When Wheat Was King
The Rise and Fall of the Canada-UK Grain Trade
Over the course of a century, the Canadian Prairies went from being the breadbasket of the world to but one of many grain-growing regions in a vast global agri-food system. When Wheat Was King traces the causes and consequences of this evolution, from the first transatlantic shipments of wheat to the controversial dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board.
The story begins with the early struggles of prairie farmers confronting forces outside their control – world prices, unpredictable weather, powerful banks, and the emergence of a global grain trade. Canadian governments responded with the creation of a central system for grain pooling, quality control, and collective marketing that linked the Prairies to the world market. In the postwar period, US priorities shaped a new food regime, and in the years that followed, the wheat trade faced the liberalization of global markets and the consolidation of corporate power.
This ambitious look at how farmers, consumers, the state, and markets coalesced in the production, distribution, and consumption of food in the Canadian-UK grain trade offers keen insights into how regional and international politics influence agriculture and food industries and policies in Canada, the UK, and around the globe.
Food systems students and scholars, farmers, policy makers, agricultural historians, researchers of agricultural politics and international trade, and anyone with a stake in Canadian wheat will find much of interest in When Wheat Was King.
Over the course of its history the CWB functioned as an effective government agency in the market economy. Time and again, it reinvented itself in response to changing global political and economic conditions in order to promote and protect the interests of prairie wheat farmers. Magnan’s scholarly study thus lends further support to the position that government action has made the nation economically stronger, and not weaker, than nature had intended.
In his careful scholarly way, [Magnan] paints a picture of a large government bureaucracy that re-invents itself at crucial points, responding to changes in global political-economy while keeping the interests of Canadian farmers front-and-centre. In the age of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, Magnan’s subtle, indirect—and so convincing and authoritative—defense of the role of government in a market economy may be this book’s most important legacy.
This book provides one of the better overviews of the last 30 years of grain marketing policy on the Canadian prairies and highlights how these domestic policies were the result of not just internal social changes, but were also affected by the place of Canadian grain in the international market … Magnan makes a strong case that prairie agricultural policy cannot be understood in isolation from the market the prairies served.
In When Wheat Was King, André Magnan successfully weaves together examinations of the international wheat trade, food regimes, and changes in national food industries. By focusing on a single, geographically bounded commodity – Canadian wheat – he sheds new light on how actors adapt to, resist, and shape food regimes.
In telling the history of the Canadian Wheat Board – a unique institution not only in Canada but also in the world agrarian economy – André Magnan clearly reveals the impact of the global agri-food system on national farming institutions and practices.
1 Forging the Canada-UK Wheat Trade: Experimentation and Crisis, 1870-1945
2 Regulating the Wheat Sector: Consensus and Contradiction, 1945-95
3 Reinventing Industrial Bread: Wheat as Food Commodity and Premium Product, 1995-
4 Transforming the Wheat Sector: Conflicts over the Canadian Wheat Board, GM Wheat, and Local Bread, 1995-
Notes; References; Index
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