Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus want America's top trade officials to make sure Canada gives Montana wheat growers a fair shake come harvest time this summer.
Tester, a dryland farmer, and Baucus, a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and chairman of the Senate committee that oversees international trade, today told U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk that Canadian officials are using outdated wheat grading and seed policies.
The Senators say that as a result Canadian grain buyers pay Montana wheat growers significantly less than Canadian farmers for wheat of similar quality. This treatment prevents many Montana farmers from doing business across the border and impedes trade between the two nations.
"Recent reforms to the Canadian Wheat Board have potential, but they must not leave Montana's family farmers behind," Tester and Baucus wrote. "We ask that you push for a fair and transparent system allowing Montana grain to be graded on its merits and address the barriers to trade preventing American farmers from delivering grain to Canada."
Tester and Baucus point to Canada's varietal registration system that automatically grades common American wheat as "feed wheat" without considering its overall quality. The Senators also say Canada lacks a transparent system to recognize new seed varieties and adds unnecessary costs over supposed threats from disease.
As leader of the Senate's trade committee, Baucus has also raised the issue personally with the Canadian Ambassador.
"Montana grain producers recently joined with our Canadian neighbors in welcoming the expanded marketing opportunities expected with the end of the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly," said Ryan McCormick, president of the Montana Grain Growers Association and a farmer from Kremlin. "However, unwarranted Canadian restrictions will severely limit the potential for Montana farmers to sell grain into Canada. We appreciate Senators Tester and Baucus fighting for equal opportunity for Montana's wheat farmers."
Since 1935, the Canadian Wheat Board has by law been the sole buyer of wheat from farmers in western Canada, keeping the Canadian market entirely separate from the U.S. market. However, the Canadian government recently eliminated the board's monopoly, making it possible for grain to move across the border for the first time in decades.
Tester, a third-generation farmer, also recently called on Vilsack and Kirk to maintain strong Country-of-Origin Labeling to make sure that American families know where their meat comes from. Baucus' committee has jurisdiction over the Trade Representative, and Baucus has been working closely with that office and USDA as they consider changes to Country-of-Origin Labeling to ensure that it remains strong and effective.