Weather forces CWB out of grain market

by Emily Wilson
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WINNIPEG, CANADA — In an unprecedented move, the Canadian Wheat Board has pulled out of the world grain market because of concerns over tight supplies this year.

CWB spokeswoman Louise Waldman said the move did not mean the agency was out of business, but it did mean it must look carefully at every sales request and take care of its best customers first. "What we’re doing is assessing any sales request on a case-by-case basis,’’ Waldman said. "We don’t anticipate a problem not being able to sell the grain we have.’’

The drought that has devastated western Canada has been mirrored by weather problems in other major exporting nations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has predicted that combined Canadian and Australian wheat exports would be slashed by 8 million tonnes from last month and 13.5 million tonnes from last year.

The CWB has estimated that the crop could be cut by about one-third and Statistics Canada had earlier issued a forecast that was, if anything, even gloomier. Its survey of farmers suggested a western wheat crop, excluding durum, of just 10.2 million tonnes.

That’s the smallest wheat crop in 28 years, while barley, the other grain sold by the CWB, is expected to hit a 34-year-low at 7.9 million tonnes.

"We’re looking at one of the worst droughts in history,’’ Waldman said. "At this time what we’re doing, quite frankly, is looking at what’s going on with the harvest.’’

Durum may be the one bright spot. Statistics Canada reported that durum production is expected to be up 23% from 2001 to 3.7 million tonnes, thanks to increased plantings and better yields.

Durum is produced in the southern Prairies, which suffered less this year than last year from drought.

Meanwhile Canada’s Agriculture Minister, Lyle Vanclief, says that although this year’s harvest in Canada was not sufficient, the country had large reserves of high-quality wheat.