Saskatchewan Wheat Pool

  During the early 20th century, farmers got frustrated trying to win a fair price for their wheat and thus created, in 1923, the Saskatchewan Co-operative Wheat Producers Ltd (informally known as the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool). Its purpose was to market WHEAT in an orderly and stable manner directly to importers, rather than through the grain exchange and futures markets (seeGRAIN HANDLING AND MARKETING). Returns were "pooled" and divided annually among members after expenses were paid (a function assumed by the CANADIAN WHEAT BOARD upon its formation in 1935). The first Pool's president was A.J. McPhail, and the first GRAIN ELEVATOR (which still stands) was built at Bulyea in 1925.

 The company originally contracted with existing elevator companies to handle grain delivered by members. In 1926 it purchased the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Company and its 451 elevators and 4 terminals. By 1928-29 the Pool owned 970 elevators and was handling 158 million bushels (57.5 million hL) of wheat annually. The Pool was an early casualty of the GREAT DEPRESSION, falling deeply into debt, but it emerged after the Second World War as the foremost organization of its kind in Canada. At its peak in the early 1960s, the Saskatchewan Pool owned about 1260 wooden elevators, all in Saskatchewan.

The Saskatchewan Co-operative Wheat Producers Ltd was renamed Saskatchewan Wheat Pool in 1953.

In the early 1970s the Pool still operated more than 1200 country elevators as well as export terminals in Thunder Bay and one in Vancouver. However, the number of elevators was progressively reduced (to about 600 in 1984, 260 in 2000 and 17 in 2001), as elevators were replaced by higher volume inland terminals. The Pool diversified into virtually every agricultural activity, including fertilizer, oilseed processing, margarine, salad oil and livestock. It also published the Western Producer newspaper (now owned by the Glacier Media Groups) and started publishing books in 1954 under the name Western Producer Prairie Books.

Equally important were the Pool's activities in public policy. Its elected officials lobbied all levels of government for policies favourable to agriculture and were involved in international farm-policy discussions. In 1986, the Pool ranked 50th among Canadian corporations with sales of $1.7 billion; it employed 3513 and was wholly owned by its 70 000 farmer members.

In March 1996, the Pool became a publicly traded company, ceasing to be a co-operative. The company made decent profits from 1996-1998 but incurred huge losses between 1999-2003, due to low grain and commodity prices, and increased competition from Agricore, which was formed from the merger of ALBERTA WHEAT POOL and Manitoba Pool Elevators in 1997. The situation worsened and the Pool lost its position as the top grain handler in Canada, when Agricore took over United Grain Growers in 2001 to form Agricore United.

In November 2006, the Saskatchewan Pool attempted to take over Agricore United by offering a stock swap with little or no cash offered, but the proposition was rejected by the Agricore United board of directors. James Richardson International (JRI) and Agricore United announced in February 2007 that they had negotiated a merger agreement to form a new company called "Richardson Agricore." After a bidding war leading to a stock and cash offer from the Saskatchewan Pool and an all cash offer from JRI, the Pool prevailed in May 2006. In June, Agricore United became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, ending the age of farmers' co-operatives on the prairies. The new company, known as Viterra, was launched on June 20th, 2007.

Of the more than 1250 Saskatchewan Wheat Pool elevators that have marked the province's landscape for decades, less than 275 remain standing today, bearing witness to Saskatchewan's agricultural history.