“I would not have any problem with it if producers had had a chance to vote on it.”
While the repercussions of Bill 43 may not be realized for a few years, the Potato Growers of Alberta are acting now to ensure that the organization stays strong. “We won’t know the consequences until 2010 or 2011, but we have to keep moving forward,” says chairman Jerry Zeinstra.
Bill 43, officially passed on June 2, eliminates the ability of the Potato Growers of Alberta to retain mandatory checkoffs. Under the bill, producers now have to right to request a refund of their checkoffs to all Alberta commodity organizations.
Details of how the new regulation will be applied will be determined through consultation between the Alberta Agricultural Products Marketing Council and the Potato Growers of Alberta in the coming months. The bill will come into affect for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, which ends July 31, 2011 for the Potato Growers of Alberta.
The Potato Growers of Alberta are opposed to Bill 43 because it undermines a process already in place that allowed the membership to introduce change to the organization and then vote on it in a democratic process. “Every organization has internal issues but we were able to solve those with the growers,” says Zeinstra. “Now, if someone doesn’t like something he can just throw his hands up and say, ‘I want my money back.’”
He doesn’t expect many requests for refunds since about 95 per cent of members are opposed to the bill. The Potato Growers of Alberta represents about 150 producers and the checkoffs amount to less than one per cent of the value of the producer’s crop.
Zeinstra says his biggest issue is how the government went about introducing the bill.
“At the time we were notified about the bill, it was already basically a done deal. It should’ve been introduced in a democratic way by a plebiscite through the Marketing Council to give each commodity group the option to vote on the bill,” says Zeinstra. “I would not have any problem with it if producers had had a chance to vote on it.”
Edzo Kok, executive director of the Potato Growers of Alberta, says the way the act reads, it obligates the commissions to provide the same services to all producers, whether they request a refund or not.
Kok says the Potato Growers of Alberta will continue to deliver benefits to producers financially through contract negotiations and price setting, technically through research and information exchange, and by marketing and promoting the Alberta advantage, communicating industry information, and lobbying on producers’ behalf.
Without the mandatory nonrefundable checkoffs, though, it is difficult for the commission to budget for these activities, as it is funded solely by the checkoffs. “If there is a loss in income due to requested refunds, there is no way to make up the difference,” says Kok. “We’d have to reduce our programs and activities.”
The Potato Growers of Alberta represents growers nationally and internationally through the Canadian Horticultural Council, the United Potato Growers of Canada, the United Potato Growers of America, the Potato Marketing Association of North America, the Potato Association of America, and the Western Potato Council.
Staff and elected officials also attend trade shows in Canada and the United States to market seed and fresh potatoes. About 80 per cent of potatoes grown in Alberta are for processing, and are thereby under contract, eliminating the need for marketing activities.