OTTAWA, ONTARIO, CANADA — The Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, introduced Oct. 18 by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, will give Western Canadian wheat and barley farmers the freedom to market their grain as they choose, said Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC).

An open grain market will attract investment, encourage innovation, create value-added jobs, and build a stronger economy for all Canadians, AAFC said. The Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) refuted those claims, saying the legislation will remove farmers from the equation.

The CWB was created by Parliament in 1943 when Canada was committed to supplying inexpensive wheat to Britain during World War II. The legislation introduced on Oct. 18 will remove the monopoly of the CWB and give marketing choice to all farmers, returning to farmers the right to market their wheat and barley in the best interest of their individual farms and businesses, AAFC said.

Farmers will have the choice of whether to sell on an open market or through a voluntary CWB. The legislation will allow an interim CWB to act as a voluntary marketing entity, supported by the federal government while it transitions to full private ownership, AAFC said. The legislation will also immediately allow farmers and companies to forward contract for the delivery of grain after Aug. 1, 2012.

The government said it will provide an economic incentive of up to C$5 million per year for five years to support shipments of grain, including oilseeds, pulses and special crops, through the Port of Churchill. It will also provide support through funding of up to C$4.1 million over three years to maintain the Port of Churchill during the transition period. In addition, the port infrastructure project presently funded through an agreement with the Churchill Gateway Development Corporation will be extended to 2015. Finally, in consultation with all stakeholders, the government will explore options for the future of Churchill and the Port of Churchill.

Allen Oberg, chairman of the CWB’s governing board of directors, said the legislation removes farmers from the CWB.

"The CWB will no longer be controlled by farmers or focused on farmers," said Oberg, a farmer from Forestburg, Alberta. "This is not about giving farmers choice, it's about ignoring the choices they've already made. Farmers chose the CWB single desk in our plebiscite this summer, when tens of thousands voted to keep it. Farmers choose the people who run the CWB in director elections, and they repeatedly choose farmer-directors who value the single desk.

"This is not about putting farmers in the drivers' seat — it's about throwing us under the bus, and handing the steering wheel to huge American and European multinationals that control the world's grain trade."

If passed, the legislation will immediately remove the 10 farmer-elected directors from the helm of the CWB, creating a new governing structure consisting of five government appointees. It also paves the way for an ill-defined voluntary organization that is intended to be transitioned into a private, for-profit corporation, Oberg said.

The Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi), Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre (CMBTC) and Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF) said on Oct. 19 they applauded the government’s commitment to establish a voluntary check-off on wheat and barley.

The marketing act allows for the collection of a check-off for five years to enable Cigi, CMBTC and WGRF to deliver vital market development, wheat and barley variety development and technical support to the industry.

All three organizations said they look forward to working with Ritz, department officials and industry partners during the coming months in the development of the regulations for the check-off. The organizations also look forward to participating in the development and implementation of a new model to allow for permanent dedicated check-offs for market development, wheat and barley variety development, and technical industry support following this five year transition period.