Manitoba farmer continues push for merger of commodity groups

A Halbstadt farmer says his call to create three big Prairie-wide commodity groups is getting positive reviews — but no organizations have officially embraced the idea so far.

Last month, Danny Penner issued a discussion document calling for the merger of existing commodity groups to make them more efficient and effective.

“In person, I have not yet had one board member… that has said, ‘This is crazy and we can’t get it done,’” said Penner. “They’ve all said it makes sense.”

However, no group is officially endorsing his plan, and that’s not surprising, he said.

“I understand there is turf protection and things like that,” said Penner, a former president of the Manitoba Pulse Growers. “It’s very comfortable to do what you’ve always been doing.”

In his discussion paper, Penner proposes checkoff-funded commodity groups also funnel money into what he’s calling the “New Farm Organization,” which would focus on issues common to all the groups.

“The core concept of One New Farm Organization has proven success in the case of Grain Farmers of Ontario,” the paper states. “It’s our hope to build on what they’ve created and eventually end up with just one, fully national farm organization.”

Improving efficiency

The current system is neither efficient nor as effective as a single group would be, the paper argues.

“You can’t count how many different organizations speak on behalf of farmers these days, let alone get a quick, clear answer,” he wrote. “(T)here’s unnecessary overlap in administration… Just think what one organization could accomplish by taking the best of what every individual group is doing today and combining resources.”

The paper proposes rolling all commodity groups in Western Canada into three entities representing cereals, oilseeds, and pulse-special crops.

Each group would collect and administer the checkoff from their own crops, spending some of the money on their specific interests and giving a portion to fund the New Farm Organization.

“One hundred per cent producer governance is core to this idea, but the process of identifying specific farmers to sit on each board will be a matter for discussion,” he wrote.

Penner proposes each of the three commodity groups and the New Farm Organization have their own boards of directors, and that Western Canada be divided into six districts — northern and southern Alberta; north, central and southern Saskatchewan; and Manitoba. (Two additional districts could be included later from Eastern Canada.)

The number of votes for each farmer would be tied to the amount of checkoff contributed.

Election process

Six farmers would be elected to each of the boards, which would also have its own chief executive officer. In addition to six elected farmers, the New Farm Organization’s board would include the presidents of the cereals, oilseeds and pulse/special crops commodity groups.

Each region would have four farmer representatives in total — one on each of the commodity groups and one on the New Farm Organization.

“The work of the commissions (commodity groups) and the New Farm Organization would fall under directorates such as research, policy, markets, education, environment and logistics, with a focus on branding and advocacy of Canadian crop farming systems, guiding investment in agriculture to its best possible use, and communicating key messages from other stakeholders back to primary producers,” Penner wrote.

Farm organizations funded directly by members, such as the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, or the Keystone Agricultural Producers, which has a checkoff, would continue to operate independently, Penner said in an interview. But they could also contribute to policy development within the New Farm Organization, he added.

Penner was to present his proposal to Canadian Federation of Agriculture vice-president Humphrey Banack and the Keystone Agricultural Producers’ executive on April 1.

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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