Small Farmers Have Too Much Say In CWB Vote

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Henry Vos is a farmer-elected director of the Canadian Wheat Board. He farms near Fairview.

The CWB voters list does not accurately reflect the farm community. It gives far too much clout to those who do not depend on farming as their main source of income.

In the 2007-08 crop year, the CWB issued 84,403 permit books. Some would suggest that this should be the makeup of the voters list for the CWB elections.

However, 29,538 of these books did not have any deliveries. Of the remaining 54,865 books a large number are “Interested Parties” (i. e., landlords). Most of these people are not active producers but get a share of crop produced on their land.

There are also many permit book holders who have deliveries under 50 tonnes. These are usually small operators who have business interests other than farming. Those with deliveries under 50 tonnes represent an additional 12,723 books. This leaves 42,142 permit books holders who one might consider as active producers.

CWB data show that two-thirds of CWB deliveries are made by less than 12,000 permit books. In fact, 80 per cent of deliveries are made by 18,000 permit books, representing just 21 per cent of total books issued. To put it another way, it means farmers who account for 20 per cent of our deliveries get 70 per cent of the votes!

If 18,000 farmers account for 80 per cent of our business, it makes one question the legitimacy of sending out 62,325 ballots during the 2006 and 2008 elections. It means there’s an awful lot of people eligible to vote who really don’t have much of a business interest at stake.

One reason for the excessive number of permit books is because producer car shippers and those with small holdings gain a delivery advantage if their family takes out a number of permit books. This is because the CWB allows every permit book holder to ship out a full producer car (about 100 tonnes) or truck (45 tonnes) under the first contract call, even if the tonnage under your contract call would be less than these amounts.

For example, if a farmer has 100 tonnes of wheat contracted and the CWB has issued a 25 per cent contract call, the producer car shipper can ship the full 100 tonnes. A farmer with 1,000 tonnes contracted would only be allowed to ship two producer cars (2 x 100 tonnes) plus another 50 tonnes by truck.

This means a family of four that has four permit books and produces 400 tonnes would be able to ship out their entire wheat production by producer car in the fall whereas a farm with 1,000 tonnes with four permit books would only be able to ship out 40 per cent of their production (4 x 100 tonnes).

Bear in mind that large farmers are more likely to be incorporated, in which case they are limited to one permit book. Now don’t get me wrong, I strongly support producer cars, but the rules need to provide fair and reasonable access to the system for everyone, including those producers that do not have access to cars or choose to ship through the elevator system.

The effect of all this is that those with small holdings (many of whom are older farmers who are gradually exiting the business) have a disproportionally large say in CWB elections.

The CWB farmer surveys have consistently shown that older and smaller farmers tend to support the CWB more than younger and larger farmers.

In the CWB’s 2006 producer survey, there was 20 per cent more support for the CWB from farmers over 65 years of age compared to farmers under age 35. There was also 12 per cent more support for the CWB by farmers under 640 acres than from farmers over 2500 acres.

Why does this matter? The risk to the organization is the board of directors does not have a mandate from the active producers of CWB grains.

The voters list does not align with the actual producers who raise the majority of the grain. This lack of conformiy between voters and actual producers represents a serious threat to the long-term interest of producers and the long-term best interests of the CWB.

The risk is the organization moves on a track that is not in a direction that meets the needs of current and future producers. History is littered with examples of animals, organizations, including grain companies that became extinct because they failed to adapt quickly enough. They were not in tune with the needs of current and future generations they had hoped to serve.

I believe it is my duty as a director to ensure we have a mandate from actual producers and actively strive to meet their business needs now and into the future. I think we need to change the voters list to represent active producers of Canadian Wheat Board Act grains. We also need to change the rules to ensure directors are truly representative of the farmers we are entrusted to serve.

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