Agricore Cooperative Ltd.

An Inventory of Agricore Maps at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections

Inventory prepared by Scott Goodine
University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections
Winnipeg, Manitoba
(July 2002)

Finding aid encoded by Scott Goodine (July 2002)
Finding aid written in English.

Revision History

  • July 26, 2005 - MC 6 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).


Collection Summary

Repository:
University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections
331 Dafoe Library, University of Manitoba

Creator:
Agricore Cooperative Ltd.

Title:
Agricore Cooperative Ltd.

Dates:
1998-2001

Quantity:
6 Maps

Identification:
MC 6

Language
English.

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Administrative History of Agricore Cooperative Ltd.

Agricore Administrative History

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Agricore Cooperative Ltd. was created November 1, 1998, through the friendly merger of Alberta Wheat Pool Ltd. and Manitoba Pool Elevators. Though Agricore would only exist for three years before being merged with United Grain Growers into a new company, Agricore United, in November 2001, during its three years of operation Agricore existed as one of the largest agribusinesses in Western Canada. Moreover, as Agricore United is a publicly traded company, Agricore can be seen as the last of the farmer owned cooperatives, a movement that significantly altered prairie-farming practices in the 20th century. Thus, though Agricore existed only for three years, its importance as the culmination of the prairie cooperative movement likely supercedes the brevity of its operations, and any history of Agricore must begin with the prairie cooperative movement and the creation of the prairie wheat pools in the 1920s.

Grain farming in the Canadian prairies at the turn of the twentieth century was a precarious business. Farmers faced many obstacles to turning a profit; most of them natural threats related to the harshness of the climate. However, there was one man-made inhibitor to profit that particularly galled farmers, the speculative market in grain run through the Winnipeg Grain Exchange (WGE). The WGE was the only market where prairie farmers could sell their grain and prairie farmers were dependent on the floating price offered by the companies that traded on the WGE. Moreover, at the turn of the century, farmers perceived the WGE as being controlled by a small number of Winnipeg grain dealers who deliberately held grain and wheat prices down, especially in the fall when farmers brought in their harvest. Though farmers could technically hold their wheat until prices rose to a more acceptable level, in practice most farmers had significant and immediate debt obligations that necessitated the immediate selling of their crops. Additionally, almost no farmer had the storage capabilities to safely hold their wheat for longer periods of time and the grain handling storage facilities were owned and operated by the same companies that bought wheat on the WGE, eliminating any possibility of medium term rental of space until wheat prices rose.

The turn of the century saw several pieces of legislation passed in each Prairie Province that would alleviate farmer concerns about the inequity in grain marketing, most notably the Manitoba Grain Act of 1900 (amended 1902) that allowed farmers access to railway cars should they desire to transport their own grain and thus avoid selling on the Winnipeg market. Most grain legislation, while sound in theory, failed in practice, and these failures further fuelled farmer perceptions that the grain trade was being controlled by interests contrary to their own. Though still in its infancy, these grievances would eventually grow into what United Grain Growers biographer R.D. Colquette would call “the greatest voluntary socioeconomic mass movement in Canadian history.”

In 1905, a group of farmers in Sintaluta, Saskatchewan pooled their finances and sent local farmer E.A. Partridge to Winnipeg to study the grain marketing system to see how the farmer’s role in the process could be improved. After a month in Winnipeg, Partridge returned to Sintaluta convinced that the grain trade was deliberately organized to exploit farmers and the only solution was the direct involvement of the grain producer in the marketing process. The next year would see the creation of the Grain Growers’ Grain Company in Sintaluta, a company wholly owned by farmers and operated upon cooperative principles. Organizers went about selling shares to farmers, the company was incorporated on July 27, 1906, and a seat was purchased on the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. Though the company faced several initial problems- the greatest being the threat of expulsion should the company pay patronage dividends to its shareholders which was a violation of WGE regulations- the Grain Grower’s Grain Company flourished, began building and operating its own elevators in order to further improve their ability to market and deliver grain, and in 1917 amalgamated with Alberta Farmer’s Cooperative Elevator Co. to form United Grain Growers Limited, the name they would keep until 2001, when they merged with Agricore to form Agricore United.

The creation of a farmer owned grain company alleviated many of the farmers’ concerns about grain marketing but the creation of UGG and other farmer owned companies did nothing to alleviate the greatest problem that farmers faced in marketing grain. Grain was still traded as a speculative crop and farmers were thus subject to the volatility of the market. Though UGG attempted to gain farmers a more equitable share of the profits created through grain farming, farmers were still dependent upon prices set by market forces. Though this occasionally led to high prices and greater profit (the First World War caused the price of Canadian grain to rise), the price of grain was generally lower than what the farmers deemed an acceptable price. Additionally, farmers were bothered by the uncertainty involved in grain farming. While farmers were required to pay set prices for farm supplies and day-to-day goods, the price they would receive for their grain was uncertain until the day they sold their grain. This uncertainty made the management of a family farm problematic and most farmers yearned for a more stable system. The post-war period saw a large drop in wheat prices and this financial hardship, coupled with greater societal awareness of socialist issues, would soon lead to grassroots movements to adopt greater farmer control over the sale of their products. Though several ideas were expounded, it was the concept of pooling that would prove to be the most successful.

