Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) hopes Bill 35, legislation to amend its funding checkoff, will be law by the start of KAP’s new fiscal year Dec. 1, 2017.
“I’m very hopeful that these changes, while not a wholesale overhaul of the (Agricultural Producers’ Organization Funding Act) and the way our system functions, will make things a little bit easier for us to administer,” KAP general manager James Battershill told KAP’s advisory council meeting here July 13.
There would be two changes after amendments to the Agricultural Producers’ Organization Funding Act, which were given first reading at the end of the Manitoba legislature’s spring session.
Currently, designated persons or companies that purchase agricultural products are to collect 0.75 per cent of the gross selling price and remit the money to the province’s certified farm organization, which has been KAP since 1988. The money goes towards KAP’s annual membership fee of $210. However, now if the full fee isn’t collected all the money collected is automatically returned to the farmer.
If Bill 35 becomes law the money will stay with KAP, giving the farmer “supporter” status. Both supporters and full members could still apply for a refund.
KAP currently has a “supporter” category, Battershill said in an email.
The main difference is the eligibility to vote at meetings.
The second change is the certified organization — currently KAP — will have that designation for five years instead of two.
Only applies to KAP
Lowe Farm farmer Butch Harder complained Bill 35 doesn’t extend a funding checkoff to the National Farmers Union.
“A lot of us belong to both organizations and both organizations have their place so I would hope that act could allow for both general farm organizations so we see the automatic checkoff as farmers choose.”
Battershill said the Manitoba government isn’t interested in a major overhaul of the act.
“It would be effectively impossible to implement the existing checkoff for two independent (farm) organizations,” Battershill said.
“Well, it’s not impossible in other provinces,” Harder replied.
“Because they have vastly different programs that aren’t dependent on at-sale checkoffs,” Battershill said.
Harder warned extending a general farm organization’s certification period to five years could breed complacency.
“(T)he organization (KAP) does a lot of good for farmers, but tends not to deal with issues other organizations will deal with that are also very important to farmers,” Harder said, alluding to KAP’s tepid support for the Canadian Wheat Board retaining its single-desk marketing authority.
“Does that mean that you are planning on retiring soon and not holding us to account?” Battershill asked.
“I think there are a lot of people who wish I would retire,” Harder replied.
Battershill repeated the amendments are meant to reduce the checkoff’s administrative burden.
Under the current act KAP doesn’t even need to reapply for certification, he added. It happens automatically as long as KAP demonstrates it represents more farmers than other provincial general farm organizations.
KAP is the most accountable Canadian farm group, holding four public policy setting meetings a year, he added.
“I think we are being pretty well held to account by our membership on a regular basis,” Battershill said.
KAP has long complained about its checkoff. Designated buyers — mainly elevators, processors and feed mills — are legally obliged to deduct and remit the money to KAP. Nevertheless, some buyers refuse to collect it. Some collect it from farmers who pay KAP memberships by cheque up front and some keep collecting after hitting the membership cap.
Farmers have to sell $28,000 worth of product before KAP collects its full $210 membership fee.
KAP’s membership is holding steady, despite a decline in total farmers. As of June 30 there were 3,377 paid-up members compared to 3,553 at the same time last year. When partially paid memberships are included, the number rises to 4,846 in 2017 versus 4,896 last year.