Manitoba farmers are a step closer to establishing a new spring wheat and barley association to collect voluntary checkoffs for wheat and barley research and marketing.
An interim seven-member board of directors met Feb. 15 in Winnipeg and Dauphin-area farmer Don Dewar, a former president of the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), was selected as chair.
“There’s a lot of work ahead, but we’re moving forward,” Dewar said in a telephone interview following the meeting. “We’ve got some things to do before the next meeting. It’s all about organization now and the application.”
First the association will incorporate and begin the search for an executive director. It must then ask the Manitoba government’s Agricultural Producers’ Organization Certification Agency for certification and the authority to collect a checkoff on wheat and barley sold in Manitoba.
The money, refundable upon request, will pay for wheat and barley promotion, research and the association’s administration, said Dewar, who was KAP’s representative to the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF).
But it won’t debate policy. That will be left to existing farm groups such as the KAP, National Farmers Union and the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, he said.
A steering committee to look at establishing the association was struck last spring in the wake of the federal government’s decision to kill the Canadian Wheat Board’s single marketing desk for western wheat and barley destined for export or domestic human consumption. The board had collected a checkoff on wheat and barley to help fund research, including the development of new varieties, through the WGRF. The board, along with the federal government, also funded the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi), which promotes Canadian grains and oilseed to customers around the world.
When the wheat board became a grain company Aug. 1, 2012, it stopped collecting checkoffs and funding Cigi. To fill the gap the federal government took over both for up to five years with the expectation farmers would create and administer their own checkoffs.
Alberta already had a barley commission and created a new wheat commission, which started collecting checkoffs last Aug. 1. Saskatchewan is also well on its way to forming separate wheat and barley commissions.
A survey of Manitoba farmers found 78 per cent of respondents support a single wheat and barley commission so long as the money collected from each crop is spent on that crop, Dewar said.
“I don’t see that as a difficult task because that’s what WGRF does now,” he said. “It keeps track of the money separately and invest its separately.”
One association will be cheaper to run, said Dewar adding it’s getting harder to find farmers to help govern associations and commodity groups.
The new Manitoba association expects to collect 52 and 44 cents a tonne, respectively on wheat and barley sales, Dewar said. When added to the federal checkoff the total will be $1 a tonne.
Before the Agricultural Producers’ Organization Certification Agency grants an association the power to collect a checkoff it must be satisfied the majority of farmers support it.
“We think we can show that there is significant support for going ahead (with a checkoff) and if the certification agency agrees then they will ask the minister to approve it,” Dewar said. “If they don’t agree and they think there’s enough opposition then they may say we need to have a plebiscite, and it’s their responsibility to organize it and run it.”
Once wheat and barley grower associations are established Prairie-wide it’s likely they’ll co-operate, Dewar said. There’s also talk of setting up a pan-Canadian association, perhaps modelled after the Canola Council of Canada, whose members include the whole value chain from seed developers, farmers, exporters and crushers.
Three of the seven interim association directors are from KAP, with the Manitoba Pulse Growers Association, Manitoba Oat Growers Association, Winter Cereals Manitoba and Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association each supplying one interim director.