The president of Keystone Agricultural Producers says it will seek the Manitoba ombudsman’s assistance to enforce current checkoff laws if the provincial government balks at introducing better legislation for funding farm organizations this spring.
“We have to do, what we have to do,” KAP president Doug Chorney said May 3.
“We’ll have no choice if we don’t get a commitment that they are moving this forward this spring… I’ve been instructed by the general council and executive to do that.”
Chorney remains hopeful the province will move forward with legislation making it easier for farmers to fund KAP rather than pressure the government to enforce the current legislation.
“It’s just an administratively awkward and cumbersome system,” Chorney said.
Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn says he agrees general farm organizations need stable funding, but when asked May 1 if legislation was coming this session, he said: “It’s still ongoing discussions. I think it would be premature to make that commitment at this time.”
Farm groups are important to Manitoba’s agricultural industry, Kostyshyn said in his address to the Manitoba Farm Writers and Broadcasters Association.
Chorney said the minister committed to moving forward at a private meeting in January but there have been no talks since. “That worries me more because that might mean they aren’t even considering it or for some reason decided it’s not going to happen. As an organization we do so much work on so many fronts for Manitoba farmers and it’s getting more and more difficult to keep that pace.”
However, Chorney added that Kostyshyn has said he wants to discuss the issue with him before spring seeding.
Regulations under the Agricultural Producers’ Organization Funding Act requires a long list of mainly grain buyers to deduct 0.75 per cent of the gross selling price of agricultural products and remit the money to KAP.
However, many so-called “designated purchasers” are not collecting the checkoff. Moreover, if the checkoff collected throughout the year doesn’t hit $210 — the cost of an annual KAP membership — it’s returned to the farmer. Farmers can also have their checkoff money refunded.
If the Manitoba government enforced the current law, buyers who fail to collect KAP’s checkoff could be fined, Chorney said.
“That will create a lot of potential revenue if the legislation was enforced,” he said. “It will also be a real inconvenience… If they are not in compliance they will be put through a pretty time-consuming and difficult process…”
The Manitoba ombudsman’s office can investigate complaints pertaining to unfairness in government legislation or administration, and make recommendations. But it has no authority to require the government to take action.
Chorney declined to spell out what KAP wants in new legislation. However, during KAP’s general council meeting last month some delegates suggested program payments, such as the Manitoba government’s education tax rebate, be tied to membership in KAP or another general farm organization. No membership, no refund.
“Even if we get mandatory checkoff legislation we have to do more to market ourselves to make sure our constituency sees value,” Chorney said.
“There’s a bit of a knowledge void,” he added. “I’m sure if people knew what we were doing they would be more interested in having a membership.”
According to Statistics Canada Manitoba had almost 22,000 census farmers in 2011. About half, or 8,000 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.