Is silence assent?
That’s the question after the topic of a farm group merger garnered little discussion at the recent CropConnect meeting in Winnipeg.
There, association leaders received so few questions and little feedback, which some interpret as support.
“I would say most people would be for it,” National Sunflower Association of Canada (NSAC) president Mark McDonald said.
He said that during conversations with members, he’s not getting a lot of what he describes as “completely negative” feedback.
“There are tweaks and changes and we have responded to some of those over the last year,” he said. “I believe we’ve made it better.
McDonald, and the heads of the other smaller groups — flax and winter cereals — acknowledged they lack critical mass and could do more for farmers if they join forces.
Merging would cut overhead costs allowing more farmer money to be invested in research, outgoing Winter Cereals Manitoba Inc. (WCMI) vice-chair Curtis Sims said in an interview Feb. 14.
The Manitoba Flax Growers Association (MFGA) expects reduced income this year following Manitoba’s lowest insured flax acres on record — 35,758. The 10-year average insured flax acreage is 127,261.
“If we don’t merge it means we’ll have to run a different kind of organization,” MFGA chair Eric Fridfinnson said in an interview Feb. 14.
He added the group’s goal has always been to keep as much of the budget as possible going towards crop research.
One year on
The 2018 annual meetings were different. Merger talk dominated with farmers asking for details and debating the pros and cons.
But a lot changed in a year, including the groups seeking amalgamation, the proposed structure of the merged entity, and when farmers will vote on merging.
A year ago the original five — Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers (MPSG), Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association (MWBGA), Manitoba Corn Growers Association (MCGA), National Sunflowers Association of Canada (NSAC) and Manitoba Flax Growers Association — said the vote would be at their 2019 annual meetings. But last July the MPSG withdrew and in November Winter Cereals Manitoba Inc. (WCMI) joined.
In December the new group of five issued a revised structure for a merged organization and pushed the vote on it to their 2020 annual meetings.
The revised structure and timelines were released in December and discussed via phone-in seminars in January and presented at all five annual meetings.
The biggest change is a proposal to create four crop committees to operate within the merged association.
Farmers-members would elect 34 delegates — eight each to corn, flax and sunflower committees and 10 to a wheat, barley and winter cereals committee.
Crop committee delegates would focus on their crop and elect the association’s board of directors that would be responsible for governance.
The corn committee would elect three directors, flax and sunflowers would elect two each and the wheat, barley and winter cereals committee would elect four.
MWBGA director Robert Misko told his annual meeting the new structure addresses concerns raised a year ago that the workload would be too onerous for directors and that smaller crops would get less attention.
A delegate system would also connect the organization better to members and perhaps attract younger farmers.
“Maybe it would give them a taste, or a feel for what’s going on… ” he said.
The proposed structure is also scalable, if other commodity groups join later, Misko said.
MWBGA chair Fred Greig also suspects the lack of recent feedback indicates support for the idea. If farmers were strongly opposed they would be making their views known, he said. Still, more farmer input is welcomed, he stressed.
Members will get additional information on the proposal in June and again in the fall.
The merger vote must be held at each of the five organizations’ annual meetings and farmers have to vote in person.
There might not be a lot of time for debate before the vote, MFGA vice-chair Cam Laxdal told his annual meeting.
“I’d urge you to come informed.”
Passing a motion to merge requires two-thirds of ballots cast be in favour, Misko said.
Also, for the merger to go ahead all five groups must approve it.
A ‘plan B’ was discussed briefly at the MWBGA meeting. Starbuck farmer Chuck Fossay noted if only a small number of farmers attended one of the smaller group’s meetings, a ‘no’ vote could kill the whole project.
Misko said the idea of getting members to vote on merging if only four groups agreed could be explored.
Results won’t be released until all five organizations have voted.
The Manitoba Farm Products Marketing Council, which oversees commodity groups, would also have to approve the merger.
If farmers vote in favour and the government approves it, the goal is to have the merged organization operating by Aug. 1, 2019, Misko said.