Whether Richardson International will rejoin the Canola Council of Canada in the wake of a major review of funding and priorities is still uncertain.
When interviewed last week Jean-Marc Ruest, the company’s senior vice-president of corporate affairs, didn’t rule it out but also didn’t leave the impression Canada’s biggest grain company is champing at the bit to do so. Richardson pulled out of the value chain group almost a year ago.
“The overarching concern right at the outset was the value we get for our membership,” Ruest said in an interview Dec. 7. “The price we were asked to pay and the benefit just didn’t line up. It wasn’t a case of making a checklist and once you hit all of those we’re there.”
Most of the Richardson council complaints are covered under its revised priorities. But will it be enough?
The last time Richardson met with the council, it wasn’t convinced.
“The value proposition still wasn’t there for us,” Ruest said. “We still thought what they were asking from us for a membership fee perspective outweighed what we saw as the benefits of the organization.”
The council’s $3.5-million 2019 budget cut should result in a “significant saving” if Richardson was to rejoin, he said.
“It’s laudable to reduce it in that fashion, but you have to take a look at what membership fees are of other like organizations,” Ruest said. “Cereals Canada covers a very complex commodity — wheat — and cereals more generally.”
And its membership fee is much less than the canola council’s, he added.
It cost Richardson around $1 million a year to belong to the canola council, Soy Canada and the Flax Council of Canada, with most of it going to the canola council, he said.
Canola, on average, earns western Canadian farmers more than any other crop. And half of it is processed domestically, contributing even more to the Canadian economy.
Although many had a hand in making canola a success, the canola council is widely lauded for its role. If Richardson remains a non-member is it a ‘free rider?’
“I think we’d be hard pressed to be accused of being free riders in the canola industry,” Ruest said.
“We were among the founding members of the canola council. We had been very long-standing members and funding at very significant levels — I would argue oftentimes excessively in the canola council and the canola industry generally.
“Now going forward, not being members of the canola council, we recognize there will be things we have to do on our own and are prepared to do so on our own given the size of our canola business.”
Canola’s success hadn’t made Richardson complacent, according to Ruest.
“In large part complacency has got us to where we are,” he said.
“You always have to be evolving and looking at reinventing yourself. I think what we had was a long period of unrest, and ultimately we now have an evolution of the canola council, which is a good thing.
“But I think if your starting position is… that there’s an obligation to fund because of past successes… without looking at whether the organization still meets the needs of its members, or offers a proper value proposition to its members, that is very dangerous ground. That’s not the key for the long-term success for an organization.”
Since dropping out of the council, Richardson has increased industry involvement elsewhere.
“We’ve significantly increased our participation in Cigi (Canadian International Grains Institute) and the funding of Cigi,” Ruest said. “We have spent a lot of money in our development farms.”
Richardson has also joined the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, which defends modern agriculture and reassures wary consumers.
“We’ve invested in a number of areas where we see benefit in the industry,” he said.
“We have to move away from this concept that there’s this obligation for people to fund anything in the industry. It ultimately has to be a situation where the consumer of the service or the funder sees the value and is comfortable with the amount being asked. A sense of pressuring doesn’t get you very far in the long term.”