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Cattle Producers Warn Against New Farm Group Plan

Manitoba cattle producers have expressed concern about a provincial government proposal requiring every farmer to belong to a general farm organization.

The plan, still under discussion, would require all farmers in Manitoba to register their operations and select a general farm organization to belong to.

Producers would then pay a mandatory direct membership fee instead of having money deducted by a checkoff on commodities sold.

The idea is to provide farm groups with stable funding and give producers a stronger voice, according to the province.

But the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association warns against the measure, saying it would dilute the voice of beef farmers, as well as being too costly.

“Current checkoff legislation already funds organizations that remain solely committed to ensuring that the voice of Manitoba’s cattle producers is heard and that government policy is directed in a way that benefits those producers. It is also refundable,” MCPA said in a March 3 statement.

“The MCPA remains sternly opposed to any measures that would take further dollars from the farm families that raise cattle in this province.”

An earlier version of the statement warned against the “proposition to create a new general farm group through the introduction of another mandatory checkoff.” A quickly issued revision read: “proposition to institute a mandatory membership

“We can’t weaken commodity groups at the expense of a general group.”

– JOE BOUCHARD, MCPA

fee for cattle producers that would go to one of the general farm groups.”

A provincial official said the government is not considering a new farm organization or a new checkoff.

What’s under consideration is a model similar to ones in Ontario, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, said Lorne Martin, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives assistant deputy minister.

In those provinces, farmers are legally required to belong to a general farm organization but they get to choose which one. For example, Ontario farmers choose between the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario and the National Farmers Union.

Manitoba currently has only one general farm organization: Keystone Agricultural Producers. KAP is certified under the Agricultural Producers’ Organization Funding Act, passed in 1988. It reapplies for certification every two years.

If Manitoba’s new plan is adopted, it’s expected the National Farmers Union would be a second organization, as it is in the other provinces.

Stewart Wells, NFU president, said his group is aware of Manitoba’s initiative and is waiting to see details.

“Depending on the criteria, NFU would take a close look at that,” Wells said.

Rosann Wowchuk, MAFRI minister, said producers could opt to have their fee go toward research if they did not want to belong to a group.

“The option is for a mandatory registration. But if you choose not to belong to a farm organization, then your dollars would go into a pool that would be administered in a way that would address agricultural issues and agricultural research,” Wowchuk said.

However, she stressed nothing is firm and discussions continue.

“We want to meet with commodity groups, talk to them, see where they stand on this issue and then we will make a decision after that.”

Joe Bouchard, MCPA president, said his organization is not necessarily against the proposal, but feels it could weaken commodity groups.

“Although general farm organizations are very important and do a very good job, we need strong commodity groups as well. We can’t weaken commodity groups at the expense of a general group,” Bouchard said.

MCPA last year withdrew as a commodity group member of KAP, claiming beef industry issues were not getting adequate attention.

Ian Wishart, KAP president, acknowledged his organization’s membership would probably increase under the new model. KAP ended 2008 with 4,824 individual memberships and 22 commodity group members.

But that’s only a fraction of the number of farmers in Manitoba, although KAP points out its individual memberships represent farm units, so the actual number of producers is higher.

KAP’s mandatory but refundable checkoff is theoretically supposed to cover all farmers. But it has never worked as intended, especially for grain growers. Some grain companies chronically fail or refuse to check off a percentage of the KAP membership fee on grain deliveries at point of sale. Repeated efforts over the years to correct the problem have been unsuccessful. [email protected]

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