Recognizing The Value Of Checkoffs For Lamb Producers

“As long as we are being supported by ALP we should support our industry.”

Ronald den Broeder never gave a lot of thought to where his checkoff dollars went until he was given the option to reclaim them in September 2010. At $1.50 a head and with 950 ewes, his checkoff contributions are significant. But after considering his options, he decided he needed his producer organization, the Alberta Lamb Producers (ALP), on his side.

“Basically what we as lamb producers have to decide is if we want to be part of an industry, because industries need a central body,” says the Barrhead-area producer. “If we want to grow our business then we have to pay for it and that’s currently being done through checkoff.”

Bill 43, the Marketing of Agricultural Products Amendment act will make checkoff refundable for cattle, pork, sheep and potatoes by September 2010. However these groups will have to implement the program at the beginning of their fiscal year 2010, in some, cases April 1.

The introduction of Bill 43 took many groups by surprise. Spearheaded by some factions of the cattle industry, Bill 43 placed all provincial commodity groups that have mandatory checkoff in previous legislation under the same refundability umbrella. One criticism of the bill is that there was no consultation with these groups throughout the process.

For ALP, refundable checkoff is a concern, not because it doesn’t think it’s offering value to their producers, but because in tough economic times, producers might not look at the big picture and see what they bring to the table. Right now, checkoff dollars provide 100 per cent of operational expenses, contribute to projects and activities and enable access to external industry funding.

“I have no problem with the concept that we can get our dollars back if we choose to,” says den Broeder. “But I think lamb producers need to decide why they want their money back. I can’t imagine doing it to save a few dollars, when right now we are all making money. As long as we are being supported by ALP we should support our industry.”

Alberta’s lamb producers have shown support for both checkoff dollars and the organization in the past. Checkoff legislation for the lamb industry was sanctioned by provincial producers. In 2007 they voted overwhelmingly to increase the amount of each checkoff as an investment in their industry.

EQUAL FOOTING

As the chair of the Alberta Agricultural Products Marketing Council, Don Macyk works with different producer organizations such as ALP to ensure good governance. He says that Bill 43 puts all commodity organizations in the province on equal footing.

“Bill 43 put in place the same rules for all organizations at the commission level,” he says. “Commissions deliver messages on behalf of their industry and we do recognize that in order to have a strong organization stable funding is critical.”

He understands that there may be economic reasons for a producer to request a refund, but he also points out that refundable checkoff should not mean the end of an organization. “ALP has always been very service-oriented toward its members,” he says.

Debbie Delisle has taken full advantage of the services offered by ALP. She farms with her husband and three children just west of Elnora. They started their business in 2006 and have grown steadily over the past three years. She says their growth has been aided through the courses and training offered through ALP.

“We get lots of support from ALP and they are always willing to answer any questions,” she says. “They are also our contact with government on such issues as traceability. I do know some smaller producers who are thinking about getting a refund, but I don’t think that makes sense for us if we want to grow our industry.”

Right now Alberta lamb producers are meeting only about half of the provincial demand with locally grown product. As part of a recently launched expansion initiative, ALP is working to encourage flock expansion and to bring new producers into the industry so that interest in local product doesn’t go to international producers due to lack of availability.

“We have to work together as a unified group and I would really hope people would think of the industry as a whole and not take advantage of refundable checkoff,” Delisle says. “If we think small, we will stay small.”

ALP works to represent and advocate for producer interests throughout the supply chain, with government, and to consumers. As the communications hub for our industry ALP is confident that its members will continue to support the value provided by the organization through their checkoff contribution. The goal is to build an even stronger livestock sector that producers can continue to take pride in.

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