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Flax Growers Vote To Scrap Checkoff Cap

The Manitoba Flax Growers Association (MFGA) wants the $275 cap removed from its farmer checkoff of half a per cent of the value of flax when it’s sold.

MFGA members voted in favour of removing the cap at their annual meeting here March 3. The MFGA will ask the Agricultural Producers’ Organization Cer tification Agency to make the change, MFGA president Eric Fridfinnson said in an interview following the meeting.

“We have contacted them (agency) and are in the process of drafting a letter with full documentation of what we’re asking for,” he said.

The cap results in additional administration costs and is unfair to smaller flax growers, Fridfinnson said.

MFGA director Don Zeghers said as checkoff money is collected, it has to be reconciled against what has already been collected.

He predicted removing the cap wouldn’t earn the MFGA much additional money, but would cut administration costs.

Only a couple dozen people attended the annual meeting, despite invitational letters being mailed to Manitoba flax growers advising them of the checkoff vote, Fridfinnson said.

“I was hoping for a bigger turnout,” he said. “One thing we have to remember is it is a voluntary checkoff. People can apply for a refund. It’s not like reaching into somebody’s pocket. I think generally most producers are in favour of the checkoff as long as they are confident that the money is being used efficiently and for research and market development.”

The MFGA is helping to fund two major research projects. One is the Total Utilization Flax GENomics (TUFGEN) project, which will map the flax genome providing flax breeders with tools to develop flax with better oil and fibre characteristics.

Half the $21-million budget will come from Genome Canada and the rest from the flax industry, including farmers. The MFGA is contributing $25,000 a year to the research.

The MFGA will spend a total of $200,000 ($50,000 a year over four years) to help fund the development of glyphosate-tolerant flax, that isn’t genetically modified.

The total cost of the project is $6 million.

Cibus, an American-based trait development company, is doing the work.

The Flax Council of Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada are contributing $800,000 and $4 million.

Canada’s flax industry continues to suffer in the wake of the 2009 discovery in Europe of CDC Triffid in Canadian flax exports. CDC Triffid is a GM flax that’s not approved in the EU.

Initially Canadian flax exports to the EU all but ceased given shipments containing CDC Triffid levels of 0.01 per cent (one seed in 10,000) or more are rejected.

Since then, EU buyers have agreed to accept imported Canadian flax that tests negative for CDC Triffid when in storage, before being loaded on ships. But the potential for rejection when the flax arrives is still high so the current protocol is not a long-term solution, Fridfinnson said.

The EU has agreed in principle to increase its tolerance of contamination from unapproved GM crops to 0.1 per cent, but only in livestock feed and only if the GM trait involved has been approved in one or more other countries outside the EU and has been in the queue for approval in the EU for three months. The proposed change still needs to be approved by the EU Parliament.

Even if approved it won’t help with CDC Triffid imports because EU approval isn’t being sought for the variety because it’s so old and unlikely to be approved, Fridfinnson said.

The Flax Council of Canada (FCC) is still encouraging farmers to test their flaxseed to be sure it’s free of CDC Triffid before being planted. The hope is over time traces of the offending variety will be flushed from the system.

To that end the federal government has contributed $5 million to help offset the cost of seed testing. Up to 50 per cent of the cost to a maximum of $100 will be covered, Fridfinnson said.

Starting Aug. 1 the program will be extended to testing flaxseed destined for sale to elevators.

To avoid extra costs farmers should be sure the company buying their flax has approved the laboratory they want to use. [email protected]

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“Onethingwehavetorememberisitisavoluntarycheckoff.Peoplecanapplyforarefund.”

– ERIC FRIDFINNSON

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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