Keystone Agricultural Producers’ (KAP) membership and revenues could more than double if the Manitoba government comes through with legislation this spring to revamp the general farm organization’s checkoff system, the organization’s president says.
“(Agriculture) Minister (Ron) Kostyshyn has committed to me they will move forward with something in the spring session,” Doug Chorney said in an interview April 18 following KAP’s general council meeting. “So on the basis of that commitment, we’ve postponed going to the provincial ombudsman to enforce the existing legislation.”
However, when asked to comment last week, Kostyshyn’s office was vague. “Minister Kostyshyn meets with Keystone Agriculture Producers regularly and is aware of their request for legislation and is currently reviewing it.”
KAP has complained that the Manitoba government is not enforcing legislation already on the books obliging grain companies to collect KAP’s $210-a-year checkoff as farmers deliver grain.
“It’s a perennial problem as long as I’ve been involved with the KAP executive,” Chorney said. “Even in a good year, because of the checkoff system, we could have our budget in jeopardy right up until November because people could opt out. Meanwhile those people could benefit from the member benefits like the magazines and the purchasing power of our member programs.”
The Manitoba ombudsman can compel the Manitoba government to enforce its laws as it did with drainage regulations a few years ago, Chorney said.
“The enforcement stipulations of the act are pretty severe and would be a real burden for companies not collecting the checkoff,” he said. “And it would create a lot of work for government to have to go through the Ombudsman.”
That’s why KAP so far hasn’t asked the ombudsman to intervene.
“The next chance I get to talk to the minister I am going to tell him it’s time for him to let us know what’s going to happen because we’re not going to let this go another year,” Chorney said.
According to Statistics Canada Manitoba had almost 22,000 census farmers in 2011. About half, or eight to 10,000, are commercial operators and potential KAP members, Chorney said.
This year KAP is budgeting for just 3,700 members, up from 3,381 in 2012. KAP had budgeted for 3,500 members last year, but fell short partly because of the flawed checkoff system, but also because of the drop in seeded acres due to flooding in 2011. As a result KAP had a $54,000 deficit in 2012. It’s projecting a $7,800 deficit this year.
KAP’s current policy calls for a mandatory checkoff to fund general farm organizations, which could include the National Farmers Union, as well as KAP, Chorney said. If the province wants the checkoff to be refundable, KAP wants provisions that require farmers to opt out at the beginning of the year.
Chorney noted checkoffs are slow coming in this year partly because farmers are selling less grain. They might be waiting for higher prices, he said. Rail service has also been poor in some areas.
Doug Livingston, a District 3 KAP delegate who farms at Starbuck, said he doesn’t understand why KAP doesn’t garner more support.
“KAP membership fees are the cheapest expense I have on my farm,” he told the general council meeting.
Delegates referred two checkoff resolutions to the executive committee for further refinement.
One said only farmers who belong to a general farm organization should be eligible for provincially administered program benefits.
“I receive $4,500 in school tax rebates (thanks to KAP’s lobbying),” said Bill Campbell, a District 1 delegate who farms at Minto. “For $200 (in membership), this organization has returned me far, far more than my GICs and all the rest of my investments.
“I think it is morally correct that a farmer should belong to an organization that lobbies on his behalf to bring him financial benefits.”
Campbell noted nurses and teachers have organizations and farmers should too.
“The process of administering the funding for this association has become antiquated,” he said. “It is like dealing with a John Deere D in the 21st century when we have GPS and global position systems and all the rest of it… “