by SUSAN MANN
The Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers board is still waiting for the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission to explain its reasons for wanting to remove the board’s price negotiating powers.
The board submitted a request for information early last week, said Al Krueger, the organization’s executive assistant. The vegetable board represents about 400 growers.
“So far, we haven’t gotten any response,” he said.
On June 28, the commission posted a proposal on the Ontario Regulatory Registry to rescind the negotiating authority of the Ontario processing vegetable growers marketing board and add provisions to turn the board into an industry advisory committee. Comments are due Aug. 12.
Progressive Conservative opposition agriculture critic, Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett has asked in an open letter to Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal that the 45-day comment period on the proposal be extended past the initial deadline of Aug. 12 and “beyond harvest time.”
More time is needed for people to comment past the August deadline, particularly “for those now inundated with growing and harvesting crops,” he noted.
Barrett also asked in his July 15 letter that time “be allocated for public hearings to elicit feedback beyond the written submissions of the OFPMC (Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission) posting.”
Bianca Jamieson, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, said by email she couldn’t provide responses in time for this posting as to whether the minister will call for public hearings and an extension to the commenting period.
Better Farming has been trying since Tuesday to get an explanation from the commission as to why it’s proposing to end the vegetable board’s negotiating powers.
Commission chair Geri Kamenz couldn’t be reached for comment throughout the week, either by phone or email. Mike Relf, commission secretary, said by email Thursday all questions had to go in writing to Kamenz, who is the media spokesperson for the commission.
Some questions Better Farming submitted in writing to Kamenz included:
- The proposal talks about the commission considering options to enable the vegetable sector to remain viable, why is the industry not viable the way it is?
- Where did the idea come from to remove the price negotiating provisions for the vegetable board?
- Why did the commission decide to make this proposal at this time?
- Will the commission be holding a producer vote?
Christina Crowley-Arklie, spokesperson for Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Jeff Leal, said Kamenz is on holidays this week.
Another commission member with experience in the vegetable processing industry, Strathroy-based Rob Anderson, vice president of operations for Bonduelle North America, also couldn’t be reached for comment throughout the week.
The Ontario agriculture ministry declined to answer questions about the commission’s proposal. Ministry spokesperson Bianca Jamieson said by email on Friday that “for more information on the commission’s regulatory proposal, please contact the OFPMC (Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission).”
Krueger said with few buyers and many sellers, the vegetable board’s marketing powers are in effect the right of growers to bargain collectively for prices along with terms and conditions of sales.
The system also provides for final offer arbitration, where when processors and growers can’t agree on the price through negotiations the arbitrator considers submissions from both sides and picks one final offer or the other.
Without the vegetable board in place to negotiate on behalf of growers, “processors would have more control over that whole process than the grower would because you’ve got many growers, all speaking individually, and a processor, ” he noted. “That’s why regulated marketing and marketing boards came into effect in the first place.”
Regulated marketing is a “means by which to level the playing field,” he added.
The Ontario processing vegetable board has been around for 70 years. However, just because a marketing board has been in place for a long time, should it continue?
Sylvain Charlebois, dean of faculty management at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia and formerly of the University of Guelph, said he suspects the Ontario government is now deliberately working to decrease the powers of marketing boards, “thinking that perhaps farmers have gone beyond the 1960s.”
There are many farmers who are entrepreneurs and “savvy business people,” he added.
The Ontario commission’s proposal is similar to the federal government’s move in 2012 to end the single desk selling powers of the Canadian Wheat Board, based in the Prairies, he said.
“There comes a point where you have so many farmers being penalized by the marketing board that you want to give a chance to entrepreneurial farmers to negotiate and develop their own markets themselves, and get the price that they feel is right for their business,” said Charlebois, a researcher in food distribution policy.
There is some value in maintaining the board, he said. However, it shouldn’t be mandatory for all farmers to market their crops through the organization.
“If you impose an model, you will lose over time,” he explained. “If you give a choice to farmers, then I think you will be in better shape. You’re actually allowing the agricultural industry to evolve.”
There will always be some farmers who “need a strong marketing board,” he added. However, “I disagree that you need all farmers to adhere to the same model.”
Charlebois added that he sees the commission’s proposal as good news and an invitation to farmers “to enter the 21st Century.”
Representatives from other boards aren’t concerned their organizations could be next in line to have their marketing powers dismantled.
Graham Lloyd, Dairy Farmers of Ontario communications director and general counsel, said they’re not worried the dairy board’s marketing powers will be removed. It also doesn’t see the commission’s move to strip the vegetable board of its price negotiating powers as the Ontario government systemically doing away with orderly marketing.
“We have every confidence in the government’s support in the way that Dairy Farmers of Ontario manages its operations,” he said.
Harry Pelissero, general manager of Egg Farmers of Ontario, agreed with Lloyd that he didn’t see the commission’s proposal as a systemic move to crush orderly marketing in Ontario.
“In our sector, there’s a federal/provincial agreement so it (the decision to remove the egg board’s marketing powers) wouldn’t be a unilateral decision by either level of government,” he noted.
The federal/provincial agreement lays out responsibilities for the province, the federal government and the marketing board, he said.
As for political support for supply management, all three political parties support the system in both levels of government, Pelissero explained, noting he didn’t see the proposal for the vegetable board as a commission attack on supply management. BF