After years of consultation, meetings and webinars, five Manitoba commodity groups are preparing to vote on whether they will merge to form the Manitoba Crop Alliance.
As the vote nears, producers have gone “relatively quiet,” said Pam de Rocquigny, general manager of the Manitoba Corn Growers Association.
“I think there’s been lots of communication out to our members,” she said.
The last of four webinars for producers was Jan. 30, and de Rocquigny said farmers asked a lot of good questions. Now she urges producers to attend their groups’ AGMs during Crop Connect 2020, Feb. 11-13.
A long process
“This has been, you know, definitely a process,” de Rocquigny told the Manitoba Co-operator. Longer than was expected, she added, but they’d planned to take their time and do it right.
Merger talks began four years ago when the groups were already co-operating and sharing an office in Carman. Official consultation and planning began in late 2017.
Goals included increased efficiency; strengthened research, agronomy, communication and market development; and more opportunities for farmer involvement, according to a public disclosure package.
Concerns raised during 2018 annual general meetings sent the proposal back to the drawing board and pushed the vote back to this year.
Those concerns included fears that because of their reduced numbers, directors would be saddled with enormous workloads, which would in turn overtax staff. Producers worried that promoting individual crops would be harder and that young farmers would be less able to get involved.
When the proposal was updated late 2018, the creation of four crop committees (corn, flax, sunflower, wheat and barley) was touted as the solution.
“We’ve added in those crop committees to ensure that there’s still a single focus on the (specific) crop and there’s still the ability for young farmers to join the organization because the crop committee level won’t be as onerous as being a board member,” said Darcelle Graham, executive director of the National Sunflower Association of Canada, in a 2018 interview.
The committees will focus on crop-specific issues, including research and market development, according to the proposal.
“Smaller crops will not disappear,” said Robert Misko in an article prepared for the commodity groups. Misko is a director with the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers.
The organization, if formed, would have one bank account, one AGM and one payroll, the proposal says.
However, current staff won’t lose their jobs if the groups merge. According to the proposal, each crop committee would have a dedicated staff person for support.
“Amalgamating would really simplify things and clean up administrative overlap. We don’t see any less staff working, we just see them more focused with clearly defined roles,” Misko said. “We can accomplish more, faster if we all pull together,” he added.
“I feel the representation of farmers right now in these five organizations is far too fragmented. Many of the things that these organizations work on cross over boundaries into other organizations,” said Danny Penner, who farms near Letellier.
“The only way these organizations are going to survive in the future is if they build strength from each other,” said Penner.
How and where to vote
For amalgamation to happen, two-thirds of each member organization must vote in favour of the merger, de Rocquigny said.
Members must vote in person at their organization’s AGM during Crop Connect. If they are members of more than one commodity group, they are entitled to attend each of those organization’s AGMs and cast a vote at each.
At least some farmers are still concerned that the merger may dampen their voice, however.
Bob Bartley, a Roland-area producer, recently wrote a column detailing his concerns for the Co-operator.
In it he notes the Manitoba Corn Growers was able to convince the federal government to challenge the dumping of unfairly subsidized U.S. corn twice, and questioned whether the will would exist in a larger group to take on this issue for just one of the commodities in question.
“It is conceivable that the directors representing corn will not be able to convince the majority of the new board to initiate trade action when these unfair subsidies happen again because it won’t directly affect the other crops,” Bartley wrote.
He also took issue with requiring growers to vote in person at a meeting in Winnipeg, saying that would prevent many farmers from casting a ballot.