting the Canadian Wheat Board to stay with a dual market.
Honestly, folks, farmers know what a dual market means. It means a voluntary Canadian Wheat Board. To suggest that we don't know what a dual market means, and not allowing the dual market question on this past summer's ballot, was insulting to all farmers.
In my three years, I've seen a constant standoff between the majority of the board and the Canadian government. We've seen the laker purchase; the spending of farmers' money on a non-verified, non-binding plebiscite; a series of so-called producer meetings where special interest groups, such as the Communist Party of Canada, were allowed to attend and spread their propaganda; and most recently, the legal challenge to Bill C-18, spending more of farmers' pool account moneys. I've seen it go as far as not allowing management to move forward, to start working--