Farmers vote to end wheat board's barley monopoly

Western Canadian farmers have voted to end the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly on barley sales, Federal Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl says.

Western Canadian farmers have voted to end the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly on barley sales.

"It's time to move to more marketing choice, and we want to move to that as quickly as possible," federal AgricultureMinister Chuck Strahl said Wednesday in Ottawa.

Barley Plebiscite Results
Retain single desk 37.8%
CWB loses monopoly, farmers can sell to other buyer 48.4%
No CWB role in marketing barley 13.8%
Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

A total of 62 per cent of just over 29,000 farmers who cast eligible ballots in the mail-in votesaid they wanted the board out of the barley market altogether, or for the board to be maintained in a competitive market.

Another 38 per cent said they wanted to maintain the status quo.

Of those who didn't want the status quo, about 48 per cent said they wantedto choose where to sell their barley and about 14 per cent said the wheat board should have no role in selling barley.

Strahl said he will now take steps torevise the rules to remove the barley monopoly by Aug. 1.

Instead of amending the Canadian Wheat Board Act through Parliament, it will be done through changing the regulations, Strahl said.

"We're quite sure we can take it out through regulation," Strahl said.

The board'sdirectors have said that without a monopoly,the wheat board will have to get out of the barley market, because it won't be able to compete without government fundingfor access to ports and grain elevators.

Strahl saidfarmers have spokenand the wheat board should heed what they're saying.

"They have an obligation to come up with a business plan that addresses that concern," he said.

National Farmers Union president Stewart Wells called the plebiscite "hideously flawed" and misleading.

"I’m not surprised at the outcome, because when you ask a misleading question, you will get a misleading result," Wells said in a news release. "The anti-CWB options, combined together, received 62 per cent, but Option 2 was deliberately misleading and offered farmers an unrealistic expectation."

The plebiscite results showed that thestrongest support for the single desk system to continue was in Manitoba (51 per cent) and Saskatchewan (45 per cent), while in Alberta, only 21 per cent supported the status quo.

On the other hand, Alberta farmers were the most likely to support having a choicein where to market their barley. About 63 per cent said they supported that option. In Saskatchewan, the figure for the "CWB plus marketing choice" option was42 per cent. In Manitoba, it was 34.6 per cent.

The debate over possible changes to grain marketing has been the talk of farm country for months.

Supporters of the government say they've waited for years for the right to decide how to market their own grain and the change will let them take advantage of the best spot prices.

Farmers in favour of the wheat boardargue the status quo helps guarantee stable incomes and the best prices.

Even with barley taken away from the wheat board, the board will retain its export monopoly on wheat.

Strahl said earlier this year there's no immediately plans for a wheat plebiscite, but one will be heldat some point.

Of the roughly 80,000 ballots sent out, 29,067 were returned. That includes 15,327 votes from Saskatchewan, 9,881 in Alberta, 3,703 in Manitoba and 156 in B.C.

With files from the Canadian Press