Getting wheat to grow was difficult enough, but the farmers’ trouble didn’t end there. The farmers needed to get their wheat to people who wanted to buy it. In the beginning, grain elevators popped up all over the Prairies along the railway tracks. Grain elevators were the first step in the grain trading process. Their purpose is to receive, store, and then ship grain.
PHOTO CREDIT: WESTERN DEVELOPMENT MUSEUM
Grain elevators were always next to the railway so the grain could be easily transported across the country.
Grain elevators were built close enough together so that farmers could make the trip to the elevator and back home in a day. This is why the Prairies have so many small towns close together. With an elevator came a train stop, and with a train stop came an opportunity for selling other things. People would bring their wheat to town and pick up supplies for the farm. Often cream and other produce were delivered to the train so that they could be moved on to bigger markets in the cities. This meant there was a need for a hardware store, a grocery store, a post office, a church, and, of course, a school. It didn’t take long, and a town was born.
Towns popped up near the grain elevators, which was where farmers picked up supplies for their farms.
In the 1930s, there were almost 6,000 grain elevators in Western Canada. Today there are fewer than 275. As fewer people began to farm, many railroad lines and elevators stopped being profitable and were sold. As the railroads and grain elevators closed, so did many small towns. As you drive across the Prairies today, you can still see some of the grain elevators left. Some of them are abandoned, but some of the grain elevators are still running today!
PHOTO CREDIT: CHRIS ATTRELL PHOTOGRAPHY
This is one of the abandoned elevators that still remains on the Saskatchewan Prairies.
This photographer’s mission has been to keep track of the grain elevators that are still standing in Saskatchewan and take photos of them.
This photographer has amazing photos of grain elevators that were built in the early 1900s around Saskatchewan.
The Canadian Wheat Board
The Canadian Wheat Board was established in 1935 which helped stabilize wheat prices further. All of the wheat and barley was bought by the Canadian Wheat Board and then they sold it to other countries. Farmers received an average of the price that the grain was sold for.
Eventually, farmers wanted the freedom to sell their wheat on their own and the federal government stopped supporting the Canadian Wheat Board, so the Canadian Wheat Board was dissolved in 2011.
The Canadian Wheat Board would buy wheat and barley from various grain elevator companies to help stabilize grain prices.
How Farmers Sell Their Grain Today
Since 1935, farmers had to sell their crops through the Canadian Wheat Board but it was dissolved in 2011, leaving farmers with the freedom to market their crops on their own. The Canadian Wheat Board would pay farmers an average price, so, without that buffer, there is more risk for farmers when grain prices are down because farmers could lose more money.
When farmers have a bad crop or the grain prices are down, they are at a higher risk to lose money.
Without the Canadian Wheat Board, farmers can be more competitive. International markets will pay extra for a premium crop, so farmers that have a high-quality crop to sell can sell at top dollar and increase profits. Farmers have to search for the best buyer, and buyers have to be fair and competitive with their offers. Farmers now have the freedom to agree on the timing, price, and company that their crops sell to, which can in higher profit for farmers as long as they are producing high-yielding crops.
Farmers can choose the timing, price, and company that their crops sell to.