Canadian farmers had long recognized the advantages of pooling their resources in order to strengthen their position in the marketplace, but before 1920 all attempts at pooling had occurred at a local level. However, farmer dissatisfaction caused by low wheat prices in the 1920s led to a more concerted effort to establish a farmer controlled pool system. Interestingly, much of the impetus for the establishment of pools came from an unlikely source, the American labour lawyer Aaron Sapiro. Sapiro, a former orphan who would go on to successfully sue automaker Henry Ford for libel incurred through anti-Semitic remarks in Ford’s Dearborn Independent newspaper, had made a name for himself by organizing cooperatives in various Pacific coast fruit industries as well as in the Kentucky tobacco industry. In 1923, Sapiro was invited to speak in Alberta and Saskatchewan on the benefits of setting up a wheat pool. Sapiro, a master orator, outlined the benefits of creating a farmer controlled wheat pool and claimed that the mere creation of a pool would automatically lead to a price increase of 10 cents per bushel in the price of wheat. However, to successfully incorporate a cooperative, Sapiro explained, a minimum number of farmers in a province would have to be enrolled in the pool. Sapiro advocated 50% as a minimum, with the enrollment of 66% of a regions farmers to be a mandate for compulsory membership in the pool. Though Sapiro would return to Western Canada several times in the next few years, it was his appearances in August 1923 that almost certainly led to the establishment of the prairie wheat pools.

After Sapiro’s visit, farmers in Alberta and Saskatchewan, with financial assistance from their provincial governments and UGG, actively began the process of enrolling farmers in the wheat pool. However, in 1923, both groups would fail to enroll enough farmers to meet their mandate of 50% of the total farmers in the province. While the failure to enroll enough farmers shut down the efforts of the Saskatchewan organizers, the Alberta organizers considered the amount enrolled to be significant enough and began operations on October 29, 1923. The Alberta Wheat Pool’s success led the Saskatchewan organizers to continue, and in April of 1924 the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool would be established. Following the positive experience of their prairie neighbors, the Manitoba Wheat Pool would also begin operations in 1924 and the Canadian Wheat Pool was formed. For a brief period the three pools would market their grain through a common Central Selling Agency at the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. However, the failure of wheat prices in the early 1930s saw the bankruptcy of the Central Selling Agency, while events surrounding the Second World War led to the creation of the Canada Wheat Board, thus eliminating pool involvement in the pricing of grains. Though the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool would emerge as the largest of the three pools, it is the Alberta Wheat Pool and the forerunner of the MWP, Manitoba Pool Elevators that formed Agricore, and thus merit a more detailed analysis of their administrative history.

History of the Alberta Wheat Pool

After incorporation, the Alberta Wheat Pool established its head office in Calgary and elected Henry Wise Wood as its first president. Though the marketing of grain was AWP’s first priority, the company began to construct their own grain elevators as a means of improving grain transportation for their delegates. While farmers were able to use UGG elevators at a low cost, Wood and the rest of the board saw the autonomy provided by elevator ownership to be beneficial to the fledgling company. By 1927-28, 162 pool elevators were in existence, and this number would remain relatively stable throughout the next few decades. However, by the time of the merger with Manitoba Pool Elevators, closures had reduced the number to 137. In its first few years the cooperative was quite profitable and membership in the pool increased. The pool increased its holding capacity and marketing ability by building its own grain terminal in Vancouver to house its members’ grain. At the time of its completion in 1928, Alberta Pool Terminal # 1 was the largest seaport terminal in the world. However, the depression severely depressed wheat prices, bankrupted Manitoba Wheat Pool, and in 1931, after avoiding bankruptcy through governmental aid, Alberta Wheat Pool would resign from the Canadian Wheat Pool and concentrate on marketing only their own grains.

The AWP would continue to operate throughout the turbulent thirties and the Second World War, but it took the AWP until 1949 to pay off the 1931 bailout. However, the 1950s would see the AWP return to profitability. AWP continued to market Alberta’s grain and consistently handled over half of Alberta’s grain exports. The Cooperative, though still concerned with grain marketing, branched further into grain storage and handling, merchandizing, fertilizer and seed grain sales, farm equipment, financing and agricultural research. The AWP also remained a vocal proponent of farmer interest in grain marketing policies as well as in Canadian Wheat Board policy. On November 1, 1998, the AWP ceased to exist as it merged with Manitoba Pool Elevators to form Agricore. However, the merger was friendly and the new organization continued to follow the cooperative ideals originally espoused nearly seventy years earlier by the farmers inspired by Sapiro to create the original Alberta Wheat Pool.

