After first amalgamating their administrative teams and then their senior management, Alberta Wheat and Alberta Barley are now considering a full merger.
But the notion of scrapping their individual boards and creating a single cereal crop board is still in its early stages, say the chairs of the two farm groups.
“The resolution came up this year at the Alberta Barley AGM, it came up the year before at the Alberta Wheat AGM,” said barley chair David Bishop. “Our membership brought up the resolution and it was approved at our AGM to investigate.”
A subcommittee will examine the issue, but ultimately the decision to amalgamate will be decided by farmers who are members of one, or both, organizations. Before anything happens, the subcommittee (which will consist of regional reps, delegates and directors from both groups) will examine the pros and cons, and also survey members.
Because so many producers grow both barley and wheat, the two groups are representing largely the same group of farmers, said Alberta Wheat chair Todd Hames.
“The management team is working as one team in the office, looking over both commissions,” said the Marwayne-area grain grower. “It’s just the logical next step to take a look to see whether there would be further cost savings and further efficiencies by amalgamation of the boards.”
At this point, neither commission knows what cost savings might result from a board merger. Direct board costs are relatively small. For example, Alberta Barley’s director fees and expenses accounted for $56,000 out of its $2.5 million in expenses in 2018-19.
But there are other indirect costs.
“The management team is still looking after two boards of directors, so the work is duplicated,” said Hames. “There’s still some savings to be made and investigation to see what the structure could look like.
“There are some obstacles we have to solve before things move forward. Now it’s time to dig deeper into it to see if this is a good idea or not.”
Having fewer board positions could make it easier to find producers willing to serve as directors. Alberta Wheat currently has a board of 11 people and Alberta Barley has a board of nine.
“It can be hard to get people to serve in certain regions,” said Bishop, who farms in Barons. “We’ve been lucky on the barley side, we haven’t had any issues with people to run. Any boards, whether they are local boards or community boards, we always have trouble getting people to run. It’s the nature of today’s world. Everyone is so busy.”
Alberta Wheat’s board recently had to appoint a director for Region 1, which had two director openings this year, but only one producer who put his name forward during elections last fall.
“It can be difficult to find producers who have the time commitment to get active on boards,” said Hames. “With barley and wheat both having boards, we’re asking twice as many farmers to come forward. It’s a concern and it’s also a cost.”
Having wheat and barley together in one organization could mean the group would have a more powerful, and more unified voice, said Bishop.
“When talking to government, we’re a lot of different voices,” he said. “We’re asking farmers to step up and take these board positions on. Can we be more efficient with fewer farmers talking to the government?”
The subcommittee will also look to see what the amalgamation will need from the Alberta Agricultural Products Marketing Council, and what would need to change for the move to happen. Bishop said there are a lot of issues to explore.
“It’s really the early days,” said Bishop. “We’re investigating to see if we can even proceed.”
“The key is really that we’re looking into it, and it’s not a done deal,” said Hames.
Crop groups in other provinces have made the decision to amalgamate. The Grain Farmers of Ontario is a multi-crop group and Manitoba Wheat and Barley have amalgamated. Some of the smaller commodity groups in Saskatchewan are also looking at amalgamating.
“It’s not usual that we’re looking at the collapse of a board,” added Hames.
Neither chair is expecting that the process will be quick, and both said there is no rush to move ahead.
The subcommittee will investigate all the possibilities and it’s likely the results of the findings will be presented to the membership in the fall.
“It’s going to take the committee time to get everything right,” said Bishop.