Cereal groups’ amalgamation talks slowed by pandemic

Alberta Barley and Alberta Wheat aiming to wrap up review of merger proposal in coming year

There’s no marriage proposal yet, but Alberta Barley and Alberta Wheat want to get moving on what has become a longer-than-expected process on whether to amalgamate or not.

“We’re just in the beginning stage of where it will go, and the timeline and how to communicate,” Dave Bishop, immediate past chair of the Alberta Barley Commission, said during a virtual Prairie Cereals Summit.

“We’re not going to let this drag out for a number of years to make a decision,” added Alberta Wheat chair Todd Hames. “Our goal is to move this along by one way or another. By this time next year, there should be a lot more clarity around the issue.”

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The two cereal commissions moved to a combined management structure in 2018, with cost savings estimated at more than $400,000 a year. But both still have their own boards and governance structure.

Last year, members of both organizations passed motions at their annual general meetings to explore the idea of a formal merger. That prompted them to set up an amalgamation subcommittee in January, which met four times, including one this month to discuss a framework for determining what a combined organization might look like. That group has also looked at other farm groups that have amalgamated, including the Grain Farmers of Ontario, the Atlantic Grains Council and the BC Grain Producers Association. The subcommittee will be putting together a list of pros and cons of amalgamation that will go to members of both Alberta cereal groups in the coming year.

“We will be putting it forward to our delegates and our members to see what they think of it, because at the end of the day, that’s who will decide whether we amalgamate or not,” said Bishop. “It’s something we’ve been asked to look at. We had two resolutions come forward last year. We’re going to take a good look at this, and make an honest decision of what we can do in the future.”

In a joint presentation at the Prairie Cereals Summit, Bishop and Hames were quick to list off the positives of the amalgamation, while insisting it is not a “done deal.”

“It’s something that is a work in progress and we want to make sure we have looked at all the options and the cost-benefit ratio,” said Hames. “There’s got to be some benefit to doing this or there’s no sense to go ahead. We’re looking for the pros and cons so we can make sure we’re making a good decision based on facts and not emotion.”

In normal times, farmers would have had many opportunities to informally talk over the merits and drawbacks of a full merger as they gathered at regional meetings or met at conferences, farm shows or other events. Now the two farm groups are trying to figure ways to get information to their members and then get their feedback.

“COVID has thrown a bump in the road for us to do those face-to-face interactions,” said Hames.

“We’re maybe a little further back than we wanted to be at this time. We will move forward in some fashion of how we interact with the membership.

“I hope we can have some face-to-face time when we communicate with the memberships.”

He said the subcommittee hopes to soon develop a timeline for the proposed look at the possibility of amalgamation.

Under the provincial regulations that govern farm organizations, some sort of plebiscite would need to be held to approve an amalgamation, said Tom Steve, the general manager of both organizations. That could come in the form of a province-wide vote but might also be done “through our regional meetings process or our AGM process,” he said.

“We’re exploring all of those things with the (Alberta Agricultural Products Marketing Council) to make sure all the voices are heard,” Steve said.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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