Canada is planning to follow America in its notorious policy of paying farmers not to grow wheat.
Last year the world produced more of this essential foodstuff than could be sold profitably. There was what is often misleadingly called a wheat “glut” or “surplus”.
There had been a bumper harvest in 1968 too so that the already huge stocks of wheat were piled up even higher. In Australia there was talk of leaving some of the wheat to rot unharvested on the farms. The International Grains Agreement, under which the five major wheat-exporting countries fix prices and carve up the world market, was threatened as its members tried to sell their wheat below the agreed prices.
Representatives of these five countries— America, Canada, France, Australia and Argentina — met in London last August and agreed that in 1970 there should be a cut-back in world wheat production. The new Canadian policy is part of this bargain, a restrictive practice forced on its government by the economics of production for sale.
The Canadian prairies are particularly suited to growing wheat and in a rationally-organised world (one based on common ownership and production solely for use) could make a major contribution towards abolishing hunger. Even now the 1,300m. bushels of wheat lying unused, some of it going to rot, in warehouses and on farms throughout Canada amounts to nearly three years’ consumption.
Under capitalism such potential abundance presents a problem, since if profits are to be made output must be restricted. The man in charge of Canada’s wheat sales. Minister without Portfolio Otto Lang, has suggested that no wheat should be grown in Canada for at least one year. He told the Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa on 27 February how the government planned to tackle this “problem” of potential plenty.
They would spend $100m. on paying farmers to take up to 22m. acres out of wheat production in 1970. Since in 1969 only 24.4m. acres were used for wheat-growing, a reduction of 22m. would mean that in 1970 practically no wheat would be grown in Canada. Lang confirmed that this was the government’s aim and estimated a drop in wheat production of 500m. bushels in 1970.
His whole speech is an amazing indictment of capitalism (see Canadian House of Commons Debates, Vol. 114. No. 76, Friday, February 27, 1970). “Mr. Speaker”, he began
the carryover of wheat in Canada will be approximately 950 million bushels on July 31 of this year, equivalent to nearly two years’ disappearance. To reach a stock position in reasonable relationship to normal sales volumes, production of wheat must be reduced substantially below sales levels.
If the government did nothing, he went on, wheat farmers would switch to growing other grains. This was undesirable:
In large measure, this would lead to to increased acreage in other crops. Our stock positions particularly in oats and barley, arc already high. A further increase in acreage in these crops this year would result in burdensome surplus and lower prices for these products.
Since the farmers had to be prevented from growing barley and oats as well as wheat, the government had no choice.
The government proposes to implement a programme to reduce wheat acreage and to encourage farmers in the Wheat Board designated region to hold this land out of production of any crop this year.
Farmers will be paid $6 for every acre they turn over to growing “forage crops” (that is, grass) and $10 for every acre they take out of production altogether (this higher payment will be restricted to 2m. acres in order to avoid the danger of a dustbowl). The whole programme is supposed to be a temporary measure to clear existing stocks and the Minister predicted that in time “Canada will be able to return to a level of production in the area of 20 million acres”. But he went on to warn:
Additional measures will be required in 1971 to assure that production does not exceed acceptable levels.
He means “profitable levels” of course.
So Canada is to pay its farmers $100m. not to grow 500m. bushels of wheat in 1970. Remember that the next time someone tries to tell you that world poverty is caused by over-population. Tell him it’s caused by the underproduction that goes with capitalism’s profit motive.