A call for a new producer-driven national farm organization

The following is a letter sent to producer checkoff-funded organizations across Western Canada March 4.

Over the past few months, I have been consulting with other farmers and farm leaders who are passionate like me about farm policy, agriculture and food. The consensus is that the agriculture industry is in need of some leadership enhancements. I would ask that you please forward this letter to your board and raise these ideas for discussion at your next meeting.

We are writing to request your support for the creation of a new producer-driven national farm organization that would work to solidify marketing systems for grains, oilseeds, pulses and special crops.

While it is widely agreed that changes in an open market will continue to benefit producers, even those who disagreed with the Canadian Wheat Board’s (CWB) work and policies, we sense that the end of the monopoly has left a void. We invite you as a leader in the sector to take ownership of this initiative and help drive all grain farmers into the best possible future.

We feel strongly that managing consumer concerns and industry challenges under one umbrella is necessary to arriving at powerful and cost-effective solutions. The following examples highlight the need today for a broad and cohesive farmer voice in industry discussions.

  •   Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) exiting cereal variety finishing, and making germplasm available to industry and producer-run research organizations. There is mounting frustration with all the existing new checkoffs for the producer-run cereal commissions working to replace the public-sector interests in development of new varieties, and skepticism of the overall economies of a segmented approach.
  •   Continued market access and consumer resistance issues. Numerous individuals from different organizations have had to deal with essentially the same hindrances with canola, lentils, flax and others, resulting in overlapping efforts. Consumer backlash against conventional food production has made improving science literacy a priority without a formal champion.
  •   The provincial canola growers’ associations are raising issues of contract fairness with respect to delivery terms, penalties for non-compliance, and grade and dockage assessments between elevators. Fair and consistent standards would improve the ability for markets to function for all crops sold across the Prairies. Efforts to lobby for changes to one crop or in one region are impossible with counter-parties that all operate nationally.
  •   The expanding size and scope of farms, amidst fast-moving technology, volatile markets and ongoing regulatory changes has brought challenges with respect to education and professional development, as has been recognized repeatedly in AAFC and provincial Growing Forward initiatives. While several small, regional service providers exist, overall, it appears that the gaps in producer engagement of the issues and their implications are widening as efforts are stymied by a lack of long-term resources and priorities.

These are just a few areas where there is immediate payoff potential from us tackling these issues through something bigger than existing regional and crop-specific, producer-run organizations.

Individual farm cost savings are another important reason for consolidating efforts. A typical 4,000- to 5,000-acre farm could end up paying $4 to $5 per tonne on average, or upwards of $20,000 in total for checkoffs under the current regime. In light of the fact these are significant amounts, we have to ask ourselves, are these funds empowering the farming industry to its full potential?

We are proposing that this new organization would somehow be affiliated with the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC), historically the grain industry watchdog, and currently part of a critical review process of long-term industry needs. Producers and government alike need to come to a full understanding of what’s at stake to capitalize on all of the opportunities ahead, and the CGC is already involved in all of the areas producers need to be concerned with long term.

Clearly much work remains to scope out and design proper governance and management systems, which is why we hope that you will take the first opportunity to discuss this idea with your board and membership.

Only by working together, combining resources and leveraging individual successes will this initiative generate the input and direction from key producers such as yourselves that it needs to take shape.

We are seeking all of your groups’ ideas, and close collaboration with your team in the near future.

In closing, we hope you will agree that producers today are facing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a great need to create a new national organization to speak with one voice. The reality is there is no such thing as a ‘wheat farmer’ or a ‘flax farmer,’ etc. Producers across the country may as well think like neighbours since their interests in the marketplaces are essentially identical.

If our efforts can gain some traction and stay on course, the outcome of this initiative will be a cutting-edge farm lobby more effective than anything of its kind in the world. It’s important for us to do this for future generations of farmers and consumers alike. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

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