[UPDATED: Feb. 14, 2020] Five Manitoba commodity groups have voted to join forces after two years of consultation and debate.
“I am relieved, and I’m happy with the outcome,” said Eric Fridfinnson, board chair of the soon-to-be-defunct Manitoba Flax Growers Association.
The vote passed with a clear majority after members of the five organization voted at their groups’ annual general meetings. A total of 165 ballots were cast over the five meetings, and a two-thirds majority was required in favour of the resolution at each of the meetings.
“I think it bodes well for support for the concept of the Manitoba Crop Alliance,” said Fridfinnson.
*Here’s how the votes tallied up:
- Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association – 66 votes yes, 16 votes no
- Manitoba Corn Growers Association – 28 votes yes, 5 votes no
- Manitoba Flax Growers Association – 18 votes yes, 1 vote no
- Winter Cereals Manitoba – 15 votes yes, 1 vote no
- National Sunflower Association of Canada – 14 votes yes, 1 vote no
The Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association (MWBGA), Manitoba Corn Growers Association (MCGA), Manitoba Flax Growers Association (MFGA), National Sunflower Association of Canada (NSAC) and Winter Cereals Manitoba Inc. (WCMI) will form the Manitoba Crop Alliance.
That’s a change from when the proposal was first put forward, two years ago. Then the Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers (MPSG) were part of the deal. But in July 2018 they withdrew and in November of the year Winter Cereals Manitoba joined.
“I’m excited,” said Fred Greig, board chair of the MWBGA, who said he expected his organizations would gain efficiency and see more director engagement.
[AUDIO: Fred Greig of Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers comments on the vote results]
One issue that the groups had addressed through the consultation process was to amend the proposed organizational structure to include ‘crop committees’ for each of the commodities, ensuring the smaller-acreage crops wouldn’t be lost in the larger organization. Greig said he sees another important role for them in providing an entry-point for farmers looking to get involved.
“I really hope that with these crop committees, it will get some younger producers in to get their feet wet,” he said.
However, the vote didn’t go by without debate.
At the MFGA annual general meeting, member Wilfred (Butch) Harder expressed concern that amalgamation would result in directors becoming overloaded, and result in less representation for individual crops.
“I fail to see how this will bring more democracy into the system,” he said.
Others expressed concerned that smaller crop groups wouldn’t survive if they didn’t band together.
Amalgamating would stabilize cash flow for the smaller organizations, said Fridfinnson at the MWBGA meeting.
That meeting was the scene of the most protracted debate of the series of meetings.
For smaller groups, just paying an administrator can eat the whole budget, he said.
Beyond this, members said that teaming up would give them a bigger voice in an increasingly complex industry.
“A lot of the problems we’re facing in agriculture aren’t commodity-specific,” said Fridfinnson.
“The world is getting much more complex and complicated,” said Curtis Simms at WCMI’s AGM. “We need more than one person leading each organization.”
Former NSAC president Kelly Dobson said that in his experience, dealing with Ottawa was better done in a larger group and would require professional administration—something not all commodity groups could afford.
“I’m more concerned of what happens if we don’t [amalgamate],” said Dobson.
This led to another member asking why, if the merge was so urgent, canola, pulses and soybeans were not also joining them.
Dobson said these commodity groups didn’t yet have the urgency that they did.
Myron Krahn said he expects more groups will merge in the future.
“Other provinces are watching,” he said.
A similar merger in Ontario just over ten years ago has been judged largely successful. The Grain Farmers of Ontario originally saw the Ontario Corn Producers’ Association, Ontario Soybean Growers and the Ontario Wheat Producers’ Marketing Board join forces. In 2015, barley and oat growers also joined.
Following the Manitoba vote, Fridfinnson told the Co-operator the new alliance will have to work hard to maintain and build farmer input. He said in his experience with the Flax Growers, it’s difficult to keep members engaged when they only see each other once a year.
[AUDIO: Eric Fridfinnson of Manitoba Flax Growers post-vote reaction to the results]
Fred Greig said that the new group would be a work in progress as it develops with the interests of farmers in mind.
“I’m sure we’ll have to tweak a few things,” said Greig.
A petition was submitted by the Manitoba Crop Alliance’s board of directors to the Manitoba Farm Products Marketing Council (MFPMC) on February 14. That’s the next step for the MCA to gain its designation under the Agricultural Producers’ Organization Funding Act, which will give them the authority to collect a levy at the current levels.
Prior to the vote the MFPMC had ruled and voted in favour of amalgamation by the five organizations would establish the representative nature of the Manitoba Crop Alliance.
The MCA board of directors will be meeting later this winter to work on the transition process, and the new group is expected to become operational August 1.
*UPDATE: Vote tallies and some merger background context were added.