Talking to political leaders and policy-makers is beginning to pay off for the National Sunflower Association of Canada, says president Kelly Dobson.
“In the past three months we’ve had more meetings with more people – other grower groups, company representatives and government officials – than we have in the past 10 years,” Dobson said at the group’s annual general meeting last week at the Manitoba Special Crops Symposium.
Dobson said he’s not someone who enjoys meetings for the sake of meetings, but he and other board members realized they needed to become engaged in the policy process.
“This is the sort of work that you have to do if you want to be able to ‘budge the needle,’” Dobson said.
The organization is now involved in Agriculture and Agri- Food Canada’s special crops round table and a minor use pesticide group.
“We’ve begun to discover that there are other people out there who share the same goals as us, such as the AAFC staff,” Dobson said. “They see that we want to be successful and when we tell them our story – that we’re struggling to be a reliable supplier of quality confection sunflowers – they want to help.”
The greatest chal lenge that growers face is the quality issue, which is entirely due to sclerotinia head rot, he said. Overcoming the problem requires a multi-pronged
approach, and that includes more resistant varieties and registering fungicides for use on sunflowers, he said. But by working with others, the organization is discovering the challenge might not be insurmountable, said Dobson, adding they’re already beginning to move forward on a “project-by-project basis.
“It’s going to be a different industry,” he said.
The sclerotinia head rot issue, combined with terrible weather last summer, also took a small bite out of the association’s bottom line.
Lower production last season reduced checkoff dollars to just under $200,000, while expenses remained around $235,000, said executive director Darcelle Graham. However, the organization has reserves of about $250,000 and remains in sound fiscal condition, she said.
“Our board did set us up for the rainy day back when we had decent crops,” she said.
At the meeting, board member Roger Vaags of Dugald stepped down after serving a three-year term and was replaced by Mark McDonald of Virden. Graham also announced Special Crops Production Day, normally held in the Red River Valley, will be held in Brandon this year.
– KELLY DOBSON, NATIONAL SUNFLOWER ASSOCIATION OF CANADA PRESIDENT