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Alberta Checkoff Change Offends Groups

“The cow-calf producer wants to sell high, which I totally respect, but my job is to buy as low as I can. How can one entity represent both interests?”

– RICK PASKAL

Alberta Beef Producers as well as pork, lamb and potato groups in that province aren’t happy with their government’s plan to make commodity checkoffs refundable.

However others, including the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association, say they are pleased with the proposed change.

Late last month, Agriculture Minister George Groeneveld announced introduction of Bill 43, which eliminates non-refundable checkoffs for non-supply-managed commodity groups in Alberta.

“We’re quite concerned about this,” said Edzo Kok, executive director of the Potato Growers Association of Alberta (PGA). “It will have an impact on PGA and the amount of levies it collects. If any member asks for a refund, it will affect the finances we have for the organization.”

Members of the Potato Growers of Alberta have written letters to MLAs in potato-growing regions, and have met with members of the government. “Unfortunately, our concerns seem to be falling on deaf ears,” said Kok by phone from his office in Taber.

Kok said PGA membership did not ask for this change. “We weren’t consulted on this at all. We were advised two weeks ago by the deputy minister that it was in the pipeline. At that point, it was no longer up for debate. The decision had been made,” Kok said.

The Alberta Lamb Producers, which is also affected by the change, is disappointed. “We’re already looking at what strategies we can use to get on with business,” said Norine Moore, chair of the Alberta Lamb Producers, from her home in Stavely.

Moore said the change to the checkoffs only comes into effect at the end of the year, which is September 2010 for the lamb producers.

“Our regulations for how the checkoff will work will need to be in place by January 2010,” said Moore. She said that the organization has not had a lot of time to figure out how the changes will affect them. “We have no way of projecting what percentage of producers will ask for a refund,” she said.

“We’re disappointed in the way this was handled,” said Paul Hodgman, executive director of Alberta Pork. “Our position was that the membership should determine where this goes. This has been imposed on us so it will have implications on what we’re doing. We have to figure out how to source funds from outside organizations,” he said. “We’re going to work with the system as best as we can.”

FEEDERS ARE PLEASED

Rick Paskal of Picture Butte, chairman of the National Cattle Feeders Association and board member of the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association, says Bill 43 gives producers the flexibility to use their checkoffs to endorse or reject certain policies coming from Alberta Beef Producers (ABP).

The political structure of the ABP has been a long-standing concern for cattle feeders. Although the previous governance structure and mandatory checkoff were supported by most producers as a democratic system, it was to the contrary, said Paskal. There are 28,000 cow-calf producers in Alberta and 1,000 feedlot operators, both with different business agendas, he said.

“The cow-calf producer wants to sell high, which I totally respect, but my job is to buy as low as I can. How can one entity represent both interests?”

He says the feedlot operators contributed as much financially as the cow-calf producers, but their political representation was only 3.5 per cent on an individual basis. This means that many of the policies being generated did not represent the entire industry’s interests.

“We, through the Beef Industry Alliance, lobbied the government very hard to recognize this imbalance,” says Paskal. “The Alberta government responded with Bill 43.”

“If Alberta Beef Producers introduces good policies that are reflective of the entire industry, then yes, I will absolutely keep my dollars in there,” says Paskal. “But if the policies are not reflective, then myself and others will probably ask for a refund.”

He credits the Alberta Beef Producers and Canadian Cattlemen’s Association with having some of the best staff working within those organizations, but says the industry will not move forward until the policies and governance are reflective of the whole industry.

“There’s now an arena for debate,” says Paskal. “The structure before made people divisive, but now everyone is going to have to sit around the table and look at each other, and come up with policies that work for everyone.”

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