After years of bitter debate and several months of legal battles, a new grain marketing era started on Wednesday.
Western Canadian farmers have the option of selling wheat, durum and barley to the grain company of their choice, or they can go through a voluntary CWB. Before Aug. 1, producers were required to market those crops through the Canadian Wheat Board’s single desk selling system.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and several hundred open market supporters attended a celebration on a farm near Kindersley, SK on Wednesday afternoon.
"The prices look great and I think there couldn’t be a more opportune time for it to happen," said Cherilyn Nagel, a Mossbank, SK farmer and past president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association. Spring wheat prices are nearing $10 a bushel due to droughts in the U.S. Midwest and the Black Sea region.
The CWB is also looking forward to the open market. Chief executive officer Ian White believes farmers will commit between 30 and 40 per cent of their wheat production to the voluntary marketing agency.
"We will add value for farmers," he says. "We have streamlined our operations. We have negotiated new business arrangements that will help us succeed."
The CWB has commercial grain handling agreements with Viterra, Richardson Pioneer, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus and a handful of smaller independent companies. Farmers who market their crops through the CWB can deliver grain to more than 170 delivery points.
The agreements are needed because the CWB does not own any country elevators or port terminals. It is still in negotiations with other companies such as Richardson Pioneer, Paterson Grain and Parrish & Heimbecker.
Meantime, federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz acknowledges having received inquiries about selling the CWB.
"We have already had a couple of entities come forward saying they would love to buy the CWB," says Ritz. "They (CWB) have a tremendous rolodex of marketing (contacts) around the world and they wanted to capture that."
"We are not prepared to entertain a takeover that quickly," Ritz continues. "I think there are some great roles for the CWB to play in the next two to three years and we will analyze it at that point. So, there is no rush."
The federal government has a five year window where it will continue to guarantee initial payments. Ritz says the CWB will have two to three years to come up with a plan on how it will move forward.