From the relative comfort of eastern Canada, it may be difficult to understand why people east of Manitoba should care about the federal government’s zeal to dismantle the western icon called the Canadian Wheat Board.

But other than the weather, this is the biggest agricultural issue on the prairies, and maybe even in Canada.

Wheat is Canada’s largest and highest-value agricultural export. Since 1935, all western Canadian wheat sold abroad has been handled by the wheat board. That monopoly is referred to as a “single desk” approach to selling grain.

Proponents say one powerful organization representing the breadth of prairie farmers can do a better job of finding and servicing buyers than smaller groups of farmers, or individuals, or even grain companies. All profits earned by the board are returned directly to farmers, as opposed to corporate owners or shareholders.

But not everyone buys the single-desk solution. Some prairie farmers, particularly in Alberta, think they could do a better job than the wheat board does selling their grain. They think the board doesn’t try hard enough to get the best prices because, being a monopoly, it doesn’t have to. And over time, that’s what the federal Conservatives have come to think, too, which is why they want to remove its single-desk powers and give farmers a choice.

The pros and cons of a single desk is the topic of my Urban Cowboy column in the Guelph Mercury.