Time right to explore commodity group merger

Corn growers GM Theresa Bergsma says farmer feedback is needed on the next steps

Most Manitoba farm commodity groups have been collaborating for years, now it’s time for farmers to explore merging, says Theresa Bergsma, the soon-to-retire general manager of the Manitoba Corn Growers Association (MCGA).

“I don’t know where it is going to land us but we’ve talked about it enough now as boards and as groups we need to bring the membership up to date and we have to get their feedback,” Bergsma said in an interview Feb. 7.

That’s just what was scheduled to happen at the 4th annual CropConnect meeting in Winnipeg Feb. 15. Farmer and Dobson Lead consultant, Kelly Dobson, was to tell farmers about the talks commodity groups have been having about collaboration and even merging, and then get farmers’ feedback.

“We have to see if this is something they need us to look at further,” Bergsma said. “For some of us groups that have been hands on with this for a while — we (corn growers) are probably on the third year — it is either time to stop and just do collaboration or find out from the membership if they want us to work on something further.”

There are models, including the Grain Growers of Ontario, which saw most of that province’s commodity groups come together under one roof several years ago, Bergsma said.

“I am not saying that is what we would end up with exactly, but look at the money they have been able to invest in smaller crops because they have it,” she said.

Some commodity groups are more interested in merging than others.

“That’s fair,” Bergsma said. “Each group has to come to it at its own speed. But I do think it is kind of an ideal time to look at this.”

In 2013 Halbstadt farmer Danny Penner publicly called on commodity groups to come together to make better use of farmers’ money collected through commodity checkoffs.

“I would say that planted a bit of a seed,” Bergsma said.

The Manitoba Corn Growers Association wants to explore merging with other commodity groups, she said and its executive has passed a motion to do that.

“But we need to make sure the members support it,” Bergsma said.

“If there are some favourable to it then the next step is an individual survey of farmers.”

The MCGA and the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association have already agreed to share a new general manager, Pam de Rocquigny, who will take over from Bergsma. There are other commodity group bosses who might be thinking of doing other things, she said.

“It may be a really good time to be looking at what we can do to maximize what we have and minimize the disruption,” Bergsma said. “I just hope we have a good discussion about it.”

Some crops, including corn, have been doing all right on their own, but others such as sunflowers and flax are struggling, because acreage is down resulting in less checkoff revenue, she said.

Most commodity groups have agronomists. If they worked for one organization there would be better co-ordination and increased efficiency, Bergsma said.

“We have learned in Manitoba that it is good to have crop options and we have more than any other province and we need to milk that,” she said. “We need to explore that even more. If farmers are looking for a reduction in checkoff that is not necessarily going to happen. I really don’t think it will. It is more about using the money and then leverage it.”

About the author

Reporter

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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