Cut grain inspection costs to stay competitive, say Alberta farm groups

Alberta Wheat and Alberta Barley split with Prairie counterparts on Canada Grain Act review

Inspection fees levied by the Canadian Grain Commission are front and centre as Ottawa conducts a review of the system that regulates grain standards.

The system that regulates grain standards needs to be modernized — and costly duplication of inspection services eliminated, say Alberta’s cereal commissions.

“The Canada Grain Act hasn’t been reviewed since 1971, and from 1971 to 2021, we’ve seen significant changes on the farm,” said Alberta Wheat chair Todd Hames. “It’s an old act, so it’s time to make it new.”

Ottawa is reviewing the act and the role of the Canadian Grain Commission, and both need an overhaul, said Tom Steve, general manager of Alberta Wheat and Barley.

“The nature of the grain industry and farming has changed dramatically, and we believe it’s time to look at what the Canadian Grain Commission should be doing and what it should potentially stop doing,” he said, adding the agency should move from being a “service provider to predominantly being a regulation and enforcement agency.”

The first step is to scrap its outward weighing and inspection services — work that can be done more efficiently by the private sector, said Steve.

Currently, the grain commission inspects grain for export — and then most large grain companies pay a third party to do a second inspection.

“Those vessels are inspected twice in 70 to 80 per cent of the instances,” said Steve. “So what we’re actually seeing is the cost of not one but two inspections end up being charged back to the farmer through lower prices at the farm gate.”

That’s not sensible, said Alberta Barley chair Tara Sawyer.

“I don’t want to be charged twice for the same test. A third party can do it for us,” said Sawyer, who farms near Acme. “There’s still a role for (the grain commission) regulating and enforcing how grading methods are done wherever their standards are used for quality assessment.

“That’s their wheelhouse and that’s where they can expand their role.”

There also needs to be a way to deal with newer quality parameters for wheat such as falling number (an indicator of sprouting damage) and DON, said Steve.

“Because those are not grading factors, the grain commission doesn’t have the full authority to help farmers adjudicate disputes,” he said. “This is a frustration for farmers when they’re dealing at the local elevator and grain companies are imposing discounts on issues that the grain commission doesn’t have the power to provide any sort of third-party adjudication on.

“What we’re hearing from farmers is that they’d like to see the grain commission more active in helping them exercise their rights to dispute grading decisions by grain companies.”

Producers should also have longer to dispute grading results, added Sawyer.

“When we’re talking about falling number and DON, we’re asking that the timeline to dispute be available in a larger window — five business days from the date of delivery,” she said. “As it stands right now with the way farms deliver grain, we’re not always there, whether we’re using truckers or other third parties for delivering our grain.”

The commissions would also like the government to pay more of the bill for the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC), which gets most of its revenue from outward weighing and inspection services.

“We think it’s unfair that farmers have to bear that cost. The taxpayers of Canada should shoulder some of that responsibility,” said Steve. “The federal contribution to the cost of operating the CGC is very low, so farmers are paying over 80 per cent of the cost of operating the CGC. Those costs affect our competitiveness.”

The cost of grain commission services should also be on the invoice a farmer gets when delivering grain, added Hames.

“Right now, farmers aren’t really aware of what they’re paying for the CGC,” said the Lloydminster-area farmer.

Lowering these sorts of regulatory costs are key for Prairie producers, added Steve.

“We’re the farthest producing region from international tidewater in the world,” he said. “So every cost factor that’s added into the system along the way will make us potentially less competitive.”

But not everyone in the industry agrees.

While the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association and the Western Grain Elevator Association back such changes, other Prairie farm groups are opposed, including Sask Wheat, the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, and Keystone Agriculture Producers.

“To maintain Canada’s international reputation for high-quality grain, the CGC must ensure all grain leaving Canada meets buyer specifications,” the latter, Manitoba’s main farm group, wrote in its submission for the federal review.

But Canada’s reputation as a producer of top-quality grain won’t “take a hit” just because an act that hasn’t been reviewed since 1971 is modernized, said Hames.

“Our reputation is strong, and that’s in part because of the grain commission and what it’s done,” he said. “We can’t move forward into the future if we don’t change the CGC. The risk we face is being stuck in this old world and getting left behind.”

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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