Editor’s Take: The crops groups merger vote nears

Are you ready for the Manitoba Crop Alliance vote?

The MCA is the name a new merger of crops groups is poised to take on if their amalgamation proposal passes votes to be held at this winter’s CropConnect conference.

That meeting, slated for February 11-13 in Winnipeg, will see the annual meetings of the Manitoba Corn Growers, Manitoba Flax Growers, National Sunflower Association of Canada, Winter Cereals Canada and Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers. There the members of each organization will be polled. All must approve the merger for it to occur, by a two-thirds majority.

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That’s a high bar for those proposing the merger, but that’s also fitting because this is perhaps the largest change to the farm groups’ landscape since the collapse of the Manitoba Farm Bureau and the rise of the Keystone Agricultural Producers in the 1980s.

The arguments on both sides of this largely amicable debate are fairly straightforward.

Proponents point out crops producers share many of the same interests, regardless the crops. They point to a large overlap between the membership lists of the various organizations. They also strongly suggest there will be savings and efficiencies to be found in the merger process that will enable the MCA to do much more with the same funds by eliminating overhead and needless duplication.

Those favouring the status quo worry a larger group will, by necessity, be somewhat less responsive to grower concerns. They’re especially worried smaller crops will fall through the cracks and the larger-acreage ones will garner most, if not all, of the research dollars. There’s also been concern that there would be too few directors available to sit on industry committees, attend events and perform other duties, leading to burnout.

The organizers heard these concerns during the consultation process and last winter they issued an amended plan. That revised proposal, which is what will now be voted upon, includes four crop committees that would allay most of these fears, they said.

They’ve now spent the better part of the year promoting this plan and trying to garner the attention of producers to consider the plan. Producer response, on the other hand, has been muted. Many have chosen to interpret the quiet reception as tacit consent, and they could be correct. Generally when farmers don’t like something, they’ll let you know about it.

But its passage shouldn’t be taken as a foregone conclusion either. With five votes to pass, it will need to convince the Manitoba Farm Products Marketing Council (which regulates checkoff-funded groups) and the Manitoba government that farmers are behind the proposal. Without regulators’ approval, things could get much more complex.

If the votes are close, those interested parties may ask for a separate plebiscite. That’s necessary because of the nature of how these groups are funded, requiring checkoff legislation, which would need to be assigned to the new Manitoba Crop Alliance. Government will be hesitant to push through anything that’s less than a clear-cut victory.

How industry associations are structured might not seem like a particularly gripping topic, but it is an important piece of sectorial housekeeping. And getting it right will help get the best results for the fewest precious checkoff dollars.

In the case of the MCA proposal, it seems clear the groups believe that will come primarily through research and development programs. They’re suggesting they’ll spend close to 70 per cent of the total annual budget on this in the first year, with just 16 per cent going to administration costs.

That kind of work will generate tangible and practical results for farmers, and could help prevent the MCA from becoming mired in political matters as other groups have in the past.

A recipe for the vote to fail likely would include scant voter turnout and an inconclusive vote that doesn’t have a clear-cut victor. In that light, the politicians and civil servants charged with overseeing these industry groups may well decide to leave things status quo.

That’s why farmers taking the time to understand this issue in the coming weeks leading up to the vote is critical. The facts are available online. A webinar is planned for Dec. 12, and you can either register for it and take it in live, or view it after the fact on the website.

There’s just a narrow window remaining, which will be even smaller with the looming holiday season and its many demands on one’s time.

Take the time now to familiarize yourself with the issues, make up your mind ahead of time, and then go to the meetings and vote.

What’s being proposed is a significant change to the way your voice will be heard within and outside the sector.

Something this important deserves your full attention.

About the author

Editor

Gord Gilmour is Editor of the Manitoba Co-operator.

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