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Revised commodity group merger proposal responds to farmer concerns

Crop committees and delegates will help with the workload and encourage engagement with members

Manitoba commodity groups seeking amalgamation say their proposal to create four crop committees and a delegate system should allay concerns about a bigger workload for directors and engaging members.

The proposal, and the process leading up to a merger vote by farmer-members set for February 2020, were released last month and explained in depth during a webinar Jan. 15.

A second webinar is set for Tuesday, Jan. 29 at 9:00 AM. Register at gotowebinar.com here.

Farmers can get more details on the merger proposal at mbcrops.ca.

The five groups — Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association (MWBGA), Manitoba Corn Growers Association (MCGA), Manitoba Flax Growers Association (MFGA), National Sunflower Association of Canada (NSAC) and Winter Cereals Manitoba Inc. — already co-operate and share the same office. They say merging will create efficiency and serve farmers better, consultant Rob Hannam of Synthesis Agri-Food Network, told the webinar Jan. 15.

“By reducing overlap I guess it strengthens things even more in terms of the quality of research and services offered to members by highly skilled staff members,” Hannam said.

There would be one bank account, one set of books, one payroll and one audit instead of five, he said.

“That’s a big boost in efficiency you may not see in the financial statements… but you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck I think as farmer-members of this simplified structure.”

During extensive consultations last year during annual and stand-alone regional meetings some farmers worried a single organization overseeing multiple crops would be too much for farmer-elected directors. Other concerns included smaller crops getting short shrift and grassroots members feeling less connected.

In response, the organizations propose creating four crop committees — corn, flax, sunflowers and wheat, barley and winter cereals — to be overseen by farmer-delegates who grow those crops, elected by farmers who also grow those crops.

Delegates from each committee would elect directors to sit on the organization’s board of directors.

Each committee would focus on their specific crop and work on research, production and market development.

“Your role as a delegate would (also) be to gather grassroots feedback,” Hannam said.

Directors would concentrate on overall governance, including budgets, strategic priorities and multi-crop issues, he said.

“The farmer involvement through the crop committee structure we think is a major improvement and bonus with this new proposal,” Hannam said. “We think this structure will help to attract new and younger farmers to be delegates on the crop committee and then they could move to the board or remain as an active delegate on the committee.”

The crop committee plan calls for 34 delegates — just slightly more people than the total number of directors serving the five organizations now.

Eight delegates would be elected to the corn, flax and sunflower committees and 10 to the wheat, barley and winter cereals committee, reflecting the higher combined acreage of those crops, Hannam said.

Crop committees would meet two or three times a year.

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.

The 11-person board of directors would meet four or five times a year.

There’s still time for farmers to have their say, Hannam said. The proposed merger will not go ahead unless farmers approve it through a vote in February 2020 at each of the five organizations’ annual meetings.

In the meantime farmers can make their views known to directors, at annual meetings this February 13 and 14 at CropConnect in Winnipeg and/or by emailing Hannam ([email protected]).

There’s a high threshold for approving the proposed merger. A minimum of two-thirds of farmer-members attending the five organizations’ separate annual meetings in February 2020 will have to vote in favour. If one or more of the organizations doesn’t vote to merge the proposal dies. That’s because the proposal is based on all five amalgamating, Hannam said.

Farmer-members will be formally notified about the vote well ahead of the 2020 vote.

Farmer are legally required to vote in person at their respective annual meetings, Hannam said.

The ballot will be secret.

Results won’t be announced until after all the organizations have voted so as not to influence voting, he said.

If farmers approve the merger, directors of the five organizations will serve as interim delegates on the four crop committees. Each committee will then elect directors to sit on the interim board.

Terms for delegates and directors will be staggered for continuity.

Delegates will serve four-year terms and a maximum of two consecutive terms, or a total of eight consecutive years.

“The reason for that is to make sure there is succession and turnover,” Hannam said. “I think it’s really healthy for boards to have a mechanism where it forces that turnover.”

Once off a crop committee for a term, a farmer could seek re-election, he said.

Directors will be elected for two-year terms up to a maximum of four terms (eight years) in a row (see sidebar).

If farmers vote to merge, the hope is to have a single organization operating by the summer of 2020, Hannam said.

The Manitoba Farm Products Marketing Council, which oversees commodity group regulations, must also approve the merger, he said.

“That will take a period of months,” Hannam said. “We are still waiting for some feedback from Manitoba Agriculture and the Manitoba Farm Products Marketing Council to make sure we can get that into place.”

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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