The Rise and Fall of United Grain Growers
Cooperatives, Market Regulation, and Free Enterprise
For much of the twentieth century, United Grain Growers was one of the major forces in Canadian agriculture. Founded in 1906, for much of its history UGG worked to give western farmers a “third way” between the competing poles of cooperatives like the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and the private sector. At its peak, more than 800 UGG elevators dotted the Canadian prairies and the company had become a part of western Canada’s cultural psyche. By 2001, then known as Agricore United, it was the largest grain company on the Prairies.
The UGG’s history illuminates many of the intense debates over policy and philosophy that dominated the grain industry. After the Second World War, it would be a key player as the western Canadian grain industry expanded into new international markets. Through the rest of the century, it played an important role in resolving major disputes over regulation and grain transportation policy.
Despite its many innovations, the company’s final decade and eventual demise illustrated the tensions at the heart of the grain industry. In 1997, to finance the rebuilding of its grain elevator network, UGG went public and entered equity markets. While successful at first, this strategy also weakened the company’s cooperative structure. In 2007, it was purchased by Saskatchewan Pool in a hostile takeover. The disappearance of Agricore United marked the end of a century of voluntary farmer-control of the grain business in western Canada. Paul Earl’s history reveals UGG’s central role in the growth and transformation of the western grain industry at a critical period. With meticulous research supplemented by interviews with many of the key players, he also delves into the details and the debates over the company’s demise.
“This is a compelling inside look at a very important cooperative, one that was trying to walk a fine line between two very different belief systems. This book fills an important gap in our understanding of agricultural policy, business history, and cooperative practice and thought. It is not just about a grain company, but about a social movement, belief systems, corporate law, and economic and political power.”
– Murray Fulton, School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan
“One of the most interesting discussions in the book, and one done very well, was whether the directors could have saved the company even though the interests of shareholders required selling it.”
– Hon. Otto Lang, federal Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board (1969–79)
“This book will make an outstanding contribution to the history of the grain cooperatives in Western Canada, not only because of its content but also because it was able to cover the story from their inception to their sudden disappearance in 2007. The Rise and Fall of United Grain Growers is well researched, well written, and well referenced. The level of detail the book contains throughout is impressive.”
– Murray Cormack, CEO of Manitoba Pool Elevators (1984-88) and Deputy Minister of Manitoba Industry, Trade and Tourism (1997-1999)
About the Author
Paul D. Earl joined the Asper School of Business in 2003, after a long career in the western Canadian grain industry. Earl holds a BASc in Civil Engineering, and MASc in transportation and economics from the University of Toronto, and an interdisciplinary PhD (history, agricultural economics and religion) from the University of Manitoba. He is the author of Mac Runciman: A Life in the Grain Trade.