Western Canada’s new provincial wheat and barley organizations agree their best path forward is co-operating to make the best use of farmers’ checkoff dollars — but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some bumps in the road.
Some were evident during a panel discussion at the Interprovincial Seed Growers meeting in Winnipeg Nov. 5 when tensions rooted in old debates surfaced.
Cam Goff, a director with the Saskatchewan Barley Development Commission and Bill Gehl, chair of the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission (SWDC), who spoke to the meeting via telephone, said SWDC expects to collect around $3 million a year and wants to invest at least 50 per cent in research and keep administration costs to 15 per cent or less.
“Certainly we do plan on working with the other provincial commissions,” Gehl said. “We’ve already had minor talks.”
The Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association estimates it will collect around $1 million a year from farmers. The goal is to invest 70 and 10 per cent in research and administration, respectively, Brent VanKoughnet, a consultant working with the group said. Manitoba also wants to leverage those dollars with matching funds from others.
All three organizations met in June to discuss co-operation with the Alberta Barley Commission and they’ve had similar talks with the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF).
For every dollar invested in the WGRF there’s a $20 return for farmers. That’s why Saskatchewan will focus its spending on research, Gehl said.
“You’ll not see us putting out a great big glossy magazine,” he said alluding to GrainsWest, published quarterly by the Alberta Barley Commission and Alberta Wheat Commission.
As well, he said the SWDC isn’t going to join recently created Cereals Canada, an organization made up of grain and life science companies and farmers. It’s too expensive and Saskatchewan farmers won’t have a large enough voice, Gehl said. However, SWDC will continue to support market development through the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi).
Gehl said channelling farmer funds through the wheat board to the WGRF was more efficient than creating provincial organizations all with their own administration costs. Grain farmers and their customers were well served by publicly funded variety development, which the federal government is scaling back on, he said.
“So it was being done… probably better than it’s being done today,” Gehl said.
Ray Askin, a director with the Manitoba association, took exception to those comments.
“(S)hots like we just heard… is not going to do anybody any good,” he said.
The other groups are trying to be efficient too, Askin said.
“So we really have to get engaged here and convey that message that this is important stuff,” Askin said. “And if it doesn’t happen, the seed industry is going to be in serious trouble in 10 years.”
Gehl, who didn’t hear Askin’s remarks, said later in an interview he agrees co-operating is important. Gehl also said he wished his “glossy magazines” comment had been more diplomatic.
“We need to work together and I think the relationships between us are just starting to grow.”
Although the wheat board’s single desk is gone, some hard feelings remain. But Gehl, chair of the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance, which defended the single desk, said he doesn’t think past battles will derail future co-operation.
“We’ve all got backgrounds, but I think the message is we all have to co-operate and communicate and it can work,” he said.
Despite the differences, VanKoughnet is confident the groups will work together for western Canadian farmers.
“All of the directors I have met come to this with a deep conviction to the success of the industry across the Prairies,” VanKoughnet said. “They don’t always agree.. that’s a given. But there are a number of deep thinkers and dedicated folks saying, ‘how do we do this best?’”
Although the Alberta Barley Commission, was founded 23 years ago, the other organizations were created just last year to fill some of the gaps left when the wheat board’s mandate changed.