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Farming on the Prairies is an Ever-Changing Industry

September 27, 2014 9:45 AM | Columns

By Roger Currie

Wheat Field

(Wheat field image by Shutterstock)

Canadian Wheat BoardHope springs eternal in fields across the prairies, especially when you get a burst of summer weather in late September, and the harvest is a long way from being finished.

So much has changed in the ‘business’ side of farming in the past few years. There’s a group based in Saskatchewan that appears to be interested in turning back the clock, and starting all over again. Farmers of North America (FNA), is a cooperative that wants to build or buy a plant to manufacture fertilizer, in competition with the big multi-nationals. They are also interested in buying what’s left of the Canadian Wheat Board.

It was just over two years ago that Stephen Harper and company made good on their pledge to end the Board’s monopoly on the marketing of prairie wheat and barley. The CWB still has a sizable head office in Winnipeg, and they’ve had surprising success in reinventing themselves as a grain handler. Ottawa wants the CWB to fully privatized by 2017, and Farmers of North America says it could happen even sooner. They have been making a major push to sign up farmer members who feel as they do, that it’s time for the family farm to once again make the important decisions in agriculture.

Wow! Talk about “déjà vu all over again.” 90 years ago, when more than half the population on the prairies lived outside of cities, farmer Progressives were so powerful that they were able to elect governments in Manitoba and Alberta. What followed were the prairie pools that finally gave farmers some collective strength in marketing their produce, and buying their inputs. Ottawa got into the act in the 1930’s with the establishment of the Wheat Board, and that’s how it was done until the free market types won the day in the new millennium.

The new Co-op group says it has more than 10,000 members, and they’re ready to move forward.

What goes around comes around.

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Roger Currie is a writer, storyteller, voice for hire, observer of life on the Canadian prairies, and can be heard on CJNU 93.7FM in Winnipeg.