Seed growers have rejected a proposed merger with four industry groups to create a single organization representing the seed sector.
There were 751 votes by members of the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association — with 414 voting against the merger and 337 voting in favour — even though the board of that organization as well as provincial boards strongly backed it.
“As a board, the Alberta Seed Growers thought that this was a good move forward for the seed industry,” said Renee Hoyme, president of Alberta Seed Growers. “We were in favour of amalgamation because we could see the benefits for the seed industry in the long run.
“We heard from a strong voice against, but we still thought the pros the new organization could bring outweighed the cons.”
The move to unite under one banner, to be called Seeds Canada, was supported by the four industry groups: the Canadian Plant Technology Agency, Commercial Seed Analysts Association of Canada, Canadian Seed Institute, and Canadian Seed Trade Association.
Advocates said having one organization would mean a stronger, more unified voice.
“Having one voice for the industry has more clout with government than five individual voices,” said Hoyme, a Thorhild-area seed grower.
“With the uncertainty of funding, having a stronger voice for the seed industry was a big plus for us.”
So too was the ‘one window’ system proposed in the merger, she added.
“On my personal farm, we’re basically a member of all of the five organizations, so it would have been nice to have a one-stop shop for that just to be more efficient.”
But opponents said the voice of farmers would be lost in the proposed organization.
“Frankly, from the moment I heard it, the ‘one voice, one organization’ aspect was a concern,” said Stettler-area seed grower Norman Lyster, who was president of the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association from 2014 to 2016.
“I had always felt that a number of voices in harmony carried more weight while allowing some variance in thought process.”
Governance was another key concern — particularly around who would have a seat at the table. The ratification package put forward a board structure of 15 members, but only one of those members had to be a seed grower, sparking concerns among some seed growers.
“It felt like it was a pathway that had already been determined,” said Lyster. “There is a tendency in my mind to think that a lot of this had been decided somewhere well ahead of time. There were bigger agendas floating around. That’s part of life, but in this case, it was causing more friction.”
But the nature of the seed industry made it almost impossible to guarantee that more board seats would be filled by seed growers, said Hoyme.
“In theory, the way it would work is that a majority of the seats would be gained by seed growers, but that required involvement by seed growers — and typically it’s really hard to get board involvement from seed growers,” she said, adding that’s reflected in the low voter turnout for this issue. (The organization has about 3,500 members, so only one in five cast a vote.)
“So we couldn’t guarantee those spots without knowing what the interest in involvement would be. It couldn’t be put in the bylaws that it had to be a grower. Otherwise, the position might never be filled.”
For Lyster, seed growers simply didn’t have the full story about both the benefits and drawbacks of the amalgamation.
“We have to be sure we’re looking at the right problems — that we’ve identified the issues properly — to be able to come up with solutions that are appropriate,” he said. “Otherwise, we’re bound to make mistakes.”
But that doesn’t mean it will be business as usual, he added.
“There’s no going back to the status quo. While some may think that’s what this vote means, I don’t think it means that,” he said.
“Our membership in general has been quite open to change, but I think the change they saw there was not what they had thought it would be.”
At this point, it’s unclear how the seed industry will move forward. One option is a revision to the ratification package to make it more palatable ahead of a second vote. More likely, the four organizations that voted in favour of amalgamation will merge, with the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association repositioning itself as ‘CSGA 2.0,’ said Hoyme.
Either way, the industry will still need to find a way to work together, she said.
“I’d like to think that CSGA and the four other organizations can still have a good working relationship. It will just have to be ironed out what that relationship looks like,” she said. “There will still be change. It will just look different than we had envisioned with the amalgamation.”
“Ultimately, we have to work together in many ways anyway,” he said.
“There is a risk of infighting or fracturing, but ultimately, if it gets into a food fight, it’s not good for anybody. I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to sit back and digest this a bit and go from there.
“There are so many different possibilities of how this could play out.”