Group seeks to establish Alberta Wheat Commission

There’s the Alberta Barley Commission, the Alberta Canola Producers Commission and the Alberta Pulse Growers Commission. And if Kent Erickson and a group of like-minded farmers have their way, the Alberta Wheat Commission will soon join the list of producer groups in this province.

There’s the Alberta Barley Commission, the Alberta Canola Producers Commission and the Alberta Pulse Growers Commission. And if Kent Erickson and a group of like-minded farmers have their way, the Alberta Wheat Commission will soon join the list of producer groups in this province.

Erickson, who farms near Wainwright, is co-chair of a steering committee working to create an Alberta wheat commission. They’ve been seeking feedback from wheat growers across the province, and hope to gain Alberta government approval by spring.

The goal is to have the commission in place by Aug. 1, 2012. Thereafter, wheat producers would pay a refundable check-off of 70 cents a tonne — a levy they calculate would generate about $3.5 million a year.

“Of that $3.5 million, we’re looking at at least $3 million to go into our core priorities of research and product development,” said Erickson.

This, along with market development, should help achieve the commission’s goal of improving farm gate returns for wheat growers.

Erickson said government funding for grain research and development is becoming increasingly scarce. And the Canadian Wheat Board’s focus on commoditized products like hard red spring and durum wheat has hurt breeding programs.

“We’re behind in basic research and basic development of wheat,” he said, stressing the need for producers to invest their own money in breeding.

“We want a grassroots organization in Alberta to be able to put some dollars into research.”

The impetus for an Alberta wheat commission was a 2008 resolution by the Alberta Winter Wheat Producers Commission to consider such an organization. A survey thereafter found nearly 60 per cent support among producers.

Erickson said Alberta Agriculture Minister Evan Berger supports the initiative, but wants to ensure farmers are consulted before proceeding.

The Alberta wheat commission steering committee has been pitching the idea at meetings across the province, and has also surveyed wheat growers about their opinions — both at the meetings and online. About 87 per cent have expressed their support, said Erickson, with only about five per cent rejecting the idea.

More feedback is being sought, both through the Alberta wheat commission website at www.albertawheat.com and at the few remaining meetings — one of which will be at FarmTech next month in Edmonton.

If the commission is created, it will replace both the Alberta Winter Wheat Producers Commission, which Erickson chairs, and the Alberta Soft Wheat Producers Commission, which is chaired by Lynn Jacobson — Erickson’s co-chair on the Alberta wheat commission steering committee. Regional meetings would then take place a year from now, with the new commission’s first AGM in January 2013.

If changes to the Canadian Wheat Board proceed, an Alberta wheat commission could play an important role in helping farmers deal with private grain buyers, said Erickson.

“What we really want to make sure of, as Alberta producers, is that the contracts and the way it gets set up right off the bat is right for us in Alberta.”

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com