Ontario vegetable marketing board under microscope

Ontario’s agriculture minister has halted proposed changes, saying an economic analysis and more consultation are needed

KENT BRIDGE, Ont. — The final offer arbitration system used by Ontario’s processing vegetable industry will end if proposed amendments by the province’s Farm Products Marketing Commission (FPMC) move forward.

The changes would create an “industry advisory committee” and growers would need to find another means to set prices and contract terms other than through their marketing board, the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers.

The board has several processing vegetable crops under its mandate including tomatoes, a high-value crop for growers.

Processing tomato grower Frank Furlan said FPMC’s decision earlier this summer came as a surprise.

“It is a good system as it is. The growers didn’t ask for this,” he said.

Furlan was reluctant to speak further, as were other growers in the area. Their immediate priority was to harvest what may prove to be a bumper crop.

“It’s a heavy crop,” Furlan said.

“We don’t want any more rain. We have enough to last us until the end of the season.”

While there has been far less rainfall across southern Ontario this summer, tomatoes are a drought-tolerant crop and tend to have less disease when conditions are dry.

The FPMC’s amendments under Ontario’s Farm Products Marketing Act were announced on June 28 and were to have been finalized by late September and implemented for the 2017 season.

That changed when Ontario’s agriculture minister Jeff Leal entered the fray. He’s forced the commission to take a step back by issuing directives under the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Act.

Leal instructed the commission not to implement any regulatory amendments for the processing vegetable industry until there’s a detailed economic analysis supporting the proposed changes and consultation with stakeholders and interested parties.

In addition, Leal said information concerning specific amendments must be posted on the Provincial Regulatory Registry for no less than 60 days and that the posting must be sufficiently detailed “so that any policy and economic objectives of the regulatory proposal are clearly articulated.”

Phil Richards, a director with the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers, said there’s been widespread support from growers for the existing marketing system.

So far, he’s seen no written statement from any grower indicating support for the changes proposed by the commission.

John Mumford, OPVG executive director, said there’s a recognition among growers that processors need to access raw product at a price that allows them to be competitive within the North American marketplace. At the same time, growers have made dramatic gains in productivity since the days when the Canadian processing vegetable industry was a protected market.

Grower committees currently negotiate with processors to set prices and contract terms on an annual basis through a process known as final offer arbitration. If an agreement cannot be reached through mutual consent, each party submits a final offer to an arbitrator who chooses between the two.

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