Commodity group merger revised

The new proposal will address concerns from farmer-members

Five Manitoba commodity groups have revised their amalgamation proposal.

It now includes four crop committees to address concerns around director workload and crop representation and want members’ input until votes on merging are held in February 2020.

“We heard the concerns expressed on the original proposal,” Fred Greig, chair of the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association (MWBGA), one of the five groups, said in a news release Dec. 13. “Many felt director workload would be unmanageable in reducing the overall number of directors from over 30 to 12.”

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There were also concerns about crop representation, young director involvement with a smaller board of directors, and the ability to gather grassroots feedback, the news release stated.

“With the updated proposal, we feel strongly that the new governance structure addresses those concerns,” Greig said.

The Manitoba Corn Growers Association (MCGA), Manitoba Flax Growers Association (MFGA), National Sunflower Association of Canada (NSAC) and Winter Cereals Manitoba are the other groups involved.

They’re already housed in the same office in Carman and believe merging will make farmers’ checkoff dollars go further, the Manitoba Commodity Organization Amalgamation Proposal says.

Why it matters: Merging could create efficiency but some farmers worry smaller crops will get short shrift and directors will have a heavy workload.

At the MWBGA’s annual meeting in February several farmers raised concerns about merging, fearing it would result in a huge workload for directors who then would rely more on staff for decision-making and that promoting individual crops would be harder.

Webinars explaining the proposal will be held online Jan. 15 and 29 and will be available for later viewing.

The creation of four crop committees — corn, flax, sunflower and wheat, barley and winter cereals — will address concerns about directors’ workload and crop representation, National Sunflower Association of Canada executive director Darcelle Graham, said in an interview.

The proposal calls for 34 farmer-member delegates to be elected to the four committees, with eight delegates per committee, except for wheat and barley, which would have 10.

Each crop committee would appoint directors to an 11-person board in charge of overall governance — four from wheat and barley, three from corn and two each from sunflower and flax.

“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,” Graham said.

“We want to be able to get that feedback from members at whatever level they are able to commit to. That will provide for some succession planning or to train up directors or delegates into those director positions.”

Crop committee delegates will be elected by farmer-members for four-year terms for a maximum of two terms (eight consecutive years). Terms will be staggered to ensure consistency and renewal.

Directors will be appointed from the crop committees for two-year terms. Terms will be limited to four (eight consecutive years). Terms will be staggered (see below).

photo: Source: Manitoba Commodity Organization Amalgamation Proposal

Crop committee delegates will focus on crop-specific issues, including research and market development, the proposal says.

They will also collect grassroots feedback and provide it to the board.

Delegates can be representatives on national or sister organizations, if requested by the board.

Delegates will meet two or three times a year and will govern the association, set objectives and the budget, and hire the chief executive officer. There will be four to five board meetings a year.

The voluntary checkoffs collected now will continue if the merger goes ahead, Graham said.

Same goals

Priorities remain unchanged — research, market development and communications.

The merged group’s proposed first-year budget allocates 67 per cent of spending to research and 16 per cent to administration.

At their annual meetings in February 2018 most groups proposed a vote on merging at their 2019 meeting. Now they say it should be in 2020.

“We needed to make sure we did enough consultations with membership to satisfy the Manitoba Farm Products Marketing Council (which regulates checkoff-funded groups) and the Manitoba government because once we amalgamate that would also relate to our checkoff legislations to ensure we can have them assigned to the new not-for-profit group,” Graham said.

The groups hope member votes are sufficient and that a separate plebiscite isn’t needed.

When votes are held at their annual meetings farmers will have to attend to cast their secret ballot as required by corporate law, she added.

And the vote will be “all or nothing.”

“If one group is out it changes the financials, it changes the staff, it changes everything… ” Graham said.

The five organizations currently have a total of eight staff.

“Going forward we don’t propose any increases,” she said. “We would like to go through a full year and make some decisions where we see needs for increases.”

The merged organization will have a chief executive officer and a chief operating officer.

“We haven’t gone into an HR (human resources) stance yet,” Graham said. “We want to ensure that membership provides positive feedback from this new proposal before we start allocating any more dollars into it just yet.”

There are two CEOs now among the five groups — Graham, who is the executive director of NSAC and Winter Cereals and Pam de Rocquigny, general manager of MWBGA and MCGA.

The MFGA is administered under contract by the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers.

Work to explore greater co-operation, including amalgamation among a number of Manitoba farm commodity groups, formally began two years ago, although the idea had been circulating before that.

The Manitoba Canola Growers Association and Manitoba Oat Growers Association, opted out early.

In July the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers, which is also in the same office as the five other groups, withdrew.

Winter Cereals is a late addition after losing its manager at the end of 2017.

Farmers can email their views about the merger to Rob Hannam at [email protected] or contact any of the directors and staff of the five organizations.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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