By Roger Currie
WINNIPEG — I am reminded once more about my Scottish grandfather, the Balgonie banker. His banking career essentially ended on a frosty August day in the early 1930s. The harvest had barely begun in Saskatchewan, but the wheat crop was pretty much destroyed.
This was long before crop insurance, and a few years before the Canadian Wheat Board. The CWB was created by the Conservative government of R.B. Bennett. The aim was to help prairie farmers market their product to the world, through thick and thin, and good weather and bad. The Wheat Board is now just a memory, tossed aside by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, and his Saskatchewan henchman, Gerry Ritz.
The board lost its marketing monopoly four years ago, but under the leadership of a hardworking Aussie named Ian White, they were determined to continue to be a player in the marketplace. Harper and Ritz had other ideas. With very little warning, they have sold half of what’s left of the CWB to a company based in Saudi Arabia would you believe.
Global Grain Group, or G3 if you prefer, is a partnership between the Saudi business guys, and Bunge, who have long been a major trade of global ag commodities. The price was $250 million, and Ritz promises that he won’t be passing the money to Joe Oliver who’s still struggling to balance next week’s budget.
The minister insists that it will open up new opportunities for the sale of prairie grain overseas. He also says farmers will be able to have an equity stake in this new creation, but he offered few details. It’s not at all clear what it will all mean for the northern Manitoba port of Churchill, but I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for record volumes to use that route for export.
It’s 2015, and we’re a long way from the world of prairie grain that grandpa was familiar with.
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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.