The Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) will have an improved membership checkoff in place Dec. 1, the start of its new fiscal year, thanks to legislation that was passed and given royal assent Nov. 9 and 10, respectively.
Bill 35, the Agricultural Producers Organizations Funding Act, passed third reading unanimously in Manitoba legislature, following a marathon “all nighter” as MLA’s debated a number of bills before the end of the current legislative session.
“It (new act) will allow us to get more up-to-date exemption reports out to designated purchasers in a more timely basis, which will help reduce the number of instances where they are mistakenly over deducting from members,” KAP general manager James Battershill said in an interview Nov. 10.
Under the old system designated buyers of farm products, such as grain companies, were obliged to collect from farmers, on behalf of KAP, three-quarters of one per cent of the value of all the goods they were selling. However, KAP’s annual membership fee is $210, which is reached after a farmer sells $28,000 worth of products.
Although KAP notifies buyers when a farmer has reached $210, often it’s too late, or in some cases buyers aren’t set up to stop the deductions, Battershill said. As a result many farmers are over deducted and KAP refunds the money.
It makes more work for KAP, increasing its operating costs and it frustrates members, Battershill said.
“In the past two full membership years, we collected $2.85 million from Manitoba farmers, and issued $1.37 million in refunds which equals 48 per cent of the total check-off,” Battershill told the committee reviewing the legislation.
The new legislation, announced in January at Ag Days by Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler as part of the Manitoba government’s plan to cut red tape, will streamline KAP’s checkoff, Battershill said.
“The biggest complaint (by farmers) is certainly making deliveries to multiple purchasers in a couple of months span where the information about the first purchase hasn’t been reported to us and then their name hasn’t shown up on the exemption report to the other purchasers,” Battershill said.
It will take time to implement the new system and some educating of KAP members and designated buyers, “but hopefully it will reduce some of the duplication,” he added.
The new legislation will also make it easier for KAP to retain supporters’ contributions, Battershill said. Those are farmers whose checkoff falls short of the $210 membership fee.
In the past that money had to be mailed back to contributors, But before doing so KAP would call farmers and ask if it could keep the money.
Now farmers whose contributions are under $210 will have to write KAP if they want the money refunded — the same applies to fully paid members who want their money back.
“Nothing changes about the process about requesting a refund if somebody chooses not to be a member of KAP” Battershill said. “The voluntary nature of KAP all stays consistent.”
A week before Bill 35 passed, Battershill told KAP’s advisory council meeting it was unlikely the bill, which had only received first reading, would have time to pass.
“We were starting to make some alternative plans for it to be reintroduced, but fortunately both the Minister of Agriculture and the House Lead Cliff Cullen were able to find some legislative calendar time for it to get through second reading, get through committee and through third reading all in the span of four and a half days so we were pretty appreciative of the energy and time that they dedicated to this,” he said.
“This is not an insignificant accomplishment,” said Battershill, adding it shows the Manitoba government’s commitment to agriculture.
KAP had 3,973 paid members as of Sept. 30, up slightly from the same time last year.
KAP expects a total of 4,650 members by Nov. 30.
The number is a bit misleading since often a membership is given to a farm operation, which can include more than one farmer.