Peak of the Market did some serious damage control late last week when it negotiated a so-called “cease fire” in what had come to be known as this province’s Potato Wars.
The marketing agency for Manitoba’s potato and root crops was in an untenable position – under attack by a vocal coalition of locavores dedicated to supplying and buying potatoes on a face-to-face basis.
Peak potatoes are after all, local. And even though Peak is small potatoes on the global front, it was perceived as the big guy picking on the small fry. It had nothing to gain by perpetuating this perception and everything to lose – as questions were mounting over the whole premise behind orderly marketing.
It wouldn’t matter what political stripe was in power in the Manitoba legislature, when a farming issue becomes urbanized, there is significant political pressure to conform to the wishes of the larger voting block.
In order for any marketing board to survive, it must demonstrate that it is abiding by what, for lack of a better description, could be described as a “social contract,” with the public. In exchange for the right to control production, supply and pricing, these boards must provide a stable supply of reasonably priced product that meets the ever-changing needs of the market.
If market niches emerge for designer eggs, pasture poultry, organic milk – or “homegrown” spuds, the boards have a duty to either supply those markets or turn them over to someone who will.
Other marketing boards have allowed small-scale producers to operate with virtually no oversight, provided their production doesn’t exceed the maximum allowed.
In the end, the Manitoba Potato Coalition got everything it wanted:
A five-acre exemption with no strings attached, plus an exemption for root crop growers of one acre or less;
Year-round access to farmers’ markets, small, independent retailers and roadside stands;
Removal of a proposed requirement that all growers would require permits;
A commitment to ongoing consultations.
It was a smart move and one that is likely to put the marketing agency back in the good graces of the local food movement, which is right where an agency that exists to ensure there is a local vegetable industry in the province should be.
But while this move is likely to reduce the public pressure on Peak, it doesn’t address some of the operational strategies that contributed to this predicament. Nor does it address the concerns of those growers who are too big to be small and must still operate under the agency’s authority.
Some of these growers believe they have been or are being squeezed out of play by policies and practices. It does not explain the quota allocation and overdelivery practices that appear to discriminate against small growers.
Some growers have complained that while their efforts to obtain additional quota were ignored, the Big Three of the industry were allowed to expand with significant overquota delivery opportunities.
Nor does it address the issue of operational transparency. Why is it that Peak’s annual meeting is closed to the public and its annual report treated as a confidential internal document?
Other marketing agencies don’t operate in this fashion. Why does Peak?
Peak should be applauded for taking the steps it has to address concerns over its operations. Let’s hope that’s just the beginning. [email protected]