Bison: First of the refundable commissions bites the dust

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The Bison Producers of Alberta (BPA) is the first of the refundable agriculture commissions to face the music and put itself out of business (see page 15). The obvious question is who will be next?

The most likely candidates could be the elk or sheep commissions, both of which operate with few members and modest checkoff income. The demise of the BPA is an ominous sign as to the stability of refundable commissions.

There is more to the BPA story. The organization has had to deal with circumstances that caused its checkoff process real grief and exasperation, but it looks to have been mostly self-inflicted. For one thing, Alberta bison producers have been faced with a double checkoff process unique to the livestock business. Producers had to buy a national ID tag from their national organization. That tag, besides the cost, had a hefty national checkoff attached, some of which was returned to the provincial organizations. But in Alberta, producers were subsequently hit with another checkoff upon sale of the animal.

Although both checkoffs were refundable, the double process seemed to annoy many producers, even the ones who supported checkoffs.

The other problem was the BPA did not have a robust checkoff collection process at the provincial level. Some dealers and buyers refused to deduct the BPA levy and bison exports were exempted. That caused animosity between producers who paid the checkoff and those who didn’t. It seems the BPA was unwilling to enforce its collection powers through audits and legal action against producers, dealers and buyers. That’s a surefire recipe for checkoff evasion.

The refundable checkoff provision actually enabled that non-compliance attitude — some buyers challenged the BPA to “come and get them,” so to speak.

The other accomplice in the demise of the BPA has been the Agricultural Products Marketing Council, under whose rules and regulations all marketing commissions and boards operate. It could have done a lot more in encouraging and supporting the BPA to make its checkoff process more effective, either through regulatory changes or legal enforcement — the fact is the issue has been brewing for many years.

Although producers buried the BPA as a commission at their recent AGM, they resolved to continue on as an association. Perhaps in the end that will be best for bison producers. But the demise of the BPA does send an ominous message to producers involved with other refundable livestock-marketing commissions.

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