The general farm organization doesn’t know if or when it might get ‘stable funding’ legislation
Keystone Agricultural Producers aims to take a more persuasive approach while still pushing the province to introduce what it calls “stable funding” legislation.
“We’ve come to the realization that we don’t control the legislative agenda and we have to deal with the circumstances in front of us,” KAP president Doug Chorney said following the organization’s recent general council meeting.
“If people choose to be members of our organization that’s fantastic. If people are forced to be members of our organization, it’s even more critical that we market ourselves in a proactive manner and are not appearing to be a burden on farmers’ ledgers.”
The organization hasn’t spelled out exactly what it wants in legislation, but some delegates have suggested program payments, such as the Manitoba government’s education tax rebate, be tied to KAP membership.
General manager James Battershill told delegates governments aren’t keen on mandatory policies these days.
Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn has previously said he favours legislation to support farm organizations, although he too hasn’t talked about specifics. With the government struggling to get the PST hike and other legislation passed, Chorney told delegates it’s not clear when legislation might come forward.
The current Agricultural Producers’ Organization Funding Act requires “designated purchasers” to collect three-quarters of one per cent off the sale of farm products and remit the money to KAP. The checkoff is capped at $210 yearly and farmers have the option of asking for their checkoff money back. But only 26 of the 109 designated purchasers (most of which are grain buyers) are currently collecting the checkoff, and the province has so far refused to fine those who don’t collect it.
But the organization would rather take a more co-operative approach by meeting with designated purchasers and persuading them to voluntarily collect the checkoff, said Battershill.
Although the organization expects to run a small surplus this year and membership numbers, currently standing at 3,249, are up 23 per cent from a year ago, but that’s far off the 1997 peak of 7,500 members. And the continuing decline in the number of farms means trouble ahead, Battershill said.
“If we don’t start making those considerations now we’ll be in trouble five to 10 years from now and I don’t want to be surprised at that point,” said Battershill.
Traditionally, the percentage of commercial-scale farmers belonging to the group has ranged from 22 to 30 per cent. It’s estimated there are about 8,000 to 10,000 commercial farms in the province right now, but the trend towards consolidation and bigger farms is clear.
“The shocking thing on the other end of the scale is the operations that have more than $1 million in revenue jumped from a low in 1991 of 219 farms to a high in 2011 of over 1,000 farms,” Battershill said.
Even more shocking is the drop in the number of farmers 35 years old and younger, he said. In 2011 there were 1,965 — down 75 per cent from the 7,100 in 1991.
To better publicize what it does, the organization is beefing up its quarterly magazine Manitoba Farmers’ Voice and beginning in March, it will be distributed with the Manitoba Co-operator so non-members receive it. It also plans to run advertorials in the Co-operator.