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Canadian Grain Commission

The Canadian Grain Commission, known from 1912 to 1971 as the Board of Grain Commissioners, is a regulatory body overseeing the activities of the Canadian grain industry through the administration of the Canada Grain Act. As Canada’s most important grain producers, Saskatchewan farmers have always had a major stake in the activities of the Commission. The Canada Grain Act of 1912 and the Board of Grain Commissioners were the result of grievances on the part of western farmers, who lobbied effectively for their resolution. Politicians like Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier and Premier Walter Scott of Saskatchewan were anxious to please the grain growers of the west who, as western agriculture developed, became a potent force in politics and the economy. As the influx of settlers picked up in the 1890s, the growing western farming region produced larger and larger crops each year. By 1911, Saskatchewan alone had 28 million acres in production—more farmland than Manitoba and Alberta combined. As the western Prairies came under the plough, Canada’s Wheat production grew apace from 42 million bushels in 1890 to 231 million in 1911, and an astounding 393 million bushels in 1915.

In the late 1890s western grain farmers and their organizations, such as the Territorial Grain Growers, were not happy with the treatment they received when they came to sell grain at many country elevators. They felt that they were often cheated on weights and grades, and that prices were being illegally fixed by Winnipeg grain companies; they suspected that further cheating took place in the large terminal elevators at the Lakehead. There was some truth in these charges and, in the time-honoured Canadian way, the first of many Royal Commissions was set up to look into the grain industry. The resulting Manitoba Grain Act of 1900 was the cornerstone of the regulatory framework that was finally consolidated in the Canada Grain Act of 1912. The leaders of the organized farmers, such as E.A. Partridge of Sintaluta and W.R. Motherwell of ABERNETHY, had tremendous influence on the development of the legislation. The 1912 Act set up a board of three grain commissioners who would oversee the regulation of the movement of grain from the country elevator to the point where it was loaded for export or processed within Canada. Today, the 700 Grain Commission staff continue to arbitrate disagreements over grade and weight, inspect grain passing into and out of terminal elevators, and license and regulate elevators and grain companies.

Perhaps the most important function of the Board and now the Commission has been the administration of the Canadian grading system: Canadian grades are trusted and respected throughout the world because of the uncompromising honesty and thoroughness with which the Commission has always administered them. Grades like Number 1 or Number 2 Canadian Western Red Spring wheat correspond to established specifications based on measures such as the percentage in the shipment of damaged or broken kernels, of other kinds of seeds, and of foreign matter such as dirt—as well as moisture content and weight of the grain. The grades assigned by the Grain Commission are under the control of the Western and Eastern Grain Standards Committees, which meet and make decisions about any changes or additions to the grades which may be necessary because of changing market and crop conditions. Each year they also establish standard samples for each grade.

Over the years the quality testing of Canadian crops and the publication of the findings has been another important support provided to the industry, as well as a key source of information for customers who wish to have a clear idea of what they are getting when they purchase from Canada. The Commission’s Grain Research laboratory has, since its founding in 1914, produced useful, reliable and increasingly sophisticated information about crop quality, publishing its findings on factors like Milling and baking quality, as well as moisture and protein content. Since 1927 the Laboratory has conducted surveys of western wheat crops for protein content. High-protein wheat brings a premium in the marketplace, and farmers in districts producing it, such as south and central Saskatchewan, naturally wanted it taken into account in grading; it was not, however, until the 1970s that customer demand and the development of simple and fast techniques for establishing protein levels led to Canada offering, at a higher price, cargoes of wheat segregated by protein levels. Since 1912, the Canadian Grain Commission has changed a great deal in order to accommodate changes in the industry, new crop varieties, automation of procedures, and shifts in government policy. Its basic functions, however, remain the same: the regulation of the grain industry to ensure the continued high quality and orderly marketing of its crops.

James Blanchard

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This web site was produced with financial assistance
provided by Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Government of Saskatchewan.
University of Regina Government of Canada Government of Saskatchewan Canadian Plains Research Center
Ce site Web a été conçu grâce à l'aide financière de
Diversification de l'économie de l'Ouest Canada et le gouvernement de la Saskatchewan.