Harry – With the Western Canadian Wheat Growers and, of course, I along with a lot of you people, so long were focused on removing the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board, and this isn’t to be a negative question, but what continues to be the place of the Wheat Growers of Western Canada?
Jim – Well, you know, there are always new issues come up. We had the same kind of discussion around our board at the time that the Wheat Board was disbanded. We kind of weren’t too sure where our place was, and there’s never a shortage to come up. Right now, we’re working on the carbon tax issues and fighting for farmers as best we can on that front to say here we are. We’re the group that’s been worried about the environment for our entire lives. We’re the ones that are thinking carbon, especially with the changes in cropping and whatnot, and practices, and technology, and tillage.
We’re putting carbon back in the ground, yet it’s the flavor of the day for the politicians. It’s a new way for them to tax. I mean, you can sugarcoat it. You can put the lipstick on the pig, as they say, but this is nothing more than a brand new tax scheme. We’re fighting tooth and nail to prevent that to happen.
Harry – Since the demise of the monopoly and the single desk selling system, and as the Act says, and as Gerry Ritz, the former Minister of Agriculture, this whole idea of freedom to market, it’s, to me at least, it’s really played out maybe even better in most cases than what we had envisioned?
Jim – Yeah, I think so. There are a few hiccups getting started. And then we had the rail issues in 2013, but guys are getting into it. Guys are starting to do a little bit of forward contracting some more. You know, the ability to literally deliver your entire crop off, the combine if you so desire. I think that’s helping for cash flow. I think it’s putting a bit of squeeze on some of the companies. I think there are some growing pains in the companies themselves to contracting amounts and grains and that, that they have no possible way that they can take delivery within that contract month.
That’s another issue we’re looking at is companies tie up your grain. You got a payment, so you agree to sell in, say, December and that’s when your payment’s due, and you’re waiting in February, you still haven’t delivered the grain. That’s certainly something, I think, that has to be looked at further within the contract specs is there needs to be some kind of accountability so we don’t have these guys running around and grabbing all this grain and getting it all under contract, and then, have no intentions of moving it for a few months.
Harry – I guess the individual farmer can catch on pretty quickly because he looks after his own farm, but when all those individual farmers come together into a company that wasn’t necessarily ready or didn’t even know what it would mean once the Wheat Board was gone. I guess, for them, that’s where the growing pains really have set in.
Jim – I think it’s better for some and not for others. It’s people’s, how comfortable they are with risk. Moving forward from there, I think that’s the thing is you use the tools, whether it’s forward pricing or a basis contract or something like that, as farmers get more familiar with that. I mean, we had 75 years of not having to do that. It was all done for you, and so this is a steep learning curve for some people.
Harry – You remember Rolf Penner, who at one time was a director for Manitoba on the Wheat Growers? He tells the story of how he was able to use the new system this fall by delivering wheat at a cash price and not having to get rid of canola when the price was depressed. He fought for it long and hard, as all you guys did, and for him this year it was a really, really success story, where wheat really was, and is a cash crop.
Jim – Absolutely. You know, we had that period in the summertime when wheat really took that big rally. I got $9 for some wheat there. First part of August I delivered that, and that’s the highest price I’ve ever got, and had carried that wheat through from about a $6 price for most of winter, and just kind of more luck than good management on my part, but had some there and had decided I was going to move it and moved it into a rally, and it really paid off. Guys that were able to contract during that rally, there was a lot of contracts sold for into September, October, and those guys are cashing in right now.
Harry – We’ll be meeting in Washington, D.C. at the end of February, beginning of March, and I have the privilege of also being there. It’s your annual meeting. Why do the wheat growers go to Washington in February?
Jim – Well why is, I mean, that’s one of our biggest trading partners, for sure. We have a lot of synergies with them, especially in Western Canada, on the grain side. So we just felt that that would be a good fit this year with the NAFTA negotiations going on and that the U.S. Wheat Associates are there, the National Association of Wheat Growers are there, so we’ll be having some talks with them and having them at our convention. Growers will be able to talk to those guys direct and learn some stuff. Every time I go to those things and talk to the guys, I learn a little bit more.
One of the big things is the grading issues and how they have gone to a specification grading. The Grain Commission is just starting to talk about that. They’re going to study something that’s already tried and trued and working in 80% of the rest of the world, so they’re going to study that for two years, for whatever reason, but yeah. I mean it’s a good opportunity to do that, network, and learn some stuff.
Harry – Since the monopoly has been removed, what’s been the relationship with the American wheat grower when you’re talking Western Canadian wheat growers?
Jim – Well, when you’re talking just grower to grower, it’s really good. They never understood our system. They never understood why we would think that way, so now we’re kind of equal that way, and when we talk to those guys it’s just like whenever any other couple farmers get together. You talk chemicals, you talk practices, you talk different techniques or things like that, so it’s a good opportunity to just hear some other thoughts.