“We’ve noticed as grain companies have gotten bigger and head offices have been elsewhere it has been tougher for us to get the
checkoffs from them.”
– KAP PRESIDENT IAN WISHART
Keys tone Agr icul tural Producers (KAP) wants grain companies that don’t col lect the general farm organization’s checkoff prosecuted.
KAP relies on a checkoff to fund its operations and says companies buying grain and other farm commodities are obliged to collect the checkoff under the Agricultural Producers’ Organization Funding Act.
“We’ve noticed as grain companies have gotten bigger and head offices have been elsewhere it has been tougher for us to get the checkoffs from them,” KAP president Ian Wishart said during KAP’s general council meeting here Oct. 15.
“We’ve sent them (companies) reminders and we’ve had the minister (of agriculture, Rosann Wowchuk) send them reminders.
“Either we get different legislation that has more teeth or a different mechanism or the minister has to pursue this by taking one of these agencies or a number of these agencies to court. She has always been very reluctant to do that.”
Wishart said part of the problem is the penalty for breaching the legislation – a fine of up to $1,000 – isn’t severe enough. However, the act also says companies that don’t collect checkoffs can be required to pay farm organizations the money they should have collected.
In an interview Oct . 16 Wowchuk said it’s up to the Agricultural Producers’ Organization Certification Agency (APOCA) to enforce checkoff collections. APOCA chair Michael Trevan, who is also the dean of the University of Manitoba’s faculty of agricultural and food sciences, is out of the country and unavailable to comment.
Debora Durnin-Richards of Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI), APOCA’s secretary, didn’t return calls, but a MAFRI spokeswoman said APOCA is working with KAP on the matter.
“They’re hoping not to use a heavy hand and to work with them (grain companies) to encourage people to comply as opposed to going in and pounding on them,” said Diane Coble-Kendall.
As of Sept. 30, KAP had 4,033 paid-up members – 83 per cent of the 4,584 recorded during the same period a year earlier. When multiple memberships are included through corporate family farms, KAP has around 7,000 members – a little more than half the number of commercial farmers in the province, said KAP general manager Yvonne Rideout. Meanwhile, the number of farmers asking to opt out of KAP and get their checkoff returned is down, Wishart said.
Wishart said under privacy regulations KAP is prohibited from publicizing which companies are not collecting KAP’s checkoff. He said more than one company is not collecting any checkoff, while others collect checkoff at some elevator points but not at others.
Past KAP president David Rolfe said allowing companies not to collect the checkoff is a bad precedent.
“If there wasn’t a move by government to enforce the regulations then I could see other slippage occurring and that puts KAP in a very precarious position,” he said. “I think the strongest recommendation needs to go to the minister to enforce the legislation that’s already there to make sure that we do have a strong farm organization in Manitoba.”
Some companies might think they’re doing farmers a favour not collecting KAP’s checkoff. Not only are they breaking the law, but they’re also making a decision for the farmer, Wishart said.
“NOT AN OPTION”
KAP mailed letters to grain companies Oct. 1 reminding them they are obliged by legislation to collect 0.75 per cent of the value of the grain farmers deliver and remit it to KAP until $157.50 is collected for each farmer.
“It is not an option to not deduct unless a producer is on the ‘do not deduct’ list provided to you by KAP,” KAP’s letter states in part. “A company has to deduct and if a farmer wishes to opt out he must do so by contacting KAP in writing. We appreciate and thank those delivery points that are currently deducting.”
KAP isn’t alone with its checkoff troubles; Wishart said some grain companies are not collecting the checkoffs for the corn and pulse growers’ associations.
Although KAP hasn’t met with APOCA lately, Wishart said the agency has a file of complaint let ters an inch thick.
While checkoff collection has been hit and miss for years, Wishart said it’s getting worse.
“The more we have international players in our marketplace the harder it is (to get the checkoff collected) and that’s a definite trend,” he said. “The last three to five years there has been a move in that direction.”
Meanwhile, Wowchuk said she is considering amendments to the Agr icul tural Producers’ Organization Funding Act in the next session of the legislature to encourage checkoff collection.
She’s also thinking about letting farmers pick which general farm organizat ion they fund with their checkoffs. Under the current legislation, one general organization is picked to receive the checkoff and currently that’s KAP. [email protected]