Diversity key to successful farm lobby

Farmers should be able to choose which general farm organization their checkoff dollars support, says the NFU

Region 5 of the National Farmers Union has again called on the province to give producers a choice in which general farm organization they wish to support.

They’re asking the Manitoba government to amend the Agriculture Producers Funding Act.

Currently, Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) is the only certified general farm organization in Manitoba, thanks to a line in the legislation that states “only one qualified organization may be certified as the certified organization at any one time.” Longtime NFU member Fred Tait said the situation is a frustrating one, especially because the Farmers Union predates KAP by about 15 years.

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“I’ve often asked myself what happened,” he told union members gathered at a regional NFU meeting in Portage la Prairie, noting the organization has worked with multiple governments in an effort to secure the same type of stable funding that KAP benefits from. To date, the organization has been unsuccessful.

A recently completed government survey asked Manitoba farmers for input on how to best streamline the cumbersome organizational funding model currently dictated by the Agriculture Producers Funding Act. However, the survey didn’t ask producers whether they thought the legislation should be expanded to allow for more than one certified general farm organization, a move that would enable additional farm organizations to receive funding through the existing checkoff program.

The NFU’s Dean Harder said producers interested in seeing support for stable NFU funding were forced to write their preference into the comments section, as no survey question actually addresses the issue.

“I think all of our members have the right to feel completely disrespected by this, the best this government can do is what we’re asking for… bring us into the conversation,” Harder said. “KAP can never and will never be able to represent the perspectives of all farmers in everything in Manitoba, it cannot, it’s not possible. The NFU is willing to collaborate.”

He noted that other provinces already have successful funding models that allow for more than one certified general farm organization. Ontario, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick all fund more than one, allowing producers to choose which organization or organizations suit their needs.

“We are not here to simply be an organization that is against KAP on everything… we’ve tried to make that clear throughout our campaign,” Harder said. “But there are issues we are going to disagree on and we believe farmers should have the choice at the end of the day, because we have different perspectives, different priorities.”

Giving farmers choice could also help address the current administrative frustrations around returning checkoff dollars to those who opt out of KAP membership, said meeting participants.

A spokesperson for Manitoba’s agriculture minister, Ralph Eichler, said the minister has met with NFU and will continue to meet with it “in order to discuss issues based on its organizational needs, just as he and department officials meet with numerous other agriculture organizations in Manitoba.”

But in an emailed statement, the minister emphasized that the goal of the recent survey was to address issues related to KAP’s funding.

“Our government is committed to work specifically with Keystone Agriculture Producers on reviewing the checkoff funding structure under The Agricultural Producers Funding Act with the goal of erasing administrative burden for its organization and its members,” Eichler wrote. “Our government will continue to work closely with KAP on all issues facing its members, which span Manitoba’s agriculture industry.”

As for KAP’s take on the NFU’s request, president Dan Mazier said there is no policy in place relating to the issue.

“It would have to come from our members,” said Mazier. “That would definitely have to come from our members and be something that comes up from the grassroots to be passed up through a district.”

He added that the most import thing for Manitoba producers is that they continue to have a seat at the table. He hopes that the government’s promise of streamlining the current funding model is a step in that direction, whatever recommendations come out of the recent survey.

“We want to have the best funding model to make sure that those organizations can exist in Manitoba, so if it’s one, if it’s 10, whatever it is — it is,” said Mazier. “The important thing is to make sure that we do have a strong ability… to make sure that the messaging and that rationale come through in the regulation.”

The next step for Region 5 of the NFU is to present Minister Eichler with a petition, asking that the Manitoba government moves towards a funding model similar to that which exists in Ontario.

“We aren’t going away,” Harder said. “We’re going to stay and we’re going to fight, no matter what, no matter what you think of us or what you perceive of us, we need to be here and our voice is important either way, so I guess you just have to deal with us.”

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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