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The Globe and Mail

Wheat Board says Western farmers earned $5.8-billion in last crop year

Allen Oberg, chair of Canadian Wheat Board walks through one of his wheat fields, near Forestburg, Alberta on Aug. 19, 2011.

John Ulan/The Globe and Mail/John Ulan/The Globe and Mail

Western wheat and barley growers earned about $5.8-billion from the Canadian Wheat Board for the crop year that ended July 31 – the fourth highest return on record despite a year that saw a smaller crop of lower-quality grain and included rail delivery problems.

"The last marketing year was a challenge right from the start because of a cool and rainy summer in 2010 that left a small and low quality crop in Western Canada," Alberta farmer and board chairman Allen Oberg said Friday.

"As farmers, we faced frustration all throughout the year."

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More than 4.2-million hectares went unplanted last year and what was harvested fell far short of the high-quality grain Canada has a reputation for producing.

Board president Ian White noted only 38 per cent of the 21.2-million tonnes of wheat harvested was in the top two grades, compared with 78 per cent the year before and an average of around 68 per cent.

White noted that both volume and quality appear better this year, while prices have remained fairly high. That's better news than many expected with flooding in the southern Prairies and drought in the north for parts of the growing season.

"We're hoping to see a return to normal quality profiles ... If that is true we have a customer base that is eager to get their hands on that quality."

Mr. Oberg also used the occasion of the forecast to deliver another rebuke to the federal government for plans to scrap the board's monopoly on wheat and barley exports without holding a farmer vote. This could be the last full calendar year of operation for the board, if Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz keeps his promise to end the monopoly at the beginning of the 2012 crop year next Aug. 1.

The board decided to hold its own vote and the results will be released Sept. 9, but Mr. Ritz has already said the results won't sway the Harper government's decision.

White agreed there could be problems if this is the last year the board is in operation as the single-desk seller on the international market. It also controls domestic sales for human consumption.

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Those who object to selling through the board could sit on their crop until the monopoly is scrapped.

But he said the board has taken measures to retain staff and will just have to wait and see how much grain farmers choose to deliver.

"We'll obviously have to see how deliveries come in," he said.

Mr. Ritz responded through a spokesperson with his own shots at the wheat board.

"While the CWB likes to take credit for the prices farmers receive, the truth is that global wheat prices are reaching all time highs and it's the world-class reputation of Canadian wheat earned first and foremost through the hard work of farmers," he said in an e-mail.

"The CWB claims to bring value but in reality they are wasting thousands of dollars of farmers' money campaigning against a farmer's individual right to choose.

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"If what the CWB claims about their ability to get farmers the best price is true, then they can rest assured that farmers will continue to market through the Board willingly."

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