History of Manitoba Pool Elevators (Manitoba Wheat Pool)

Like Alberta, Manitoba had a long history of organizing farmers into political alliances and the infrastructure these organizations provided were invaluable in the creation of the Manitoba Wheat Pool. The Manitoba Grain Growers’ Association was created in 1903 to further farmer interests in the province. This group would eventually transform itself into the United Farmers of Manitoba who would govern the province from 1922-42. Undoubtedly the presence of the UFM aided the formation of the wheat pool, but unlike the other Prairie Provinces, Winnipeg also held a sizable business community opposed to cooperatives. In 1923, the United Farmers of Manitoba formed a provisional Manitoba Wheat Pool Committee to look into the possibilities of starting a cooperative in Manitoba. As an indication of the status the committee held, members of the committee included first MWP president C.H. Burnell and future Manitoba premiere John Bracken. The committee, organized in August 1923, would begin organizing the next year. In 1924, buoyed by a speech by Aaron Sapiro at the Winnipeg Auditorium in February 1924, the committee easily organized enough farmers to begin operations. In 1925, the Manitoba Wheat Pool formed a subsidiary company called Manitoba Pool Elevators to run the business of building and operating elevators for the pool to use

The MWP, based in Winnipeg and a part of the Canadian Wheat Board’s Central Selling Agency, was immediately profitable and grew proportionally. The late 1920s saw bumper crops across the prairies and the Manitoba Wheat Pool, through the central selling agency, profited immensely. However, the crash of 1929 depressed wheat prices, and the central selling agency, attempting to stabilize wheat prices, pumped money into the futures wheat market at artificially high prices. When the futures came due, the agency was unable to pay and had to be bailed out by a combination of federal and provincial aid. While the AWP and SWP were able to negotiate debt repayment schedules with their respective provincial governments, the MWP was not, likely due to the greater influence business interests had on politics in Manitoba than in the other two Prairie Provinces, and MWP went bankrupt. However, Manitoba Pool Elevators, a subsidiary of MWP, was allowed to continue and essentially took over the MWP’s responsibilities.

MPE began building elevators in 1925 and by the end of the 1920s had constructed or purchased 153 elevators for members to use. With the crash of wheat prices in 1929, the bankruptcy of MWP in 1931, and the advent of the Canada Wheat Board during the Second World War, MPE’s primary focus shifted from marketing grain to the storage and transportation of grain. Like AWP, MPE branched out into different agricultural areas such as the sale of fertilizer and seed grains, merchandising, and agricultural research. MPE also continued to provide an organized voice for the Manitoba farmer in dealing with the CWB and on governmental policy issues. Throughout its 73 year history MPE remained a cooperative and true to cooperative ideals, delegates were elected from each elevator association and the company continued to be controlled by farmer members. At the time of its merger with AWP to form Agricore, MPE operated 117 elevators and owned a grain terminal in Thunder Bay, as well as partnerships in two other port terminals on the west coast of Canada.

The Creation of Agricore

The early 1990s saw a wave of mergers sweep across almost all sectors of the North American economy. The predominant belief was that larger yet streamlined companies were better positioned to compete in an increasingly globalized economy, and agribusiness was no exception. In many ways the merger of AWP and MPE was a natural culmination of the Prairie cooperative experience. The two cooperatives had a long history of cooperation from their beginnings as members of the Central Sales Agency of the Canada Wheat Pool, moved on to coordinate lobbying for farmer interests with the federal government and the Canada Wheat Board, and participated (with SWP) in the creation of joint subsidiary companies such as X-Canada Grain to handle the pools international grain exports. Initial merger talks included the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, however, the SWP’s public offering in 1996 eliminated any chances of SWP involvement in the AWP-MPE merger. Additionally before their own merger, AWP-MPE jointly launched an unsuccessful attempt to take over UGG in 1997. When the hostile takeover of UGG failed, AWP and MWP began discussing a possible merger. Merger talks between AWP and MPE proceeded amicably through 1998 and on July 30 and 31 the companies held a joint delegate meeting in Winnipeg and accepted the merger proposal. The new company, Agricore, would begin doing business on November 1, 1998

Agricore

Agricore officially began operations on November 1, 1998. Extensive preparations were made to ensure that a seamless transition occurred when the two historic cooperatives became one new entity. Winnipeg was selected as the head office and staff was shifted accordingly. At the time of the merger, many worried that farmers loyal to the wheat pools would be reluctant to transfer their business to the new cooperative. Thus the new Agricore executive attempted to provide both a sense of closure for those nostalgic about the AWP and MPE and a sense of excitement for the possibilities the new cooperative could provide. On October 31, all MPE and AWP elevators took part in a “Sunset” service whereby members could remember their past association with their respective pool and witness the lowering of their respective flags. The next morning all of the elevators held a “Sunrise” celebration, which was the official launch of Agricore. Farmers were treated to a pancake breakfast, given new Agricore merchandise such as hats, listened to speeches launching the new company, and witnessed the unfurling of the new Agricore flag.

