Western wheat and barley growers must get more vocal and active with the federal government to protect their interests, says the chairman of the Canadian Wheat Board.
Larry Hill, who represents District 3 in southern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan, said dwindling federal spending on agricultural research is a good example.
Speaking to the Alberta Soft Wheat Producers Commission annual meeting, Hill said he ponders where research and extension budgets are going. “I’m reasonably close to the Swift Current Research Centre and I’m disappointed that money is being withdrawn for research,” he said.
Hill reaffirmed the importance of public-variety research for agriculture. “For producers, we should be pressuring government to put more money into research and how we move ahead in world grain trade,” he said. What should farmers grow this spring brought some good advice. “Grow what you grow best,” he said. “Some things look better than others; nothing looks great. Lentils are getting lots of hype.”
Hill grows durum, but there is excess carryover that could put downward pressure on price. The U. S. has a carryout of 1.1 million tonnes. Canada also has lots of durum in storage. And last year, Mexico grew one million tonnes. Normally it produces 500,000.
Hill said crop selection could be a tough decision for producers this spring. “I worry that people grow a new crop they have no idea about,” he said.
Hill has produced lentils since 1983, and remembers some pretty ugly crops in the early years. Now, there are a lot better varieties out there. “It is tricky and risky to grow a new crop,” he said. “Be mindful of what you do well.”
Separate human and feed price?
Art Eckert of Duchess asked the board to differentiate grain prices for quality as it did in the past. Eckert said soft wheat has been pressured into a low-price market. “Will you start differentiating for price for soft wheat headed to the human food market,” said Eckert. “It must be differentiated from grain for ethanol. If not differentiated, it makes no sense for me to grow it.”
Hill said the U. S. is a more valuable market. And it is tricky to have a plan to try to meet the domestic market demand. Throw ethanol production into the mix just muddies the water. The commission and board have been working on a new pricing program for a couple of months. “I hope the program we are working on will help,” said Hill. “There have been a lot of pilot programs in the past from the CWB. Some worked well, some not. We want to see this industry move ahead.”
Hill still has faith for the future of the wheat board. “Yes, 10 years from now I think the CWB will still be around,” he said. “It is a good chance.”
Hill said there is a good argument at World Trade Organization to support the board. There is no reason to give it up there.”Producers should see a board that can compete in the world markets,” he said. “The challenge will be for producers to get involved.”
It is important the board do the best job, and tell producers what is happening all the time. Let facts tell the story. He said producer can expect more information with Pool Return Outlook so they have a better idea of what to do with cropping decisions.