Five years after it was first envisioned, Manitoba’s newest farm organization is now fully operational and promising increased service to its commodity group members.
The Manitoba Crop Alliance has received formal designation from the provincial government and began operating August 1, collecting levies from its member organizations.
It’s the culmination of a long and winding process that began on April 2, 2015 with a meeting of commodity groups to discuss common issues and challenges. Two years later, five commodity groups signed a memorandum of understanding to explore a merger.
Following several rounds of discussions, an amalgamation proposal in late 2018 was followed by a February 2020 vote by commodity group members to approve it.
The vote united five commodity organizations — Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association, Manitoba Corn Growers Association, Manitoba Winter Cereals, Manitoba Flax Growers Association and the National Sunflower Association of Canada — under one umbrella.
Manitoba Crop Alliance subsequently received its designation regulation under the provincial Agricultural Producers’ Organization Funding Act to collect mandatory refundable levies on sales of seven crop types grown by members. Checkoff amounts for each crop are the same as they were before the merger.
Now that they are all under one roof, commodity groups can expect more funding and organizational benefits than they had before, said Fred Greig, MCA chair.
“The smaller commodity groups, they were just really in a survival mode,” Greig said. “There was quite a drain on directors’ time. They had to do an awful lot of staff functions.
“For the bigger commodity groups, I think what it’s done is increase our directors so we’ve got head space for an awful lot of amazing producers in the province.”
Extra work and time pressure were certainly the case for Eric Fridfinnson, former Manitoba Flax Growers chair, who often had to act as a one-person operations manager while still trying to run his own farm.
“It’s a totally different situation now where we have staff looking after everything on a day-to-day basis,” said Fridfinnson, now a director for MCA’s flax crop committee. “It results in better service.”
Greig, who farms at Reston, said a larger organization creates efficiencies in overhead and administration costs, as well as funnelling more money toward research and market development.
“We’re going to be a lot more efficient about what we do and therefore we should get more value for producers’ checkoff dollars,” he said.
“I think we may be able to beat the bush and get more quality projects that producers want to do.”
The Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers was originally involved in the merger discussions but dropped out along the way. However, Greig said the door is still open for soybeans, canola or other commodities to join MCA.
“We’re certainly not limiting anything on our side of it.”
MCA lists research and production, market access and development, and communication as its three main areas of focus.
The major emphasis is on research, which will consume 66 per cent of the new organization’s annual budget, Pam de Rocquigny, MCA’s chief executive officer, explained in an October 1 webinar presentation.
All the research that was occurring with the five founding organizations will continue under MCA, de Rocquigny said.
While most research projects are crop specific, MCA also pursues a whole-farm approach to research, including areas such as soil health, crop rotation and pest management, she said.
“Obviously we put our farmer members first and our goal is to continuously improve their competitiveness.”
And if people don’t think research yields financial dividends, they should think again, de Rocquigny said. She cited a study that traced producer funding through the Western Grains Research Foundation from 1995 to 2011. It found that for every checkoff dollar collected, $20.40 was returned to producers in benefits, such as yield and quality improvement.
For that reason alone, MCA continues to advocate for research funding from government and private industry, as well as producers, said de Rocquigny.
“We definitely recognize the importance of research innovation and will continue to advocate to make sure that is a centre of government policy going forward,” she said.
“I really believe that farmer-led organizations such as the Manitoba Crop Alliance are extremely well positioned to tackle these issues.”