Prairie grain checkoff fund may lapse without new law

The federal government will need to get legislation in place for next summer if it wants to maintain a checkoff fund backing Prairie wheat and barley research without a single marketing desk.

The Western Grains Research Foundation, which oversees wheat and barley checkoffs collected on the Prairies, is asking the government to either amend existing law or pass new law to establish a new point-of-sale checkoff system by August 2012.

That’s when the government says the Canadian Wheat Board’s legislated single-desk marketing monopoly on western wheat and barley is to come to an end, through legislation expected to be tabled later this fall.

The foundation’s checkoffs since 1995 have been deducted by the CWB from its annual final payments to Prairie growers, as per the current Canadian Wheat Board Act.

“Timing is critical to implementing an alternative checkoff collection system for wheat and barley,” WGRF board chairman Keith Degenhardt said in a release Thursday. “If the wheat and barley checkoffs are allowed to lapse it could take several years to re-establish them.”

An “alternative system” under new or amended legislation would be “similar in its fundamental features” to the current checkoffs, the foundation said.

The checkoffs would continue to apply to wheat production in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and barley production in B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba, at per-tonne rates of 30 cents for wheat and 50 cents for barley.

The “major difference” would be that the checkoffs would be deducted by commercial grain buyers at the point of producer sale, after which the checkoff revenue would be forwarded to the WGRF, the foundation said.

“Clearly recognized”

“WGRF is not an agricultural policy group and has no position in regard to the CWB marketing question,” Degenhardt emphasized in Thursday’s release.

“The mandate of WGRF is research and our interests are strictly in ensuring there is a checkoff collection mechanism in place that will continue to provide WGRF with private producer funds to support the public wheat and barley breeding programs that put new and improved varieties into farmers’ fields.”

The foundation noted it has been investing around $4 million per year into wheat breeding research, and about $750,000 per year for similar research in barley.

WGRF funds have backed over 100 new varieties of wheat and barley, to the point where the “majority” of wheat and barley acres in Western Canada are seeded to WGRF-backed varieties, the foundation said.

“The benefits are clearly recognized and valued by producers and this is demonstrated by the fact that 95 per cent of producers choose to contribute checkoff even though they have an opportunity each and every year to opt out of contributing,” WGRF executive director Garth Patterson said in the same release.

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