Monday, November 1, 2010

The CWB Doesn't Need the Single Desk to be a Producer Advocate

Single desk supporters often that the CWB and its single desk need to be protected at all costs because it is such an important and effective lobbyist on behalf of farmers.

For example, Allen Oberg, director candidate for District 5, says “Building on the strength of the single desk, the CWB is speaking out more and more for farmers.”  He gives examples of issues where CWB is acting on behalf of farmers: a railway costing review, producer cars, WTO, branding of Canadian wheat and terminal agreements and tendering.  His message is, if you lose the single desk, you’ll lose your voice on these matters. 

I disagree that the CWB needs the single desk to be a producer advocate.  Take a minute and look at the Canola Council of Canada and what it does for the canola industry (including producers), without being involved in selling canola or its products.

The Canola Council of Canada is a national, non-profit association with a mission to enhance the industry’s ability to profitably produce and supply seed, oil and meal products that offer superior value to customers throughout the world.  And it does a darn good job of it.  Members include canola growers, crop input suppliers, grain handling companies, exporters, processors, food and feed manufacturers and governments.  It’s a good model to consider for the CWB.

The Council has a number of policy positions similar to the CWB:
-          Equitable grading standards
-          Accountable, open, competitive and commercial system of grain transportation
-          Equitable treatment and level playing field under WTO
-          Domestic and North American harmonization of pesticide regulations
-          Canadian variety registration system and maintenance of high quality standards in that system.  
-          Mandatory labelling guidelines

In addition, the Council has successfully branded Canadian canola products; in fact the name “canola” indicates a Canadian identity.

Even without the single desk, the CWB could continue to play an activist or advocacy role for wheat and barley producers, much like the Canola Council does for the canola industry. 

The Canola Council’s average annual budget of $5 million is funded by:
-          a voluntary levy paid by processors and exporters;
-          program grants received from corporate and grower organization members for specific activities (the largest sources being the canola grower check-off commissions in each of the Prairie provinces);
-          government programs, both federal and provincial; and
-          funds raised by Council program areas such as the Council's Annual Convention and the sale of publications.

Looking at the CWB, assuming annual exports and domestic use of 20 million tonnes of wheat, durum and barley, the CWB could generate twice as much as the Canola Council's budget with a grower check-off of only $0.50/tonne.  This compares quite favourably to the current (2008-09) cost of the CWB of about $3.26/tonne, paid by farmers.

CWB supporters like Allen Oberg will use the fear of losing the advocacy of the CWB if it lost the single desk as a way to garner support for the status quo.  Mr. Oberg isn’t alone in this thinking.  Other candidates that echo this same message include:

-          Dan Gauthier, District 1
-          Stewart Wells, District 3
-          Lynn Jacobson, District 3
-          Kyle Korneychuk, District 5
-          Garry Draper, District 9
-          John Sandborn, District 9

As I’ve shown already, the single desk is costing farmers millions.  Don't embrace it just to protect the CWB's advocacy role; it's just not worth it.  Judge it on its own.

Ask your director-candidates to explain why they think the CWB needs the single desk to be your advocate and to promote wheat. And ask them how they think the Canola Council can do it so well without one.


  1. Allen Oberg is the "my way/single desk or the highway" kind of guy.

    Pretty sad for a guy in charge of farmers livelihoods and a multi billion dollar goverment corp.

  2. You're right you don't need a single desk to have an industry association devoted to advocacy. Not only is it unnecessary I think in this particular case its also inappropriate. The CWB is at its heart a government agency. A bureaucracy of sorts. It even has its own federal minister(Gerry Ritz). There is a big conflict of interest here having a government agency, lobby government on its own behalf. Its an incestuous relationship at best.

    Farmers should have farmers doing advocacy on their behalf not government bureaucrats or farmers(elected board directors) who get fat pay cheques from government bureaucrats(the CWB).

  3. Allen Oberg is just one of the 15 directors on the board, he has been elected by his peers to represent their issues. I believe he is doing just that. It takes people of great strength to put their names forward to be elected to these positions. It's easy to sit back and criticize without attaching your name to your comments.

  4. You know what would show great strength, courage and conviction?

    Mr.Oberg stating that he is so confident in his and the Boards ability, that he is ready to allow his "peers" to market their grain elsewhere if they are not satisfied with his or the boards performance.

    I'm pretty sure that he doesn't have that kind of strength or courage. ;)