Consensus critical when determining course of action

Cereals Canada intends to be guided by the consensus opinions of its members, says Cam Dahl, the organization’s president.

If farmer representatives aren’t in favour of a particular initiative then it’s not likely to proceed, he said, regardless of what the rest of the board thinks.

“I can’t see Cereals Canada going forward in a position, or a project, where the producer representatives around the board table all said ‘no’, ” Dahl said from the group’s one room office in the Grain Exchange building in downtown Winnipeg. “It’s more than who has more votes and I’m going to out-vote you. It’s about building that consensus.”

Farm groups have six seats on Cereal Canada’s board of directors, grain companies have six and life science/seed companies have four.

Corporate members may hold a majority position, but directors are concentrating on consensus, not conflict, Dahl said.

According to its website, Cereal Canada’s vision is to create a cereals industry that brings sustainable profitability to the entire value chain,

“That ‘sustainable profitability’, those are important words. They were chosen quite deliberately,” Dahl said, sitting at a round table in his barren office.

“If producers choose to grow wheat… because it makes them money, everybody in the value chain has to make some profit off of that. Otherwise we aren’t going to have the investment we need in research, for example.”

Critics have said that Cereals Canada can’t represent life science firms, grain companies and farmers because those groups have contradictory interests.

Dahl said no one expects farmers and grain companies to be united on every issue, but he doesn’t support the notion that grain merchandisers exist to squeeze every last cent out of producers.

“If the belief is that farmers and companies are in endless war with each other, and a dollar made by a company is a dollar taken away from a farmer, if that’s a view that’s held then I can understand why that perception is there,” Dahl said.

“That isn’t our perception of what the grain industry is…. If we can add $4 to the end product and everybody can share in that expanded pie, then everybody is better off.”

Doug Robertson, Western Barley Growers Association president and a farmer from Carstairs, Alta., said he isn’t “enamoured” with the Cereals Canada structure, but it can work if producers on the board voice their opinions and stand up for farmers.

Dahl said rejects the idea that producer groups lose their independence if they co-operate with grain merchants or life science companies.

“I really don’t understand the perceived conflict, to be really honest about it. I don’t understand why someone would view that that would not be possible.”

He said Cereals Canada has a dissent policy that protects the independence of its members. Farm groups within Cereals Canada can speak up if they disagree.

“I don’t think you can ever expect there’s going to be 100 percent agreement, which is why all the organizations do maintain an independent voice.”

For now, the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission isn’t a member of Cereals Canada even though the province represents 50 percent of wheat acres in Canada

Dahl said Cereals Canada will proceed without the participation of Sask Wheat, but the organization is welcome to join.

The Saskatchewan government has appointed a producer to Cereals Canada to represent the province’s farmers.

“While they (Sask Wheat) are thinking about it… we do need to have representation from Saskatchewan producers. So we have asked the Government of Saskatchewan to nominate somebody and they have nominated Joan Heath to come onto the board.”

Related stories in this Special Report:

How the Canola Council of Canada strikes a balance between industry and farmer advocacy

Cereals Canada: Once voice for farm groups?

Culture of respect key for oats

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