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OPAM In Recovery Mode

Organic certifier OPAM is on the road to recovery after a funding crunch that came to a head last year.

Producers agreed to a voluntary $350 one-time extra fee at a meeting last fall, according to Bill Agnew, president of the Organic Producers Association of Manitoba.

A misunderstanding between the group and the provincial government led to a funding delay in 2008 that dragged on for months, and forced OPAM to seek loans from local banks to cover a budget shortfall.

“It was decided by the membership that they would pay it. Rather than it being a five-year loan, the membership decided that if they could clear it up within a year, they would,” said Agnew, adding that the $350 amount was determined by the members at a Nov. 15 meeting.

Agnew, who operates Redneck Organics near Hartney, Man., said that the extra money and $100,000 that the provincial government has promised would help lift the organization out of a sea of red ink that had threatened its continued existence.

“It wouldn’t look good politically, especially when the NDP

government is bragging about being green.”

– AGNEW

The province had held back its contribution last year, which amounted to about 40 per cent of the group’s $500,000 annual budget, after it became concerned that OPAM’s staffing levels were too high compared to the 180-member group’s income from certification fees.

Previous higher funding levels were aimed at helping the group prepare for the new Canadian organic standard introduced in 2006 that comes into effect in June, but government officials said that it was not their intention to permanently fund nearly half of the group’s operating budget.

“We’re still working with the government. There’s still a shortfall. We’re still negotiating and they’re waiting for business plans and all the rest to try and get that part fulfilled,” he said.

“They don’t want to lose this thing. It wouldn’t look good politically, especially when the NDP government is bragging about being green. But at the same time, they do have expectations for us to meet and we’re doing our best.”

The government’s reluctance to see its funding go to staff wages forced a restructuring of the certifier’s office in Virden, Man., and four staff collectively volunteered to accept reduced hours to prevent the loss of one position.

Despite the difficulties, confidence in the group on the part of its members is strong, said Agnew, who added that already 24 members have paid their full year’s fees in advance.

“That puts us about 14 ahead of last year. Would you give $1,500 to somebody if you thought they were going to sink?” he said.

Interest in organic production is growing, said Agnew, noting that recent potluck suppers have been well attended, with 40 people showing up for one held in Pipestone this month. [email protected]

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