POLITICS

Cheers, jeers mark one-year anniversary of end of Canadian Wheat Board monopoly

08/01/2013 02:01 EDT | Updated 10/01/2013 05:12 EDT
PENSE, Sask. - Cheers and jeers marked the one-year anniversary Thursday of Ottawa's removal of the Canadian Wheat Board's grain marketing monopoly.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz celebrated the government's decision with farmers in Pense, Sask.

"One year ago today, our government delivered on our long-standing promise to give western Canadian grain farmers the marketing freedom they wanted and deserved," Ritz said.

"We are seeing wheat and barley producers earn up to 20 per cent more from the marketplace than they did last year."

Ritz cited a Canadian Federation of Independent Business survey that suggests most producers believe scrapping the monopoly has affected them in a positive way.

But opponents of the change are telling a different story.

The Regina-based Canadian Wheat Board Alliance said a year after the change it is clear that farmers are no longer receiving full value for their grain.

Chairman Bill Gehl said higher grain prices have more to do with Mother Nature than the demise of the marketing monopoly.

"Farmers who think this year's apparently higher grain prices are the result of ending the wheat board are living in a fool's paradise," he said in a release.

"Grain prices are generally higher because the United States has suffered the worst drought and production failure since the 1930s."

Gehl said major grain customers such as China and Japan have complained that they aren't getting the same level of service as before.

Ritz said grain sales to both Asian countries are up substantially.

"I am happy to report to you that our sales of wheat to Japan went up 30 per cent last year and our sales to China went up 150 per cent," he said.

Agriculture Canada said the dollar value of wheat exports to China last year, excluding durum, was just under $171.5 million and almost $466 million to Japan.