Feds clarify barley commission’s role in checkoff collection

Concern Initial document implied that Alberta could control funding for projects in other provinces

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The federal government plans to sign an agreement with the Alberta Barley Commission to dictate how farmers’ money collected from the proposed new interim wheat and barley checkoff for research and market development is spent.

The clarification follows concern in Manitoba that the ABC would have authority to allocate Prairie-wide funds collected under the new checkoff to replace the one administered by the Canadian Wheat Board, which will cease collecting it after the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act kills its single desk.

The federal government’s Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement on the regulation to introduce the checkoff says, “The ABC would have the authority to determine which organizations would receive the checkoff funds, and how much they would receive.”

Doug Chorney, president of Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers, told the Manitoba Co-operator that “I’m concerned because of the lack of information we might see a backlash from producers in Manitoba who don’t support the idea of sending their money to the (barley commission) in Alberta and that could hurt Cigi and WGRF funding… and that would be a really unfortunate outcome.”

Following publication of the Co-operator article, an Agriculture Canada communications officer said in an email that ABC and AAFC (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) intend to enter into an agreement that will specify what dollars-per-tonne amounts that ABC will provide to the organizations. That was later confirmed by a letter from Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

“Regarding the question of where the funds will be directed, I would like to clarify that the Alberta Barley Commission will transfer the checkoff dollars, in the customary funding amounts, to the three recipient organizations of record,” Ritz said.

Interim measure

The proposed new, refundable checkoff of 48 cents a tonne for wheat and 56 cents for barley marketed through a licensed grain company, will be in place no more than five years, during which time Ottawa expects farmers to develop their own checkoff and determine how the money is used.

The current checkoff administered by the wheat board is 30 and 50 cents a tonne for wheat and barley, but doesn’t include funding for Cigi or CMBTC, which the board paid directly.

While the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act states the organization that collects the interim checkoff must use the money for research into new and improved grain varieties, promoting the sale of Canadian grain, technical assistance on using Canadian grain and administration, it doesn’t specify which groups should receive the money. Neither does the proposed regulation to the Canada Grain Act to create the new checkoff.

In an interview, barley commission general manager Lisa Skierka stressed the commission won’t use the money for its own programs.

“This money is simply coming into us and we’re administering it and we’re sending it out to the recipients and organizations so they can continue to run those programs that farmers value in Western Canada.”

Collection only

Levy Central, administered by the Agriculture Council of Saskatchewan, will collect the checkoff, as it does now for the barley commission and nine other commodity groups in all three Prairie provinces. However it doesn’t cash the cheques and is not in charge of sending refunds. That’s handled by client organizations such as the ABC.

Levy Central executive director Laurie Dmytryshyn says there was some talk about her organization administering the new checkoff.

“But I was the first to say it does not make sense,” Dmytryshyn said in an interview June 1. “You need an organization, in the interim, that represents producers. We represent provincial agriculture and agri-food organizations here in the province of Saskatchewan, so we don’t have that direct relationship with the producers.”

The federal government’s analysis statement says the barley commission will be allowed up to five per cent of the checkoff for administration costs.

The statement also says the commission is to report annually to the minister of agriculture on how much money is collected and how it’s spent, including administration.

“The intent is that AAFC and/or ABC would release information to the public that would show how the checkoff funds are invested and used,” the government’s impact statement says.

Citizens have until June 25 to submit comments on the proposed interim checkoff to Tom Askin, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 303 Main Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 3G7; Email: [email protected]

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