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Prairie grain farmers are debating the future of the Canadian Wheat Board. (CBC)

Hundreds of Prairie farmers left their fields Monday and some picked up placards that read "Single desk is the best" and "Our board, our business."

They went to a meeting in Regina on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board.

The federal government plans to introduce legislation this fall to pave the way for the removal of the board's single-desk selling system next year. Board chairman Allen Oberg said the meeting is to make farmers aware of what's at stake.

"Those functions currently carried out by the CWB, they may be at risk because no one knows going forward who's going to take care of those functions," said Oberg.

"There's a tremendous of amount of uncertainty in the system and that's been created by an artificially short timeline of August 1, 2012."

Last board of its kind

Since the 1940s, Prairies farmers have had to sell their wheat and barley to the board, which exports it to foreign markets. It is the largest marketer of wheat and barley in the world and the last remaining board of its kind.

Those who like the board argue its monopoly insulates farmers from selling at a loss when markets are low. But opposers say the monopoly is unfair and restricts farmers from marketing their grain to the highest bidder.

Edward Sagan, who has been farming in Melville, Sask., for about 50 years, said ending the board's monopoly will hurt his bottom line.

"I will have less and less money in my pocket," he said.

Sagan noted that the wheat board sells to 70 different countries. He said he would rather focus on growing crops instead of trying to figure out where to market his grain.

"I don't have to sit beside a computer and decide who pays me the most money and all that. I sell my grain to the wheat board and they do the rest. They do the marketing for me."

Some farmers say they want more freedom

But Richard Crewe disagrees. Crewe moved to Melville from England and has been farming in Saskatchewan for 10 years. He welcomes the change.

"I want to see a strong board as an alternative in the marketplace to the multinationals, but I want the freedom of choice," said Crewe.

"I believe the board has held Canadian farmers back. Coming from Europe, I have a view of the rest of the world and how its farmed and the board was held up as an icon of marketing. The reality is something totally different."

It was standing room only for the meeting in a venue that holds about 400 people.

It's the first of seven across the Prairies and comes as the board holds a plebiscite that asks producers to determine its future role.

But Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said he'll ignore the results.

"The CWB needs to realize that regardless of how many pro-board farmers attend their meetings or participate in their expensive survey, no one farmer should trump the rights of another farmer," Ritz said in an email to The Canadian Press.

"In contrast, our government wants to provide every farmer with marketing choice, whether that's selling individually or in a marketing pool."

Ritz has suggested deregulation doesn't necessarily mean the end of the organization.

Monopoly needed, farmer says

Roxy Johnston, whose family has been farming near Fillmore, Sask., for more than a century, said: "It's going to be a disaster." She doesn't think the board could survive if it loses the monopoly.

"It'll be gone. I don't think it can operate without," said Johnston.

"He says it's OK, but it's not OK. The Canadian Wheat Board is building ships or a boat now to take our grain across the Great Lakes and what's going to happen to the Port of Churchill, where it's cheaper to send grain there than it is anywhere else?"

Crewe said he believes the board can move forward with proposals that are attractive to farmers.

"I'm not against the board. I want to see the board survive and I came here tonight to see what they're going to offer farmers when the single desk ends," said Crewe.

Another meeting will be held Tuesday at the Saskatoon Inn in Saskatoon, starting at 7 p.m. CST.