For most of the first year of its existence the business of Agricore proceeded smoothly. However, in November 1999, Agricore faced its first serious crisis when the cooperative’s unionized staff went on strike. The unionized staff, represented by the Grain Services Union (GSU) and numbering about 850, sought greater job security and a wage increase. Agricore attempted to keep its elevators open by using non-unionized staff and temporary workers but succeeded in keeping only about a third of their elevators open during the work stoppage. On December 9, 1999, Agricore and the GSU reached a settlement and Agricore returned to normal working operations. The next year and a half saw Agricore expand their business in a variety of ways including the establishment of high throughput elevators in Elva, Manitoba and at the junctions of highway 3 and 14 between Morden and Winkler in Manitoba. Though wheat and grain prices in 1999-2000 reached historic lows, Agricore managed to increase earnings and further enhance its reputation as one of western Canada’s most influential agribusinesses.

Though the first part of 2001 saw Agricore enhance its community standing through the creation of several educational awards, the most significant news of the cooperative’s young history would appear in the summer of that year. On July 30, Agricore announced that the boards of both UGG and Agricore had unanimously agreed to a merger that would create a new company, Agricore United, which would be modeled after UGG’s share structure. Agricore members voted to merge with UGG on August 30, 2001, and thus trade in their non-transferable shares into comparative amounts of transferable shares of Agricore United, tradable on the TSE under the symbol UGG. The initial board of directors consisted of six directors from Agricore, six directors from UGG and the three non-member directors now holding office with UGG. Two of the three non-member directors continued to be nominated by minority UGG owner Archer Daniels Midland. On November 1, 2001, the merger took place and Agricore, the last of the prairie cooperatives, ceased to exist.

Further Reading

For more on Manitoba Pool Elevators please see F.W. Hamilton’s Service at Cost: A History of Manitoba Pool Elevators; Leonard D. Nesbitt’s Tides in the West for more on the Alberta Wheat Pool; and R.D. Colquette’s The First Fifty Years: A History of United Grain Growers Ltd. for more information on UGG.

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Scope and Contents of the Records

MC 6 consists of 6 maps relating to Agricore. The maps have been divided into two series, Manitoba Pool Elevator maps and Agricore maps.

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Organization of the Records

These records are organized into 2 series, maps created by Manitoba Pool Elevators and maps created by Agricore

  • Agricore Maps

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Arrangement of the Records

These records are organized into 2 series and arranged chronologically.

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Restrictions on Access

There are no restrictions on access

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Related Records

The Archives of Manitoba Pool Elevators are held by Brandon University. An online finding aid can be accessed at http://www.brandonu.ca/Library/archives/ManPool/Pool_home.htm (accessed July 9, 2002). Glenbow Archives in Calgary houses the archives of Alberta Wheat Pool. An online finding aid can be found at http://www.glenbow.org/archhtm/wheat.htm (accessed July 9, 2002). The records of the United Grain Growers Ltd. are part of the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections’ “Archives of the Agricultural Experience.” A RAD compliant description of the UGG collection can be found at http://www.umanitoba.ca/libraries/units/archives/collections/mss_finding_aids/man_ugg.shtml (accessed July 9, 2002).

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Custodial History

The Archives & Special Collections of the University of Manitoba acquired the records of Agricore on November 6, 2001. The gift of 10 metres of unprocessed material was sent from the Agricore head office in Winnipeg to the University of Manitoba under the stewardship of archivist Brian Hubner. As Agricore merged with United Grain Growers on November 1, 2001, to form Agricore United, no further accruals of records explicitly dealing with Agricore are expected.

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Other Finding Aids

Agricore Textual Materials: MSS 150

Agricore Audio Cassettes: TC 102

Agricore Videocassettes PC 156

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Detailed Description of the Records

Manitoba Pool Elevators [1975?- 1990?]
BoxFolder
11 Manitoba Grain Elevators Map [1975?]
2 Manitoba Districts and Subdistricts [1990?]
3 Manitoba Districts and Subdistricts [1990?]

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Agricore Maps 2001
BoxFolder
14 Regions and Subdistricts [2001?]
5 Grain Facilities January 2001
6 Agro. Territories January 2001

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