Sheep federation struggles forward after members jump ship

OTTAWA — The Canadian Sheep Federation is figuring out its future now that organizations representing 75 percent of the flocks in Canada have formed their own organization.

Alberta Lamb Producers, the Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency and the Federation des producteurs d’agneaux et moutons du Quebec officially formed the National Sheep Network in Nov-ember, leaving the CSF to reorganize itself with a drastic reduction in membership.

Barbara Grimmer, CSF director from British Columbia, said the federation is considering several options for restructuring and funding, many of them put forward during a November meeting in Halifax.

She said the three provincial groups who formed the new network gave no specific reasons for the split with the federation.

“All I’ve heard is that they want to be the national voice,” Grimmer said.

Added CSF executive director Corlena Patterson: “I want to stay positive about it.… We don’t know the reasoning for the decision. There were certainly no unsolvable problems leading up to that decision.”

She said Alberta and Ontario had the majority vote on the CSF board and thus could direct the federation as they wished.

“I think it’s fair to say that there wasn’t an unsolvable reason and there certainly wasn’t one presented. But irregardless, we have to find a path forward. Duplication of efforts is a waste of producers’ money and time, and it’s a waste of our resources.”

At a fall meeting of Alberta Lamb Producers, members cited differences over communication and the CSF’s handling of various policy issues as the reasons for the split.

Patterson said the CSF will continue, but funding and adequate producer representation are concerns.

The federation manages several programs that are funded by government, such as scrapie eradication and sheep traceability.

“Those projects are funded through federal funding, and so they’re not directly transferrable to any other organization who wants to undertake them,” Patterson said.

“The CSF will continue to administer and deliver those programs. From a producer perspective, they’re available to everyone.”

Programs and activities that require industry funding as well as government money could be more of a challenge.

“Without the support of those provincial organizations as a member, the question is where does that industry’s contribution come from?” Patterson said.

“Do the other seven remaining provinces support the producers in Ontario and Alberta so they can be a part of it? I’m not sure that’s an ideal or even long-term sustainable option.”

The CSF has been the sheep industry’s national organization for about 40 years. Patterson said it will try to engage all provincial organizations and producers as it works through recent changes in membership.

“Because we are a small sector, it’s important for any sector in agriculture and agriculture as a whole to stick together, but for our industry it’s particularly important. So that’s the focus.”

During the November meeting and conference call in Halifax, sheep producers and other stakeholders expressed worry over having two groups speaking for the industry rather than one national voice.

The absence of the Alberta and Ontario groups in the CSF represents a $75,000 reduction in fees going to the CSF, so finances are a worry.

Members discussed the feasibility of running a leaner organization and implementing a national checkoff like the beef sector.

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