Perception and identification changes as time marches on

It is interesting how the years alter things not just regarding agriculture, but most things in our lives.

But since this is a column on farming, it is that area where I find time has certainly changed things dramatically in terms of producers’ direct involvement in grain handling.

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When I was a youngster, still not that long ago, the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool (SWP) elevator was the iconic symbol of the province’s skyline, one existing in most every town and village.

The creation of the SWP was interwoven with this province from the earliest days.

“Farmers, frustrated in their attempts to win a fair price for their wheat, started to look to various marketing systems between 1900 and 1920. The co-operative style of organizing farm operations was one of them. As early as 1902, farmers banded together as the Territorial Grain Growers’ Association. The TGGA split into the Alberta Farmers’ Association and the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ Association (SGGA) in 1906. Also established at this time was the farmers’ co-operative elevator company called the Grain Growers’ Grain Company (GGGC), which later merged into the United Grain Growers. In 1911 the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Company was formed,” notes Wikipedia.

“The SGGA met with the United Farmers of Alberta and United Farmers of Manitoba and formed the Saskatchewan Co-operative Wheat Producers Ltd. on August 25, 1923. Informally it was known as the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool as it collectively helped farmers receive a decent price for wheat. The first president was A.J. McPhail and the fi rst elevator was built in Bulyea in 1925.”

My grandfather was a supporter of the SWP, and I can well imagine he would be astounded, and frankly disappointed in the story as it has developed in the last quarter century. But time changes everything as they say, and the iconic elevators would disappear, and the roots of the company would be lost.

Jump ahead to 1996, and we find the SWP becoming a publicly traded company, breaking from its roots as a co-operative.

By 2007, with a few buy-outs and sell-offs, and the SWP would evolve into Viterra.

Viterra Inc. was for a time the nation’s largest grain handler, having grown to become a global agri-business with operations in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and China.  

But Viterra’s history would be a short one.

Glencore International would make a $6.1-billion acquisition which had Viterra Inc. merge with Glencore in January 2013.

The once familiar face of the Pool, an image our Prairie forefathers worked so hard to create with the hope of better prices, was all but gone.

And what remains under the flag of Glencore appears about to change yet again.

“Glencore PLC, the parent company of Viterra, is considering selling some of its Canadian grain handling assets in an effort to reduce company debt and maintain its Triple B credit rating,” notes a recent Western Producer article.

“In a September 7 conference call with investors, Glencore chief executive officer Ivan Glasenberg said the company is considering the sale of various agricultural assets in Canada and is also entertaining offers to sell a minority stake in Glencore’s global agriculture portfolio …

“In Canada, the sale of agricultural assets would most likely involve former Viterra facilities, including inland elevators or port terminals, which were acquired by Glencore just a few years ago.”

And so it goes, the evolution perceived through time changing shows that what began as something created by farmers, for farmers, into something just part of the multinational grain handling system where the bottom line is for shareholders not producers.